In an uninspiring 1960s former factory in the centre of Kiev, ambitious stylists are honing their highlighting techniques at L’Oréal Group’s recently opened academy, its first in Ukraine, next door to its regional headquarters.
The beauty brand has boosted its presence in Ukraine considerably over the past few years. It started with fewer than ten employees in 2003. Now, there are 150 L’Oréal staff throughout the country, according to Mark Sawchuk, general manager of L’Oréal Professional, the company’s salon-focused division.
This growth has been accompanied by the swanky top-floor work and training spaces, courtesy of young German architects M2R.
Sawchuk explains the logic of locating the two entities so close to each other. “By having the academy next to our offices, we can stop in, say hello and speak directly to our hairdressing partners every day,” he says. “Also, the marketing teams can test new products, and the education team can try new techniques, hairstyles and trends.”
The first thing the architect – which has offices in London, Berlin and Kiev – considered was the doorway into the 100sq m office space. L’Oréal shares its address with other international businesses including Philips and Siemens. But while many of the companies are happy behind the rather bland and anonymous doors, M2R wanted to give L’Oréal an entrance that was in keeping with its brand.
“We opened up much of the wall on to the hallway with glass and designed the aluminium-panelled reception desk at an angle, to give a sense of space and overstretch the perspective,” says M2R’s Axel Rostock.
There is a quirky incongruity here, with some antique cream seating lit by a vintage chandelier in the oh-so-modern reception area. “For L’Oréal, Paris is about baroque,” says Rostock.
The desk is part of a utility block, which carries on the length of the floor and holds the staff kitchen, loos and server room. All this is hidden behind an opaque feature wall, some of whose panels are designed to carry the company’s poster campaigns.
Opposite the reception desk, the latest products sit in display cabinets – angled, mirrored, inset and down-lit – which are carved into back-lit opaque glass walls. “We experimented putting the glass tubes close together, so that there are no dark gaps in the fluorescent lighting,” adds Rostock.
From the reception area, the parquet flooring leads to the left, where offices and a central meeting room, which can accommodate up to 20 people, are located.
M2R was able to achieve a western-quality fit-out by having one partner on site full time. In fact, Axel’s twin brother Jörg, another of M2R’s three directors, has been based in Kiev for the past two years, working with an assistant out of the offices of Denza Workspace, a 30-strong local fit-out contractor.
On top of handling daily snagging issues, Jörg procured the entire project and carried out cost-consulting services for the client. “We had enough left over from the construction budget of £250,000 to get some nice furniture,” says Axel, citing the baroque pieces.
M2R applied a similar design approach for next door. Sawchuk describes the academy’s main purpose: “That is where we do training for our hairdressing clients. Most seminars involve theoretical ‘classroom’-style training, followed by a practical ‘hands-on’ segment where the clients can actually practise applying hair colour.”
For M2R, the academy is about flexibility and storage. Flexibility because the 300sq m space requires a multitude of functions, and storage because so many towels, chairs and mirrors are needed for those all-important styling sessions. Hence all the cupboards and lockers around the central lift shaft.
With its back-lit images and inset product displays, the academy’s reception echoes that of the offices. But here, the region’s hairdressers park their fur coats in the wardrobe on the left and make their way along the dark-brown linoleum down a sort of glossy tube.
The curves of this lacquered plasterboard tube repeat themselves in the corian coffee bar at the end of the corridor. Stylists can rest their pins on the similarly curvaceous stools and look through the glass on to the white Fritz Hansen chairs and white linoleum of the main space.
This big room has to work hard. It can be divided into two with mirrored partition walls for seminars catering for between 50 and 75 people in a “look and learn” format, or it can be completely opened up to host public relations events, fashion shows and product launches. So there is storage at the far end for low tables that can be constructed into a stage or catwalk.
In this main space, light is vital – hence the white linoleum and seating. Here, south-facing windows let in lots of natural light, which means stylists can get an accurate reading of the hair colourants that they are applying.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the lift shafts sit five shiny washing stations and their Maletti chairs. “We used a lot of reflecting surfaces here to make it feel bigger,” says Axel.
But despite all the mirrors, glass, stainless steel and corian in the academy, M2R hasn’t shied away from the building’s original make-up. Much of the concrete foundations and raw functions have been left exposed. “We wanted it to be a place of inspiration, but also a place where people felt they can work and learn in a relaxed environment,” says Sawchuk. “Therefore, in the main space, we decided to leave many of the ventilation shafts exposed, as well as the racks for the lighting, giving the impression of a loft apartment or a fashion show stage set.”
This £150,000 (in construction costs) project has some big ambitions. For Sawchuk, it is about turning L’Oréal into the number one professional salon brand in Ukraine in the next two to three years. “To achieve this, we need to constantly gain new salons, and therefore train the hairdressers in how to use our products and recommend them to their clients,” he says. “The academy will be the centre of this training strategy and, hopefully, full of hairdressers who want to learn, grow, and succeed together with us.”
Sawchuk and his team certainly seem to have faith in their architects. The next stop for M2R is L’Oréal’s headquarters in Kazakhstan.