During the past several decades, the retail landscape has changed dramatically. The cost of space has increased and this, in turn, has made it more costly to house inventory, such as beauty products. At the same time, shoppers have increasingly elected to purchase products online. This has been caused in part by lower costs, as well as by the convenience of having the products delivered directly to one’s place of residence.
As shopping habits have changed, so too has the nature of the stylist. Stylists have become increasingly entrepreneurial. They have found greater independence from the salon via social media. This has led to a capacity to move from one locale to another with greater ease. Salons have responded by offering greater flexibility and allowing stylists to work on a more temporary basis rather than having a permanent station.
It was in this context that Ted Gibson and his partner Jason Backe found themselves when they decided to close their 40-seat salon in New York. The duo had been working between the East and West Coasts. Ultimately, they decided to relocate to Los Angeles and develop a salon tailored to the entertainment industry. At the same time, they were interested in creating a space to serve a younger crowd of entertainers and influencers rather than the more established socialite and fashion clientele that patronized their New York salon. It was in this context that they approached FGP Atelier to design their new space.
A Different Space
The type of space that would draw the necessary interest would have to be quite different than what had served them in the past. Whereas the grand and the great were once considered attractive, the intimate, unique and relatable had increasingly become a focal point. People are more interested in spaces addressed to the scale of the body and experiences fostering exclusivity and quality. Ultimately, this shift presented the opportunity to consider what one can accomplish at a small scale that cannot be done at a larger scale. It created an opportunity to work within budgetary and time-frame limitations to achieve something remarkable.
To address these limitations, a modular solution was offered for the salon, which is located within an existing 1,500-square-foot retail space on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. This included the repetition of five semi-enclosed pods that each measure approximately 13-feet high by 9-feet deep by 8 1/2-feet wide. The form of the pods was inspired in part by hair blowing in the wind. Each varies slightly and was manufactured with the aid of digital fabrication technology.
Each pod, or cloud, allows for a unique atmosphere that can adapt to a particular client’s preferences for lighting and music while also providing visual isolation from the other guests in the salon. Each cloud offers different ambient lighting options, like “Everyday Sunshine,” “Moonlight” and “Indoors,” to view hair color and styles in various light and ambient settings. These pods sit within a neutral white environment that provides a bright backdrop to serve as a stage for guests. Beyond the series of pods lies a waiting area in lieu of a reception desk, a washing area screened by a curtain of thin Plexiglas rods and a powder room with custom wallpaper.
When looking back, I feel that the project reflects the artifice of product and brand design. The space is focused on consumption and emotion while utilizing integrated technology as the interface. Ultimately, the “smart salon” explores private and public boundaries in a small footprint, seeking to present the essence of the brand and to connect it with the future of retail as a typology.
The guest experience, as well as the broader salon, is powered by Alexa through a partnership with Amazon. In addition to controlling lighting and audio, the partnership with Amazon also makes it possible to scan styling products on shelves in the salon, add those products directly to the client’s shop- ping cart and then have them delivered later that day. This is the first cashier-less retail establishment that Amazon has created through partnership with a brand that is not Amazon’s own. As the first “smart/ intelligent salon,” it will set a new standard for the industry and become a prototype for future salons by Ted Gibson and Jason Backe. The salon has proven a success for Starring by Ted Gibson and may have, in part, inspired Amazon to open its own Amazon Salon prototype—a 1,500-square-foot space in London’s Spitalfields.
Additionally, each individual cloud features an Amazon Fire Tablet, Amazon Prime Video application and Sonos speakers for truly personalized entertainment programming and music options. The salon itself is entirely voice-activated through Amazon Alexa, and a state-of-the-art entertainment lounge welcomes guests instead of a traditional salon waiting area. Guests are invited to relax in this lounge and choose from a range of entertainment options if their stylist is not ready. In all cases, stylists welcome guests personally into the welcoming space.
The ultimate experience of being in the salon is quite powerful. The contrast between the dark ground and white clouds leads to a feeling of lightness and almost being suspended in space and time. Although Starring by Ted Gibson is a relatively small space, its division into a series of spatially unique zones makes it feel far bigger while providing a sense of intimacy as one inhabits these areas. Inside each cloud, the guest truly feels removed from the more public areas and enveloped by the architecture of the salon. This spatial isolation proved to be of great benefit when businesses began reopening in the final phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the ability to peer through the small gaps between the layers that make up the clouds provides an alluring glimpse of the celebrity who may be in the neighboring cloud.
Projects, such as Starring by Ted Gibson, provide a unique opportunity that the far larger projects we design at FGP Atelier— the new airport for Mexico City and towers in China, for example—often do not. They can be executed more quickly and offer a chance to experiment with new techniques, forms and experiences.
At the same time, they offer a chance to design more directly at the scale of the human body to provide intimate experiences highly tailored to the specific program, context and culture. In my experience, the smallest projects are often the greatest disruptors, fertile ground for experimentation; the restrictions on budgets and space are drivers of innovation.
PHOTOS: Rafael Gamo
Architect: FGP Atelier
- Francisco Gonzalez Pulido, principal-in-charge
- Mathew Stymiest
- Gergana Gonzalez Pulido
- Danilo Medina
- Sophia Fernandez
Pods/Clouds Manufacturer: Celco Manufacturing
General Contractor: Smith Global Media
Pendants: Powell Street Pendant Lamp from Tech Lighting
Tables: Noguchi Coffee Table from Herman Miller
Light: Cosmic Angel by Artemide