British product and interior designer Lee Broom transformed a row of 3 disused shops in Milan to create ‘The Department Store’, a designer take on the traditional establishment department stores of London and his largest exhibition to date
“ The reason for using this kind of theme is that the collection is separated into kind of mini-collections, I was trying to think about a kind of show that would present them in an interesting way. We always try to do more with the theatrical experience than just a general presentation.” said Lee
“I’ve never been the type of person to just put products on plinths and let people make their own mind up, when I’m designing the pieces, even at that point I’m thinking about how they’ll be displayed and creating more of an experience rather than just an exhibition.”
With “The Department Store” Lee invited visitors on an immersive journey through a cinematic pastiche of a store across two floors.
Lee, who has a background in theatre and fashion design, themed each space in the exhibition around a different shop department.
Upon arrival, visitors encounter windows dressed with new products in a scenographic style. It’s an incredibly accurate reconstruction of an ideal (and surreal) department store, divided in sections such as millinery, beauty, perfumery, bookstore, wine shop, accessories and so on.
Gray blankets the entire color palate—from the walls to the curtains, the props to the mannequins.
A limited pallete of bright red, blue and yellow is used as an accent on some of the furniture and helps the pieces stand out against the grey backdrops.
Broom explores the balance of abstract shapes and silhouettes and incorporates a primary colour palette of vivid red, petrol blue and neon yellow together with more neutral tones from natural materials such as wood and marble.
“I was quite inspired by photographers like Horst and Man Ray, whose works have a beautiful kind of shadowy black and white image to them in a very surreal way. I wanted to have lots of references to a department store, but I didn’t want it to take away from the pieces, so I decided that all of the pieces should be in the finishes that they’re in, and then all of the environment should be in a gray tone.”
The music that plays is also meant to reflect the black and white vibe, with classic tunes from the ’40s and ’50s. The result is a dreamlike energy that permeates the large space.
Broom explains, ”I want people to engage with my pieces; not in the same way that somebody engages with a piece of art necessarily, but there should be an element of that where you don’t see everything straight away the first time you look at it. And that’s what makes these pieces exciting.”
It’s an untold, secret story that lives in each item’s history that makes many of the pieces extra engaging—not just their present state. Ultimately, as with most design, Broom’s goal is to tell a story and make something that lasts—something significant.
” It’s the idea that we’re creating permanent things that will also have this story and have a craft behind it. And we don’t have to scream about how something is made—that people start to ask questions and then they really connect with the piece, I think that’s really lovely.”
” I want to have each mini collection have their own character and their own department,” said Broom. “It’s not sustainable to do something like this every year, we design and manufacture our own products and it would be too expensive and too time-consuming. This is our big year.”
Project walk around
Entering on street level, guests move from tableau to tableau through the exhibition, with each environment representing a surreal take on a different department – including The Perfumery, Ladies Accessories, Gents Fitting Room, Book Store and Haberdashery etc
Each department will act as a backdrop, finished in Lee Broom signature grey to accentuate the colours and materials of the new pieces.
Visitors enter on the ground floor and are greeted by the Clock Tower, a structure flanked on either side by female mannequins.
It has a clock at the top and a description of the exhibition printed on the front.
Behind this, an area called the Beauty Department hosts the Shadow Collection of wooden cabinets and tables with corrugated sides and flat tops.
In the centre of the space, the Shoe Department displays Broom’s Hoop chairs made from brass-plated or black metal rings with bright red upholstery.
One version is suspended from the ceiling, while a freestanding design is intended to serve as a dining chair
At the back, the Perfumery is a glass display cabinet that display updated versions of Broom’s crystal tube lights are shown inside and around a glass perfume counter.
Men’s Accessories features vitrines containing a male torso mannequin and a shirt collar, lit by the designer’s Fulcrum pendant lights, formed from a cylinder of silver metal broken up with a round ball.
Dome-shaped spun metal pendants with flat, stained-glass bottoms that filter the light from inside – are arranged over bowler hats and a top hat in Men’s Hats
Also on display in Men’s Accessories is the Drunken collection of furniture pieces that feature angled cylindrical bases with offset tops – including a lamp and a side table with a large red ball between the base and the tabletop.
A similar area called Ladies’ Accessories displays the Crescent Light collection of globe-shaped lamps that look like they have been split in half and slid apart to reveal an inner surface of brass
While the Fitting Rooms are occupied by the designer’s Altar chairs. These feature a continuous back structure of a single piece of black metal, arched to create the back rest and two legs. The round seat, upholstered in red or blue fabric, is also supported by a front leg.
Ring Lights are exhibited over ladies’ hats in the Millinery section, while Haberdashery displays the Nouveau Rebel collection of marble and brass lights among rolls of fabric.
The Book Store, with grey plinths surrounded by monochrome stacks of books, shows the Acid Marble collection, featuring two marble tables with bright yellow tops and a matching desk light.
The Carpets and Rugs department is dominated by a single chaise longue formed to look like an oriental carpet and a matching metal wall-light shaped like a shallow bowl with a patterned interior surface.
And finally. an existing set of steps retained from one of the old shops leads down to the basement, where visitors enter into the Stock Room, which is decorated with packaging and designs from Broom’s previous collections.
These are arranged around packing crates and mannequins.