Fans of the user-friendly, accessible and oh-so-Swedish synthesizers from Teenage Engineering are in luck. From now until the end of the year, the Stockholm-based company’s cultish music-making gear, like its OP-1 synthesizer, is on display and available at The Store in New York City.
The Store is a custom-built and experimental space from NYC creative shop Ming Utility and Entertainment Group, the purpose of which is to devise a retail experience based on the creative sensibilities of collaborators’ products. Launched in May 2015 with UK designer Tom Dixon, Ming’s collaboration with Teenage Engineering is its second.
Linus Karlsson, Ming’s Chairman and CEO, says Teenage Engineering was chosen as The Store’s second collaboration based on shared experience and values. Karlsson and Teenage Engineering head of design, founder and CEO Jesper Kouthoofd (who is also co-founder of Swedish fashion brand ACNE) first worked together in the mid-’90s at Swedish agency Paradiset (now DDB Stockholm) on iconic campaigns for Diesel. Now, nearly 20 years on, Karlsson says this partnership is a way to bring their likeminded businesses together.
“You know how people like to have friends online? It’s the same with companies. This is about a shared experience between two companies that actually have the same values and ambitions,” says Karlsson. “The collaboration is like Teenage Engineering and Ming coming together and pushing each other’s Like button. And we hope people will like what we’re doing.”
What is that shared sensibility? Kouthoofd says it’s the way both companies try to push the limits of what a company is. “We try to experiment both with our own lives and the form of what a company can be,” says Kouthoofd, whose key product, a simple, almost child-like portable synthesizer, is considered revolutionary in the music industry. Meanwhile, long-time ad man Karlsson says Ming’s focus on design, technology and entertainment is meant to be “a departure from advertising as we know it.”
The ways in which Kouthoofd is experimenting with what falls within Teenage Engineering’s remit are surprising. For instance, the company just started a band, which will soon go on tour. More than the creative whim of an incredibly free-form studio, he says it was an idea borne of the products.
“It was actually the most logical idea we could come up with to demo our products,” says Kouthoofd. “Because we play on them we can showcase what you can actually do with them. We can also showcase how you can perform with the products–how you hold them, how you move on stage. I always think that when you’re designing a product you have to design everything around it. The product is just an extension of the company and the band is an extension of the product. We try to explore what can be included in the product.”
The Store, then, is yet one more extension of the product and Linus says the entire space takes its cue from Teenage Engineering’s company ethos. “When you walk in, it will all be about Teenage. You can immerse not only in their products but what’s always been interesting about Jesper and Teenage is that it’s about being playful and scientific. I think you’ll see that in the store. It’s seemingly playful but when you dig deeper it’s really hardcore.”
Products for sale in the clean, white space that was completely rebuilt for this installation include: the OP-1 synth and its playful, toy-like accessories; three versions of Pocket Operators, which are ultra-affordable ($59 each), circuit board-like synths; and the OD-11 airplay cloud speaker.
For Ming, the entire experience is part of its mandate to experiment with and learn from physical retail spaces. “I love the idea that you have a retail opportunity to create a unique experience with your consumer,” Karlsson says. “You may be an online company or technology or something that doesn’t have a retail footprint. But that’s not the point. The point is that you can have a unique experience with the brand. The Store is supposed to be a testing ground and the biggest thing we learn from it is how to be a merchant, and understanding the rules of engagement of retail.”
If the first collaboration with Tom Dixon was any indication, the concept is proving to be successful. Karlsson says that first effort did “incredibly well,” which is to say that it broke even “and then some.”
“When you’re doing something new and you do better than break-even, that’s a success,” he says. “This is not about making money. This is about making something new and inspiring and better than what we have.”