Interview by Nina Prehofer
The Viennese architect and designer Stephan Vary/ Studio Labvert works for major names such as Dior, Armani, Hennessy, Rimowa and Bulgari. He finds inspiration on his travels – travels that take him everywhere from Paris to Tokyo.
You travel the world for your clients. To what extent does what you see on your trips influence your design?
Stephan Vary: Travel is my main source of inspiration. No matter how many pictures you look at on Instagram or how many magazines you browse, nothing compares to the actual physical experience. If you genuinely want to experience towns, spaces or objects, you need to see them for yourself.
What design you have seen on the road has impressed you lately?
Stephan Vary: I was recently back in Tokyo for the first time in a long time for the Rimowa flagship store, which was designed by us. You always forget that a city has what you might call its own smell or sound. That hits you immediately as soon as you go back. Another aspect of Tokyo that fascinates me is the cultural differences in the use and appropriation of spaces and objects. For example, treating someone with respect, not “talking down”, means that a customer advisor will kneel on the floor to advise a customer who is sitting on a sofa. That would be absolutely inconceivable in Europe.
Rethinking the Rimowa brand.
You recently started designing stores around the world for the Louis Vuitton brand Rimowa.
Stephan Vary: Yes, indeed. We were very excited to be commissioned to rethink the Rimowa brand after its takeover by LVMH. Our brief was to find a completely new approach to the product and the brand. There were no specifications other than the budget and the timescale for opening the first stores. It’s not every day that you get such an opportunity: the freedom to design as you wish with the full backing of the client.
Apart from the brand, how does the city in question influence the interior design of a shop?
Stephan Vary: For our store for Rimowa in the Ginza district of Tokyo, we knew that we wanted a unique design that would not be recreated in that form. We therefore consciously chose shapes and a sequence of spaces that are linked to the location. This was our focus, along with materials and excellent workmanship. Cultural associations such as rock gardens and flowing forms were our inspiration for this design.
Your portfolio also includes luxury retail stores at airports. How do you get people to go shopping at an airport?
Stephan Vary: First and foremost, by exploiting the fact that they spend time there and there is not a lot to do. The brands know this and deliberately market products such as limited editions and travel exclusives that are only available at airports. In this situation, people will almost inevitably buy.
What do you do when you have to wait at an airport?
Stephan Vary: I look at the shops, have something to eat or drink, and listen to music. If I have a long-haul flight, I try and have a shower in the business lounge before the flight as I then sleep well in the plane.
What design objects are a must when you travel?
Stephan Vary: My wireless headphones, my e-book reader, a water bottle and a cashmere scarf to keep out the drafts from the air conditioning.
Where will your next trip take you? And why?
Stephan Vary: To Paris, Rome and Château d’Yquem. All trips are for projects on which I am currently working.
STEPHAN VARY runs the architecture and design studio “Labvert” in Vienna. The studio specialises in developing established brands in the luxury segment. Labvert translates the brands’ trademark qualities and values into a modern experience.