Multiplex: the future of retail?

These days, the question of how to innovate in the digital space is commonplace. Everyone wants to know the formula to make a brand’s online presence powerful, effective and convenient for newly tech-savvy consumers. Amidst the enthusiastic mass-taking-up of online concepts it is interesting, and refreshing, to see Tom Dixon tackling a question that is perhaps not asked often enough: what experiences can’t be replicated online, and how should the retail world aim to embrace them?

After two years in conversation with Selfridges, Multiplex was launched on the 18th of September. The impressive and innovative retail hub will be open until the 15th of October, having coincided with London Fashion Week, London Design Festival, the BFI London Film Festival and the Frieze Art Fair. Located in the old Selfridges hotel – behind the iconic Oxford Street flagship – Tom Dixon’s brainchild and the world’s first pop-up department store proclaims itself a repository of ‘how the future might look, sound, smell, taste and feel.’

So, what does Tom Dixon’s future look like? Certainly very cool. With an aesthetic inspired by Andy Warhol’s studio and futuristic products ranging from black bread to intravenous vitamins on offer, it would be easy to take Multiplex as simply a token statement venue for trendy young brands.

Dixon, however, insists there’s more to it than that. Multiplex, he claims , is a response to the challenges of curating the retail experience in a fast-paced world. The focus is on re-engaging customers with the multi-sensory – and multi-faceted – lived experience of a brand’s products; reconnecting brand identity with the immersive potential available offline. The now-standard notion of a ‘concept shop’ was coined for Milan’s 10 Corso Como in 1991, the historical ethos and department store basis of which bears several similarities to the experiential focus of Dixon’s pop-up.


The appropriately mixed career of the man who made copper cool provides an insight into Multiplex’s mingling of department store adages with niche up-and-comers. Despite beginning as an untrained designer creating pieces by hand, in 1998 the development of Dixon’s eponymous brand collided with his appointment at furniture giant Habitat, where he was creative director until 2008. Dixon describes his time at Habitat fostering his creativity and contributing directly to the scope of Multiplex, but also teaching him that “proper job satisfaction” comes from “jumping into the fire and creating my own thing, setting up my own business.” From this perspective, Multiplex is a fascinating attempt to utilise big business success strategies for the benefit of new, disruptive companies – something I am always on the lookout for!

The reason Multiplex is exciting – and potentially quite canny – is that it combines an experimental concept with the ‘safety in numbers’ model that has been a defining feature of modern retail evolution. Dixon may well be onto something when he describes ‘brand-islands’ as old-fashioned, and the idea of brands collaborating in temporary retail spaces before becoming well established is an intriguing one.

Whether Multiplex is simply a creative installation to briefly revive a tired high street, or a genuine display of retail’s future direction remains to be seen. But with competition tougher than ever, and technological developments changing consumer habits at an escalating rate, there is no doubt something has to change if physical retail spaces are to thrive today.

What do you make of Tom Dixon’s vision of the future? Send me your thoughts at and have a fantastic weekend!