“People from Barcelona value design” – Barcelona welcomes third MUJI store

Japanese minimalism meets Spanish exuberance: MUJI opens its biggest European store inside the famous La Unión y El Fénix building on Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia.

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arcelona’s new MUJI store is probably what comes closest to what Japanese tidying expert Marie Kondo would call paradise on earth: piles of neatly folded shirts organized by size and color, shelves of perfectly arranged socks, bed sheets and bedroom slippers, an array of toothbrush holders, facial creams, little notebooks and pens, all systematically sorted. MUJI is Japanese minimalism at its best and has opened its third store in Barcelona – currently the biggest one in Europe – in one of the most luxurious places in the Catalan capital: the prestigious El Fénix y La Unión building on Passeig de Gràcia.

Founded in 1980, MUJI has been promoting and exporting a certain idea of the Japanese lifestyle since the early 1990s, focusing on the quality of the material and a simple but functional product design. Today MUJI has around 7000 different products that are sold in 917 stores in 28 countries around the world. Simplicity and functionality are inherent in every single MUJI item and they are what distinguish them from other brands. Clothes are clear cut and made of materials like linen and cotton, furniture is made of oak or walnut wood, accessories are single-colored and minimalist. Nothing seems superfluous or unnecessary, every item is designed to fulfill a purpose.

“Spanish people, especially Barcelonans, value design”, he says, referring to MUJI’s success in other fashionable and design-obsessed cities like Milan or London.

According to Joaquim de Toca, managing director of MUJI Spain and Portugal, this is what appeals to Spanish customers and specifically to customers living in cosmopolitan and buzzing cities like Barcelona: “Spanish people, especially Barcelonans, value design”, he says, referring to MUJI’s success in other fashionable and design-obsessed cities like Milan or London. But design has to go hand in hand with functionality and an intelligent use of space. De Toca sees this as another main raison for MUJI’s popularity in Spain: “Especially with apartment space being more and more limited in big cities, quality and organization become crucial”, he explains. In megacities like Tokyo where space is rare and expensive this problem is even more dramatic and therefore calls for clever, simple and aesthetic solutions.

Considering the huge success of organization experts like the afore-mentioned Marie Kondo, MUJI’s concept of minimalism is more in vogue than ever. One main product line is a variety of storage solutions to perfectly organize your space and, well, experience what Kondo promises to be the “life-changing magic of tidying up”. Rectangular stacking shelves can be combined to suit everyone’s individual need, whereas soft boxes made of polyethylene or rattan can be used in many different sizes to store and organize smaller objects.

Naohito Watanabe, Consul General of Japan in Barcelona, believes that the opening of MUJI’s third store in Barcelona is another shining example of Japanese-Spanish economic relations

In a way, MUJI can certainly be seen as an ambassador for Japanese culture and lifestyle, exporting not only its minimalist approach but also a little bit of Japan itself. Naohito Watanabe, Consul General of Japan in Barcelona, believes that the opening of MUJI’s third store in Barcelona is another shining example of Japanese-Spanish economic relations, especially since it was done in collaboration with the Japan-Spain Business Circle (CEJE) which aims at fostering commercial relations between the two countries.

The new Barcelona flagship store offers an astounding assortment of different products on three floors, ranging from clothing lines for women, men and children, cosmetics, stationery and travel accessories to furniture and Japanese snacks. It invites customers to delve into the world of Japanese minimalism and efficiency by providing an in-store experience of an organized, clean and balanced Kondo-like lifestyle. Interestingly, as de Toca explains, MUJI actually has a much more ambitious agenda than “just” being a retail company. In Japan, MUJI literally offers the customer a full MUJI lifestyle package, selling pre-fabricated and fully furnished houses. In Tokyo, the company has opened a megastore that includes a supermarket selling fresh fruit and vegetables, there is a MUJI diner and even a MUJI hotel which, of course, only uses the company’s products. And a project called “Sensible 4 x MUJI” intends to open a grid of driverless buses, designed by MUJI, to connect people living in remote rural areas with public transport.

MUJI wants to combine the minimalist approach with environmental goals like reducing waste and recycling as well as the idea of anti-luxury by not displaying any logo or brand. Its “No Brand Quality Goods” concept is the idea of producing quality products (ryohin) without logos (Mujirushi) and was born as an antithesis to the habits of a consumer society in Japan that focuses on expensive products to show off one’s wealth. It is certainly ironic that its biggest European store is now located on a decadent luxury avenue like Passeig de Gràcia, but the company is simply continuing its strategy to open stores at highly renowned locations like it did in New York or Paris, where MUJI has opened a store on 5th Avenue and in Les Halles respectively.