by Cyndee Miller
It takes a certain swagger to be in a rock and roll band—and to launch a retail project in the middle of a pandemic. And yet defying conventional wisdom, The Rolling Stones and Nick Cave launched their own retail fiefdoms, each one a fitting distillation of their respective brands. For the Stones, it’s an in-your-face boutique on London’s famed Carnaby Street. For Cave, it’s a new site hawking “things conceived, sourced, shaped and designed” by the man himself.
Purists might cringe at the blatant commercialization, but that’s poppycock. Rock and roll is—and always has been—a business. Mick Jagger might be known as the lead singer of the Stones, but he himself was a student at the London School of Economics—and clearly knows a solid project opportunity when he sees it. Billed as the first permanent retail space by a musical act, RS No. 9 Carnaby Street is a collaboration between the band and Bravado, the merchandise and brand management arm of Universal Music Group, the Stones’ label for more than a decade.
Make no mistake, these folks are no retail dilettantes. They picked a prime spot in the Carnaby Street district and worked with GH+A Design Studios to create a stop-shoppers-in-their-tracks boutique—starting with the massive 3D-printed statues of the Stones’ signature tongue-and-lips logo in the window. Inside, the studio brought in glass floors graffitied with Stones lyrics and five huge screens looping exclusive archival performance footage. The band even collaborated with the Pantone Color Institute to create a Stones Red hue featured all over the store and its line of goods.
This clearly goes far beyond the merch stand at concerts or even the pop-up shops dedicated to musical acts ranging from Rihanna to The Clash. (Those projects come with their own issues as PM Network reported a few years back.) But launching a brick-and-mortar store right now is an audaciously bold move even for the self-proclaimed world’s greatest rock and roll band. With Euromonitor predicting global retail sales to dip by more 3.5 percent this year due to the pandemic and more shoppers flocking to ecommerce, the Rolling Stones did what all good project leaders do: They adapted. Along with the new shop, there’s a dedicated RS No. 9 Carnaby hub added to the band’s existing online shop, with an interactive 360-degree feature that lets shoppers move around the London boutique and score digital-only options. “We had to pivot our strategy a bit and there’s a much heavier online component,” former Bravado CEO Mat Vlasic told Rolling Stone magazine.
The pandemic did delay construction and stalled the opening by a couple months. But make no mistake, unlike last year’s pop-up shop in the United States, the London outpost is built for the long haul and will follow the best practices of traditional retailers, with plenty of buffer in the schedule for new product design. Vlasic told the magazine that building out a longer timeframe allows the team “to be much more creative … and not be confined by ‘Oh you can’t do this because you don’t have the time.”
Cave’s retail empire is a bit more modest and a whole lot more esoteric, but this project too was born of the COVID crisis.
“I feel very free, free to do what I like—the music industry has been atomized, the rulebook has been torn up, few of us are working, but there can be an energy to disaster, a feverish need to respond to a crisis that is weirdly compelling.” Cave told Financial Times. Out of that came Cave Things, what he calls s “a mysterious, subversive, super-playful enterprise where anything can happen.”
Launched in early August, the ecommerce site offers everything from erotic wallpaper to what’s being promoted as the first and best bunny bowl designed by a rock star.
Cave already had an ecommerce site for him and his band The Bad Seeds. But it was pretty straightforward, whereas Cave Stuff goes “beyond merchandise but stops before art… the incidental residue of an over-stimulated mind,” as he describes it on the shop. And this indeed seems to be a project “that sits in a place entirely of its own.”
So what do you think? These rockers have definitely turned up the volume on innovation—can traditional retailers pick up a few tips?