The womenswear boutique’s directional merchandising is winning admirers beyond its London base.
What do Sienna Miller, Penelope Cruz and Wendy Dagworthy, head of fashion and textiles at the Royal College of Art, have in common? The answer is they are all regular visitors to Covent Garden womenswear boutique Koh Samui, a 1,500sq ft fashion treasure trove sited just off one of London’s busiest shopping areas, and a regular haunt of those in the know for the past 15 years.
Koh Samui’s secret, which it offers to tourists, locals and celebrities alike, is an individual mix of high-end brands – Chlo鬠Derek Lam and Marc Jacobs to name a few – alongside more affordable brands such as Paul & Joe Sister and Vanessa Bruno, exclusive young designers and quirky vintage product.
“We tend not to follow trends when we’re buying for the store,” explains co-owner Paul Sexton. “It is more about finding pieces or designers that we personally feel drawn to, that we think will stand out for our customers. Each piece we buy has its own beauty.”
Sexton and business partner Talita Zoe source new and interesting designers from local markets so they can sell product that you would not find in the usual fashion retailers. They have also branched out into homewares such as embroidered cushions, painted china tea sets and crystal drop chandeliers.
“When we travel around the world, we see so many amazing things that we just have to bring back, so it makes sense to sell them on,” explains Sexton.
The store has the feel of a dressing-up box on rails, with sequins, tulle and rainbow-coloured dresses, sparkling jewellery and oversized multicoloured paintings assaulting the senses as you walk in. All this frivolity could be overwhelming, but Sexton and Zoe have kept the product accessible by merchandising it by colour.
“We find it offers a point of difference to other stores, and makes the shop look less static than when all the designers are grouped individually,” says Sexton.
Complementary footwear and accessories are shown under the rails to maximise add-on sales. Fixtures and fittings are also kept simple, with white tiled floors, silver rails, inset ceiling spotlights and glass cabinets to showcase the jewellery and homewares.
When talking business, Sexton is keen not to be drawn on how Koh Samui is dealing with the credit crunch. “I think that if you are doing something unique, putting your energy into offering something special, your customers will come to you. Designers actually come to us to get their inspiration, so we must still be doing something right.”
Sexton reveals that Saks Fifth Avenue wants Koh Samui to set up a concession in its New York store. “The team at Saks said it had never seen anyone merchandise the way we do, and we’ve had other invitations to open stores and in-store areas, so there are things in the pipeline but nothing set up just yet.”
Koh Samui 65-67 Monmouth Street, Covent Garden, London WC2
1994: The year Koh Samui opened
1,500sq ft: The floor space in the Koh Samui store
44: Number of clothing brands on offer in the store