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Stratford torchbearers

Drapers toured Westfield’s new mall, alongside the Olympic park, to check out retailers’ latest concepts

John Lewis

John Lewis pulled out all the stops for its first London store opening in 20 years. From the debut of its own-brand menswear label, John Lewis and Co, to enhanced fitting-room services and the 4,000 sq ft Olympics shop, the department store claims that 70% of the four-floor branch is new concept. General manager Ruth Scharvona says: “The store was built to our needs and brings all the divisions into one place.”

At 155,000 sq ft, the Stratford store sits among the chain’s top five largest sites and is one of the centre’s anchor shops.

The first floor is dedicated to womenswear, footwear, lingerie, accessories and beauty, while a quarter of the ground floor houses menswear.

Notably, the department store’s location at the western edge of the Westfield campus gives way to floor-to-ceiling lookouts over the Olympic Park, definitely the best view of the site.

Forever 21

At 67,940 sq ft, this is the US fast-fashion retailer’s largest UK store and the only one on this side of the Atlantic to feature all the Forever 21 brands across womenswear, menswear, kidswear and lingerie.

Spread across three floors, this superbly lit space is a real destination and raises the stakes for value retailing, with on-trend product at minuscule prices.

It feels spacious, too. Despite being a volume-led business, the customer is not faced with clutter, but with a calming experience and well-laid out product.

The crisp merchandising landscape is warmed up with now-trite antique-style props, such as Edison lightbulbs and vintage kitchen scales holding chunky rhinestone bracelets. But the result is still a stylish and modern mix of bling with touches of charm that work.

River Island

This 11,000 sq ft store is one of the chain’s biggest, covering two floors and showcasing the young fashion retailer’s full offer, including womenswear, menswear, kidswear and all sub-brands. A double entrance splits the store front, allowing separate windows to display several of River Island’s key trends.

Inside, a bright, neutral decor allows the product to stand out, key for this season’s jewel-tone colour palette, which is seen throughout the store. High ceilings, glossy tiles and wood flooring create a modern loft feel, while chandeliers, cushion-strewn sofas and ceiling-height mirrors propped against walls create a boutique feel.

Product departments are casually separated by brick archways draped with curtains. Sofa spaces provide large chill-out areas among the product.

A ‘Twitter mirror’ in the women’s changing room takes photographs of customers and posts them to their Twitter and Facebook pages. And staff carry iPads, allowing customers to view and buy online exclusives. Big screens show ad campaigns and footage from events.

The Sting

The Dutch young fashion chain opened its second UK store at Westfield Stratford, covering 21,395 sq ft across two floors. The entrance is inviting with a LED-illuminated lift and escalator at the centre of the store, more reminiscent of a nightclub than a shop, that will appeal to its young target customers.

Womenswear occupies the ground floor and menswear the first. The product covers basics and denim well, with a wide range of sizes in stock. When Drapers asked for an alternative size, stock was easily accessed from drawers under central display units. Some of the less trend-led, European product will not resonate with the typical UK customer but tourist traffic could make up for that.

The three 16-screen display points play music videos on a loop; although eye-catching, these could divert attention from the clothes. The mannequins look animated in striking stances, and are well merchandised with UK-friendly product.

A final thought: the single till point on ground level with no barriers for queuing may be a struggle on busy weekends.

Fat Face

Lifestyle retailer Fat Face’s store has a plum location, across from anchor retailer Marks & Spencer and Forever 21 (which had huge queues on opening day), and directly in front of shoppers coming to the centre over the main pedestrian bridge from Stratford station.

The 3,260 sq ft space was a “big investment” according to the company and of the shop’s new staff members, 90% are from the local East End area.

Communications director Jo Taylor says: “It is very important for us to be here. All of our stores are different, but this is the home of the brand. Here, the customer will feel the whole brand when they walk in the door.”

In-store features include the use of reclaimed fittings such as sailing rope, weathered floorboards and old sash windows. The seven changing rooms are kitted out to reflect Fat Face’s outdoor inspiration landscapes: mountain, beach, ocean and land.

Vintage tent fabric hoisted above the shopfloor flickers with stylish mini-films of Fat Face’s latest campaigns. And - a first for the brand - customers can access free WiFi as soon as they enter.

The store’s architecture and aesthetics have been designed to echo the relaxed feel of the brand’s clothing and to showcase its new British Heritage collection.

Buying director Toby Bowhill says: “We offer different trends from the mainstream brands, a slightly different proportion of clothing that nods to trends, but has a relaxed, casual and outdoor feel.”

Republic

Branded young fashion chain Republic’s store occupies 11,000 sq ft over two floors. A relatively small entrance opens up to womenswear, which sits on the ground floor, with menswear up the stairs.

Mannequins are well positioned on the shopfloor, and front-facing fixtures impressively showcase the product.

The denim wall also grabs the eye. The women’s area stocks Republic’s sub-brands Soul Cal, Miso and Crafted Denim, which tick all the boxes for the retailer’s target customer, with pieces from jersey separates and denim to evening party dresses. Menswear also offers Soul Cal and Crafted Denim and there is a wide range of denim, and impressive options of quilted jackets and duffle coats.
However, the stock allocation wasn’t quite right on Drapers’ visit, particularly in terms of hanging product. For example, a jersey dress was only available in a size eight in cream, or a size eight and 12 in black. On the men’s floor a style of jeans could only be found hanging in a size 34.
Staff were friendly and, when Drapers asked about alternative sizes, it was directed to the media tablets to use the new click-and-collect service. But one of these touch points was hidden on the day behind a cardboard display.

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