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RETAIL/F&B Last modified on June 9, 2016

That Riviera touch

Portland Design’s director of environments, Lewis Allen, discusses the concepts behind the creation of the new ‘spirit of place’ inspired duty free offering at Nice Côte d’Azur Airport.

The design of the new walk-through retail offering in Nice Côte d’Azur Airport’s Terminal 1 embraces the opportunity to immerse shoppers in an experience that evokes the spirit of the French Riviera.

The store, operated by Lagardère Travel Retail, is uniquely designed for Nice so that it connects shoppers to what they already know and love about the Côte d’Azur. 

The connection to the spirit of the Côte d’Azur region is achieved by creating experiences that are both literally and intuitively local such as store architecture that features the signature azure blue of the coastal waters; lighting that replicates the quality of sunlight; and programmed experiences that connect shoppers to the region’s cultural life and to the infectious “joie de vivre” that is a characteristic of the region’s seasonally vivacious events programme. 

This combination of literal and intuitive experiences helps to move beyond the much celebrated ‘sense of place’ shopping experience to a more enigmatic ‘spirit of place’ experience. 

Lagardère describes a ‘spirit of place’ shopping experience as an invigorating feeling of “je ne sais quoi”. 

And this deeper experience is achieved by creating a shopper journey with multiple layers of sensory experiences, each one leveraging the local DNA of the Côte d’Azur, each pulling on its own local DNA to resonate a moment of local immersion.

The ‘spirit of place’ duty free shopping journey starts with the palm façade shopfront. This feature is formed using an abstracted pattern of palm fronds silhouetted against a blue background. 

The abstraction of vernacular themes avoids creating a store design that is literally thematic. Today, shoppers prefer authentic experiences and whilst themed stores can be fun they can be judged as skin-deep imitations of what is ‘local’.

Indeed, the palm façade announces a promenade through 10 category engagement experiences where each experience provides a vehicle to use the local DNA. 

Also, in a region famous for hosting world-class events and festivals, each experience provides shoppers with an opportunity to engage again with some of the big seasonal stories that attract them to the region. 

In this way the experiences also help to culturally embed the store into the life of the region and provide opportunities for local co-creation and partnerships, whether commercial or cultural.

‘La Scéne’ is another feature that celebrates local events such as the Cannes Film Festival courtesy of audio visuals, interactive games and competitions with prize gifts.


The ‘art of the gift’ ribbon is a ceiling suspended feature and a key component for all Lagardère’s future duty-free stores. It serves as an intuitive wayfinding device to guide shoppers through the store and Nice is no exception, its ribbon’s colours of white and blue being customised for Nice Côte d’Azur Airport to reflect the region’s stories of azure blue and playful luxury. 

Localising store components from an operator’s brand toolkit is a key way to avoid the déja-vu experience of many duty free stores whilst simultaneously maintaining the brand DNA of the operator.

As shoppers circulate through the store, the multi-sensory layers begin to build. In Fragonard’s ‘Le Jardin’ outlet the sounds of chirruping crickets on a sun-drenched summer afternoon serenade shoppers browsing this iconic brand’s range of Provencal products.

While the ‘Riviera Bar’ has been designed to evoke memories of the Côte d’Azur’s waterfront thanks to a projected seascape rippling the floor, the sound of waves and the refreshing bursts of ozone. 

According to concessionaire, Aelia, the bar itself is designed to evoke the über chic glamour of the pristine white yachts that adorn the region’s coast. 

Indeed, the region’s intoxicating day to night nightlife transition is conjured in the LED lighting that is programmed to reproduce the colour temperature and lumens of the region’s day parts.

In the Champagne category the airport’s ‘Champagne clock’ bursts into a short audio-visual celebration on the strike of the hour and LED screens explode with popping corks and bursting bubbles in a champagne moment of hedonistic celebration before all calms down to a gentle bubbly fizz.

As well as the various sensory delights of the region, the store features many of its products and its unique offers too. With the brand’s ‘here and nowhere else’ strategy, Lagardère’s vision is to celebrate local heroes, such as the locally and internationally renowned hair stylist Eric Zemmour who operates ‘Le Spa Express’ hair and nail spa. 

Similarly celebrated is the brand Fragonard with a unique shop-in-shop featuring a fragrance personalisation experience.

Visual merchandising guidelines also play a part in building the spirit of place’experience. In the ‘Glamour et Tendances’, hotspot shoppers can get the latest look with an edited assortment of beauty products. 

The Nice Côte d’Azur duty free store also evokes a spirit of place by combining a variety of experiences. Each on their own would not be enough to immerse shoppers in the region’s authentic spirit. However, deployed together they create a journey that connects shoppers to the spirit of the region in multiple ways. 

Multi-sensory experiences, the abstraction of local themes, local brands and products and a highly seasonal marketing programme all help to create a shopper journey that reveals the region’s spirit of place in a building sequence of layers.

Nevertheless, this toolbox of tactics is not enough to build a truly rich spirit of place. The key to immersing shoppers in a spirit of a place is to understand a defining feature of life today: Our connections and interactions with places are both real and virtual. 

Our virtual familiarity with just about everywhere in the world has been built through all forms of media, from books to digital. It’s a familiarity that has grown ever more intimate and dynamic through social media. 

Media has extended our senses into virtually every corner of the world and we are constantly renewing our sense of the world on traditional platforms and new platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

In contrast with this virtual smôrgasbord of the senses, the real world can sometimes seem a blander and less charismatic place. Airports reveal very little about where they are in the world if they are merchandised with cookie cutter retail concepts that appear as squatters inside cathedrals of glass, concrete, granite and steel.

Airports that have a sense of “placeless-ness” are at odds with the richly layered stories we are increasingly familiar with through our own personal experiences, both in the real and virtual worlds. 

Shoppers today have a very rich understanding of places just about everywhere in the world. To attract shoppers in 2016 and beyond Largardère believes that its duty free stores must synthesise a spirit of place that is equally rich and more diverse with layers of experience. 

As a result, its stores must be designed and programmed to be refreshed regularly and to play to all the senses. These strategies, used to design the Nice Côte d’Azur duty free store, will help to immerse shoppers in the enigmatically indefinable “je ne sais quoi”, and to feel the indefinable spirit of the region that they recognise and connect with as an attractive and distinctive place.

Indefinable? Perhaps not. At Portland we believe that a store with a true and powerfully immersive spirit of place is one where shoppers can emotionally connect with a place through many layers of in-store engagement. 

Each layer in its own way is inspired by and projects local DNA. The layers create a shopper journey through a finely balanced collection of locally infused multi-sensory moments, cultures, products and behaviours. 

When curated together, planned in the right sequence and designed with the right volume they will connect shoppers with that enchanting “quality without a name” shoppers know it when they feel it. 

And judging by the excellent sales in the new Nice Côte d’Azur Airport’s new opened duty free outlets, they are very definitely feeling it.

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