Rocío Mendivil did not have enough money to pay someone to transform the dusty 250 square meters of a former printing house into the concept store that she envisioned – brightly lit, with a minimalist and industrial design. So she did it himself: cleaned, plastered, installed the windows, polished the floor, hung the chandeliers. In 2016 the store was inaugurated with the name Amen, a gesture of thanks for having gotten it done. The logo is a phoenix, representing rebirth and the start of a new life. Large spaces and just a few clients at a time, a relaxed atmosphere that is in stark contrast to that of large chain stores. On the walls, plastered portions alternate with areas of exposed cement or brick, on which ink stains are still visible, left over from the building’s prior use. The floor is white, the ceiling is high with exposed cement and rebar. Only the entrance foyer is completely plastered over, creating a white and brightly lit box that welcomes visitors and houses several manikins and the checkout area. “Looking in from the outside, people sometimes mistake Amen for a contemporary art gallery, the objects being sold for installations,” explains Rocío. “When they realize it’s a store, they assume that they wouldn’t be able to afford anything, because they associate large empty spaces with luxury. I want to overturn this concept, using the aesthetic standards of luxury stores to sell medium-priced products. If champagne is served in boutiques, we serve Jägermeister.”
Before opening Amen, Rocío studied advertising and then worked on production for television commercials. She wanted to leave this stressful career to create jewelry, but instead first opened Speed&Bacon and then Enfant Terrible, transitional projects that were part store, part gallery. Amen is located at Calle San Andrés 3, in the Malasaña neighborhood of Madrid, also called the ‘barrio de las Maravillas’, ‘neighborhood of wonders’. It was first called this by reporter Mesonero Romanos in reference to the colloquial name for a convent of Carmelite nuns in the area, located between Calle de la Palma Alta and San Pedro – the convent itself was thus called because of an image of the Virgin Mary housed within. ‘Malasaña’, on the other hand, refers to a young woman who participated in the defense of Plaza del 2 de Mayo during Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. During the 1970s and 80s the neighborhood witnessed the rise of the Movida Madrileña social and artistic movement, a current of counterculture and youth that was born in resistance to the legacy of Francoism in Spanish society (and which also inspired Almodóvar’s last film, Dolor y gloria, in which the protagonist, Salvador Mallo, emerges and rises to fame during the height of the Movida Madrileña glory years). Today the area continues to be a hub of alternative culture and nightlife.
The store, decorated primarily in black and white, is quite far removed from the image that one usually has of Spain’s capital: the Almudena’s collage of styles, the late Baroque of the Royal Palace, the Rococo pomp of the halls near the Museum of Romanticism. Amen’s layout is inspired by the various cities in which Rocío lived as her father moved around for work: Moscow, Bern, Frankfurt, Bordeaux, and Algiers. “I think there is very little of Spain in the store,” she admits, walking around the rooms. “Amen is more admired by foreigners than by locals. Sometimes they ask me where they can find other stores like this in Madrid. There aren’t any. There might be small shops, but not big ones. In Moscow, London, and Paris they’re more common. That’s another reason why I had to create everything from scratch.” Spain is represented in the large chandeliers with glass and crystal pendants, which Rocío inherited from her grandmother. These are not for sale, though many ask.
On the hangers, alongside Nike and Robe di Kappa, are the Russian brand T3CM and the American brand Comme des Fuckdown: “Well-known brands give value and credibility to those that are independent or experimental,” explains Rocío. “The ones we sell the most are the second kind, which I personally select and which you can’t find anywhere else in the city. I don’t want Amen to be a static space, it needs to change constantly. That’s why I spend time observing what customers are most interested in.” Some of the garments are created by Rocío or commissioned from brands, for example the Don’t follow me and I’m lost too socks, or the ‘Me importa una puta mierda cuantos followers tienes en Instagram’ t-shirt. For each garment only one size is on display, a choice that is in line with both the desire to maintain an uncluttered space and that of connecting with customers. “Requesting another size is a way to start a conversation with the staff. Friendly relationships are created – many call us by name and vice versa.” But the store sells more than just clothing. On the walls are displays of athletic shoes, sunglasses, bags and rucksacks, costume jewelry made with 3D printers, a selection of vinyl records and of fashion and design magazines, Fornasetti cups, Stoobz garden gnomes giving the middle finger, colorful half-busts of Mao, designer Row Condoms, unicorn heads, and Japanese candies (Rocío discovered them during one of her trips). “Importing them was expensive, but I had to. The store needs to reflect me.”
Also on display are a collection of ceramic plates decorated with the images of Darth Vader surrounded by flowers, Wonder Woman, and David Bowie. The earrings are kitsch, shaped like the Mercedes symbol or decorated with images of McDonald’s French fries, a portrait of Barbie, or fake marzipan lambs. From gold jewelry shaped like a gun to that depicting Doraemon. On the walls are plastic dolls of Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, Hello Kitty, Snoopy, Arale, unicorns, and Smurfs: objects with which Rocío chose to decorate her house as well. Among the ornaments and knick knacks are Jeff Koons’ colorful dogs, various porcelain statuettes of the Madonna, Chinese cat good luck talismans, golden skulls with Mickey Mouse ears, or hollow skulls to be used as vases. The style of the store looks like a blend of the creative imaginations of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Frida Kahlo, and Andy Warhol, but Rocío says that she is mostly inspired by her travels and by Instagram. That is where she scouts objects to buy, artists and ideas to display, including Julio Galindo and his kitsch splatter ceramics.
Calle de San Andrés, 3