Pop-ups occupy that strange land between a feria and a showroom, combining the transitory nature of the former with the curated, personal experience of the latter. They seem to come away with the best of both, more fluid and varied than showrooms but with more structure and thought than a feria, joining all these elements to create something relentlessly new.
Enter Pop Up Buy-Buy, the new pop-up which will have you gagging on their eleganza, darling.
Pop Up Buy-Buy is only the latest of a growing trend of pop-up shops in Buenos Aires. It was founded by Marcela Calamita, product developer and owner of effortlessly chic knitwear brand MANARO and Julia Schang-Vitón, fashion designer for her eponymous label, teacher, and collaborator on a number of experimental projects. This background in experimentation and cooperation has come to the fore in this latest project, in which the founders constantly strive to bring you the new and interesting in an unexpected way.
As with a showroom, visiting this pop-up is a pre-determined choice. Not found on a busy commercial thoroughfare (the nearest shop was a Carrefour Express), discerning shoppers have had to hunt it down to access the treasures within. Pop Up Buy-Buy’s past editions were hosted on the far edge of Palermo Hollywood, in what looks like a garage from the outside. In fact, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you could easily walk straight past, none the wiser. Granted, there are big posters on the doors signaling its existence, but some of the less observant among us might walk buy without a second glance (twice…).
However, the inside could not be any more different. Despite the quantity of brands in stock, from such a wide variety of genres, everything meshes together perfectly to create an intensely aesthetic experience. It is Schang-Vitón who takes charge of curating and coordinating the pop-up, and what is immediately obvious when upon entering is the care and precision that has gone into its organization. It truly is a lesson in merchandising; everything is laid out in a way that is so tantalizing and tempting that going in feels like entering Aladdin’s cave. You’re sure to emerge with anything from a jade face roller to moon chart prints.
As with a showroom, you have the time and peace to browse at your leisure, drinking in every corner of the local, but there is an undercurrent of urgency as you are aware that in a matter of days it will be no more. If you see something one day, there’s no guarantee it still be there the next, as the pop-up continues to change and grow. In a way, it seems like the organizers employ the romantic trope of playing hard to get. Not knowing when or where the next edition will be, alongside the ever-changing offer, only seems to whet shoppers’ appetite even more. In the era of mass-produced fast fashion, snagging a unique or one of a kind piece carries more weight than ever.
What is particularly striking about Pop Up Buy-Buy is the scope of the offer, which makes you acutely aware of the work that goes in to curating the store. Despite its relatively small size, all manner of products are sensitively displayed in order to complement one another, rather than compete. Selecting from small brands that usually only have a showroom or an online store, the products range from clothes and accessories to botanicals and skincare to furniture and books, displaying the finest of Buenos Aires’ thriving community of young designers and creators.
Everything is transitory and in constant flux. While there are certain brands that have been present at each edition – Lebas, Oss, and Bestia among others – Schang-Vitón and Calamita pride themselves on their constant rotation, so as to always offer the novel and unique. They seek out brands that demonstrate quality and authenticity but share a certain style, or rather, a certain aesthetic. The result is a coherent yet diverse offer of products from talented designers who might not otherwise have profited from such visibility.
There is a widespread culture of pop-ups in Buenos Aires at the moment, a tendency which is on the rise. The challenging costs of opening a new business, such as overheads, rent and sales assistants’ salaries to name but a few, seriously impede the ability of smaller, independent brands to acquire their own permanent shop. Therefore, so many young designers turn to showrooms as a low-cost, secure way to display their wares, but as Schang-Vitón notes, “there are simply not enough hours in the day to visit all the showrooms we want to!” Pop-ups present a viable alternative, bringing these brands together in one space and streamlining the whole experience.
For Schang-Vitón, this is because our style of shopping is changing. “The product alone is no longer enough. It’s all about the experience of finding it, of presenting it within the context of a family of related products, which is at the heart of what brands should aim for.” The ubiquity of this new kind of shopping demonstrates how more and more young designers are turning away from the rather staid, formal experience of conventional stores. She sees static shops as “obsolete in this era of immediacy and overstimulation, hence why we took on this project. It always offers novelty above all else.”
The concept of the pop-up also fits in to the wider discourse around sustainable shopping. The very nature of the pop-up demands that it leaves no trace behind, and as with other non-mainstream outlets, it values small-scale quality products over the ecologically-disastrous practices of fast fashion. “It’s the path to conscious consumption,” adds Schang-Vitón.
More than any of the other alternative shopping outlets, it is in pop-ups that social media has the most significant impact. For Pop Up Buy-Buy, it is the “key” to their business. One glance at their Instagram feed demonstrates their mastery of this medium – they have tapped in to the very ‘fashion’ style of multi-post mosaic images that together form a whole tableau on the account’s page. No half-hearted, over-filtered snaps here, each post has been meticulously planned and constructed to fit in with their brand image.
The brands that the pop-up has stocked in the past have tended to attract a largely female, millennial audience, though they are looking to widen the range of customers by incorporating further product ranges. Their customers are a mix of those seeking a brand in particular and those who have come for a browse, but overall they represent a different kind of consumer. “They come for new discoveries, they trust us and want to be surprised with something new. They support local design and entrepreneurs and don’t want what everyone else has.”
Betting a business on people who don’t want to buy “what everyone buys” seems an impossible feat. After all, how can you expect to balance this customer’s desire to be unique with generating enough footfall to make the whole experience profitable? The fear would be that attracting more and more customers would alienate these original buyers seeking to differentiate themselves from the mainstream. It is a fine line between the two which Pop Up Buy-Buy seems to be navigating with ease, by presenting such a varied offer that no two people visiting will walk away with the exact same purchases.
While the pop-up itself is a “unique, accessible space,” as Schang-Vitón describes it, there is something inherently luxurious in the experience. It is innately sensory, from the beautifully laid out products, to the smells of the cosmetics, and the feel of the products in your hands. It is escapism at its finest. You can immerse yourself entirely in the experience, take as much time as you need, and allow Calamita and Schang-Vitón to lead you on a voyage of discovery through Buenos Aires’ design scene. Their mantra is to “keep surprising,” so only they know what their future holds. Given their success this far, it’s bound to be bright.