It was arguably one of London’s most beautiful stores: a lofty urban paradise that centred around an open courtyard topped by a vaulted glass atrium.
Theatrical and Instagrammable, lush plants and bold botanical prints made for a unique, artful store in the heart of London’s Covent Garden. But these impressive feats of design and architecture were not enough to save premium concept store The Shop at Bluebird, which will close permanently at the end of this month.
Owned by the Jigsaw Group, The Shop at Bluebird was the brainchild of John and Belle Robinson. The first store opened on Chelsea’s King’s Road in 2007. Described as a “cabinet of curiosities”, it offered a tastefully quirky selection of fashion, homeware and gifting.
The retailer became something of a Chelsea institution, serving its well-heeled local clientele for more than a decade before moving to the 15,000 sq ft, grade II-listed space on Floral Street in May 2018.
Drapers interviewed the head of The Shop at Bluebird, Clare Miles, shortly after the store opened. The move to Covent Garden, she explained, was part of a strategy to transform the retailer from Chelsea secret to a destination store that drew shoppers from across the country and the world.
Why this mission failed is down to a few factors. Bluebird’s closure certainly cannot be blamed on a failure to excite customers or create memorable experiences – flaws that are often blamed for bricks-and-mortar retail’s travails.
Bluebird had experience in spades. As well as the awe-inspiring store, which won several design awards – including a Drapers Award for Best Store Design in 2018 – it offered regular events, eyebrow threading, a roof terrace and more. Service was always polite and attentive on the occasions Drapers popped in for a visit.
Neither does it come down to product. The store offered a well-curated blend of luxury names, such as No 21, Chloé and Victoria Beckham, as well as covetable contemporary labels such as Ganni, Rixo, Danse Lente and By Far.
Perhaps the original Bluebird customer was simply unwilling to make the journey to Covent Garden – several commentators on an Instagram post announcing the store’s closure blame the move and the store is closing less than two years after relocating. Although it is undoubtedly central, Floral Street is set back from Covent Garden’s main shopping thoroughfare and has yet to become a destination in its own right, despite buzzy recent pop-up stores from Rixo and cosmetics brand of the moment Glossier.
The rent on the former carriage hall is also likely to have been sky high. Jigsaw is currently asking landlords for rent reductions and to delay payments in a bid to better manage its property portfolio.
Another factor clipping Bluebird’s wings was the lack of a multichannel offer. It had trialled a standalone transactional website previously but closed it because it failed to reach enough consumers. Relaunching an ecommerce offer was a long-term ambition of Miles, but Bluebird operated online through etail platform Farfetch.
Although desirable, Bluebird’s product was available through a plethora of other players offering a winning combination of choice, speed and convenience – among them Net-a-Porter and Matchesfashion. Competition for the comparatively small pool of fickle luxury shoppers is fierce and only growing fiercer by the day. With the store no longer on their doorsteps, Bluebird’s customers could well have turned their attention online.
Trading headwinds and a challenging environment mean there is rarely a day in retail without bad news, including closures, administrations and redundancies. However, it will still be a very sad moment when The Shop at Bluebird closes for the last time. This was an ambitious store that pushed the boundaries when it came to design and experience.