Industrial Paradise: An In-Depth Look at Boris Bidjan Saberi's Barcelona Atelier
Industrial Paradise: An In-Depth Look at Boris Bidjan Saberi's Barcelona Atelier
- Words Gunner Park
- Date August 09, 2017
While in Barcelona, you may find yourself disoriented at the prospect of shopping. A trip to La Rambla, Barcelona’s answer to 5th Avenue, inevitably elicits a trace of disappointment and a heavy dose of anxiety. Fast-fashion conglomerates, tacky boutiques and archetypal fashion houses line the overcrowded streets. However, located several miles away and hidden in a vast industrial complex, lays Boris Bidjan Saberi’s unassuming yet emblematic atelier.
Located in the industrial district of Poblenou, Barcelona’s once run-down textile hub resembling a scene straight out of Blade Runner, Saberi’s atelier speaks to the unassuming complexity of both the location and his namesake brand. After giving your cab driver the address and inevitably getting lost, you will arrive at the entrance to a intimidating labyrinth populated with factories and abandoned warehouses. The menacing facade leads you to undoubtedly hesitate before you begin walking up several flights of stairs to a large sliding metal door. However, any notions of skepticism are immediately shattered upon entering Saberi’s world.
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All images courtesy of Boris Bidjan Saberi.
When arriving at the shop, a few things become apparent. The sheer space of the atelier is incredible. There are no lighting fixtures, but the room is flooded with natural light courtesy of several colossal windows. The warehouse-like space serves as a sanctuary to Saberi’s ethos as you browse through a range of different hues and garments all while listening to an old school hip-hop soundtrack. To your right is long stone slab featuring a pair of bright fingerless leather gloves coated in latex alongside an array of wallets, belts and bags. To your immediate left is an assortment of Saberi’s Spring/Summer 2016 "Subsphere" collection complimented by a headless white statue (designed by Saberi himself) and a translucent J2 leather rider suspended from chains that loop through steel tubes—another Saberi invention.
Although many of the same architectural elements exist in Saberi’s NYC storefront—such as the chain/tube structure and stone tables—the vast amount of floor space at his Barcelona atelier allows Saberi to foster a much deeper understanding of his brand. The interior is fitting of Saberi’s aggressive aesthetic—all steel and concrete. The whitewashed brick walls and wooden floors found in his NYC outpost, however, are swapped for gigantic steel walls and tiled flooring, more accurately reflecting Saberi’s experimental nature. The somewhat dreary environment is brought to life by the ample light, possibly a nod to Saberi’s fondness for spirituality. The sum of these disparate elements enable you to fully comprehend Saberi’s vision for his brand, and the world he wishes to portray.
However, the most amazing feat isn’t Saberi’s meticulously crafted storefront, but rather his atelier’s extensive inventory. To foster an even greater appreciation for his brand, Saberi offers a range of pieces exploring the evolution of his work. Both current and archival pieces are available at the shop, with a few garments dating back to Saberi’s inaugural collection—customers can even request a made-to-order version of Saberi's infamous J2 leather jacket, crafted by the designer himself. The store is broken up into many different sections—by hue, garment type and season. As you maneuver from rack to rack, you understand the significance behind each piece and how they fit into a more complex story.
With full creative control, Saberi has built a space that allows him to implement his cultural mix of aesthetic references, where his native Iranian (Persian) and German roots perfectly intermingle with an infatuation in hip-hop, skate, and underground culture. To learn more, we sat down with Jonas Dedié, Head of Sales (and occasional retail associate), to discuss why Saberi’s Barcelona atelier is easily one of the most unique and provocative storefronts in Europe.
Upon first arriving at the location you gave me, I found that the space was actually a shared industrial complex that was rather difficult to navigate. Can you talk a little bit about this area?
They actually call this area (Poblenou) the "Detroit of Barcelona." There are many abandoned warehouses and factories for manufacturing. Right now there really isn’t anything going on. This is definitely not a residential area, apart from a few lower class families I guess.
Since this area is more industrial, why did Boris pick it to house his Atelier?
His first studio was outside the city. It was close to Montserrat, which is sort of a magical place, or so that’s how people refer to it here. It is sort of like an old monastery. For him it was a very spiritual place where he was able to develop his brand and work on it in peace. However, at a certain point, the company outgrew the space and it was very difficult for employees to travel 45 minutes outside of the city every day. We had to find something that was more central, but also an area with more space. I think this area was a good match for being close enough to the city while providing enough space.
So how do you think the neighborhood of Sant Martí and the district of Poblenou speaks to the brand in general?
Definitely the feeling of it being hidden away, sort of underground with an industrial flavor. Sant Martí is also known to house upcoming artists and designers. Everything about the area really encapsulates Boris’ aesthetic.
Is that why you guys are appointment only? I saw that the address of the shop isn’t listed anywhere online and you have to inquire first.
Really it’s to avoid random passerbys knocking on the door. This area isn’t ideal for retail, so we want to keep the shop sort of hidden to force people to make an appointment. We only open the shop by appointment. Normally, Anna (store manager and head of communications) and I are downstairs working with the rest of the team.
Do you think a BBS storefront would have any success in a more populated area of Barcelona like the Gothic district?
Not at all. The menswear scene in Barcelona pales in comparison to other major cities. There’s one multi-brand menswear boutique in Barcelona and I believe Loewe is based in Madrid, but that’s about it. At least 80% of our customers are visitors and due to the area, we get virtually zero foot traffic.
Can you speak a little bit about the sort of customers you guys receive? Where do they come from? How old are they?
It’s very mixed actually. We have a lot of people from the states. A lot of people from Asia have also been visiting. Right now Barcelona is seeing a surge in Chinese tourists for whatever reason. They tell their tour guides they want to visit us and the guide sets up an appointment with the shop. Since we have very close relationships with all of our retailers as well, they usually tell their clients about the store and they come visit us. Our clientele is very niche. I would say many of them know each other and talk to each other about the atelier. Word to mouth plays a big roll.
Speaking of your other stockists, how does having your own space to stock the brand compare to stocking your brand in another boutique?
I think retail in general always gives you the opportunity to present your brand in the best possible way. The way that you want to present it. Everything in this space, the interior, the furniture, it’s all designed by us. Retail is the best channel to sell your product and give the most memorable experience.
I completely agree. You get the opportunity to create the “world” that you present to the customer and how they perceive the brand. This shop definitely does an amazing job doing that. How do you think the NYC flagship store compares to this space?
It’s definitely much more experimental here. We have the freedom to do whatever we want and since we work so closely with Boris, we’re really able to execute his vision down to the tiniest detail. New York is much more catered to a commercial shopping experience. That can definitely be seen in the selection they have there.
How does the selection here differ?
Here we also offer archival pieces. A lot of pieces that you can’t find anywhere else. We have garments from the very first collection up to the most recent one. There are a few prototypes that never made it to production. We want to provide a deeper experience into the brand.