Global e-commerce giant Amazon’s largest stand-alone Fashion Imaging Studio, ‘Blink’ in Gurgaon, India has been designed by Ultraconfidentiel. Though sleek and contemporary in its aesthetic, it is rooted to its location by the juxtaposition of Indian imagery through jaalis, carpets, fabrics and colour.
When Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer announces a list of probable cities which it is considering in which to open a new office, it garners the kind of enthusiasm normally reserved for bids to host the Olympics, as noted by the New York Times. So, after deciding to locate in Gurgaon, Delhi, the matter of the design of the space was given due deliberation. In keeping with Amazon’s other offices, a contemporary aesthetic was in favour.
“With state-of-the-art digital imaging facility, this studio is the first of its kind in India and only the third of its kind globally, by Amazon,” says Valentin Blanchard, Design Head, Ultraconfidentiel. It enables Amazon Fashion to creatively collaborate with fashion brands and partners to produce lakhs of high-quality images for its fashion merchandise every year, so that customers can shop clothing collections in India.The aim is to redefine the way the customer discovers, engages with, and shops for fashion online by boosting creativity and interactions between all generations of fashion designers.
Spread over 44,000 sq ft, the space allows Amazon India’s sellers – including international brands – to access digital imaging facilities.The footprint is an irregular one, starting with a large ‘doughnut’ which houses the reception and then extends into what could loosely – very loosely – be described as an irregular wedge with a couple of large setbacks on its periphery.“The building was meant to be a mall – all the buildings on this road have different shapes,” shrugs Valentin.
The reception is an impressive space and has a six-metre height with glazing. The connected editorial room has a sliding folding partition and a cyclorama background for shooting, which is the biggest in India. Hence an instant background is easily provided for photo shoots. This office is an extension of Amazon’s imaging and cataloguing services that helps retailers with product photography at an economical price. The fashion brand partners can create and edit images and videos and develop creative content with assistance from Amazon. Photographers, models, stylists, video editors and other resources are provided.
“Brands can rent the studio and present their latest styles and innovative ideas and market their creations through fashion shows and other events,” says Valentin. Sellers can get professionally-shot pictures of the products, before they are listed on the e-commerce platform. Brands are also being encouraged to feature their new season’s collections first on Amazon.
The office has 14 individual high-tech photography bays, a large editorial suite, video editing facilities, a merchandise co-ordination area, production room, editorial bay, a large office space and operations area, creative spaces, a catwalk for fashion shows and a 50 seater cafeteria. “It can also unfold itself for large gatherings and corporate meets,” says Valentin.
The signage has received a significant amount of attention. One dark wall proclaims ‘JFK,’ ‘LHR’ and ‘DEL,’ alluding in airline ticket manner to the locations of Amazon’s other offices, together with the year in which they were instituted. Arcs of light from overhead spots spill over the lettering, drawing attention to it in the sombre palette.
“The brief called for contemporary American design but we introduced an Indian touch. Of the previous two offices, the one in New York is a stark clinical white, while the one in London is black. We struck a balance here by using grey tones relieved by three jaali patterns, a modern version of traditional Mughal jaalis specially invented and customised for this project. There are also Indian carpets, traditional textiles and bursts of colour,” says Valentin of the way the design is rooted in India. While the exposed ceiling with visible ducting has an industrial look, the faded-red micro concrete flooring recalls the sand stone used for centuries in Indian architecture.
Five phone booths have walls covered with saris specific to different parts of India, representing its cultural diversity. A kanjeevaram from Tamil Nadu, a pashmina from Kashmir, a bandhani and a patola from Gujarat and a bagh print from Madhya Pradesh all display the characteristics which give them their fame. “With their intricate details, it was a challenge to find a balance between a sleek, sharp look and Indian sensibilities,” says Valentin.
Since a large part of the space is used for photography, natural light is not welcome. “This is totally contrary to the acknowledged benefits of natural light, which is known to have a positive correlation with employee well-being. In this space, however, it is restricted to the office area and cafeteria. The latter is housed in a balcony which was not usable earlier. A 15 metre long green wall now brings in nature while adding an informal vibe. The space is a great success, making it Valentin’s favourite space in the office. “In India, cafeterias are only used for eating. But here, a mix of many things happen. People even play games when they are taking a break.”
The production room used for informal meetings itself has four types of lighting. Linear tracks on the ceiling provide ambient lighting, while a black track closer to the wall illuminates a long horizontal board used for writing, along with a pin board. Suspended from the ceiling, pendant lights echo the ones in the reception area. More decorative, they strike a balance between modernity and tradition. Accent lights give depth to the black expanse of the ceiling, fulfills the lighting schematic, while task lighting on the table adds focus.
“Our aim was to ease every step of the work through our design. Many technical aspects were involved which made the project more complex,” says Valentin. “But our design tells a story and depicts not only fashion but also the essence of India. A blend of modern designs and revisited Indian traditions inhabit this studio, giving it a unique identity.”
Text By Devyani Jayakar