The storied past of Geelong in the southwest of Melbourne has undoubtedly contributed to placing the bay-side region on the map. The city is well-known for its woollen mills that coincided with Geelong’s founding in 1837 and the National Wool Museum that now pays tribute to the industry’s heyday. There’s the circa-1859 Geelong AFL club (one of the world’s oldest clubs) and, of course, the now-shuttered Ford factory that was home of manufacturing for the iconic Falcon and the family of motor-vehicles that followed suit. But there’s another claim to fame to be added to the city’s brag-list: the region is the birthplace of retail empire Cotton On Group.
Cotton On Group global headquarters by Greg Natale and PTID
The Cotton On Group began with an 18-year-old Nigel Austin selling denim jackets from the boot of his Ford Bronco at the Beckley Park Market in 1988. Fast forward to 2021 and the now rag-trade juggernaut has 1300-plus stores across 20 countries. As the business has scaled up its operations (the company also owns Cotton On Baby, Cotton On Kids, Typo, Rubi and Supré), the group has opened a global headquarters which, sentimentally, is sited in the region of its roots. But the impressive HQ is a far cry from the company’s car-boot sale origins. Cotton On Group enlisted celebrated Australian designer Greg Natale to devise a landmark workspace which masterfully merges the region’s industrious history with influences of luxury lodgings from around the world.
Greg collaborated with commercial interior design specialists PTID on creating the headquarters. From the outset, the client wanted a building that appeared as if it had always been a part of the local fabric. “The building has been constructed within the existing footprint of a former factory, allowing the reuse of existing materials as part of its ‘life cycle’ approach to sustainability,” Greg explains. Further, a facade of classic red bricks was the natural choice to achieve the aesthetic the client desired – it ticks all the boxes for referencing the industrial architecture of the nearby Ford motor-vehicle factory, as well as giving a nod to Geelong’s woollen mills.
Beyond the front doors, Greg dreamed up a space swathed in old-school grandeur, where chandeliers and wood-panelled columns are partnered with fluted glass and glamorous black terrazzo floors. The sumptuous interior, with its grand lines and mid-century furniture by Milo Baughman, establishes this as a “special space”, Greg enthuses, who designed the interior to attract and nurture the company’s talented team. “A beautiful detail lies in the hallways, which are lined with artworks by the group’s designers – a reminder of the brand’s commitment to its place and its people,” he says.
One site constraint, the challenge of compartmentalising areas in the voluminous reception space, was resolved by the introduction of columns in a simple grid formation. “The wood-panelled columns bring warm, textural appeal and work with furniture and lighting groupings to delineate intimate pockets where staff can gather together, while keeping the focus on community and collaboration,” Greg says. “The resulting design allows various breakout spaces for staff while still embracing connectivity.”
A beautiful detail lies in the hallways, which are lined with artworks by the group’s designers – a reminder of the brand’s commitment to its place and its people.
The on-site restaurant, named The Beckley (“in honour of the market where Nigel began the business all those years ago,” Greg says) emits a moody brasserie vibe in a hearty palette of blue, black and green. Its outdoor courtyard offers employees places to meet, pockets of peacefulness and sun-drenched corners amid an abundance of plantings, designed in collaboration with Australian landscaper Myles Baldwin.
Standing as a stunning example of how contemporary interior design can make an impact while maintaining a meaningful connection to the past, Cotton On Group’s global headquarters is a thoughtful people-focussed vessel, well-equipped to take the company into its next phase. “Although a new building, it connects the brand to a tradition of local productivity,” Greg concludes. “The grand design links to the heritage of the region and focuses on past and future excellence.”
The grand design links to the heritage of the region and focuses on past and future excellence.