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Williams & Griffin, Colchester

Despite attracting a broad mix of shoppers, Williams & Griffin has retained an intimate approach to retail.

Buying fashion for a diverse audience has its challenges. Presenting Diesel and Replay with the same sincerity as Hobbs and Phase Eight, all under the same roof, is a tricky proposition, but one that Williams & Griffin pulls off effortlessly, while maintaining an easy-to-approach personality. No wonder the department store has carved out a reputation as a destination visit.

To anyone who has ever been to Williams & Griffin, last month’s news that the Colchester business had been snapped up by Fenwick will have come as little surprise. Just last year the store was named Department Store of the Year at the Drapers Awards, achieving sales understood to be around £25.5 million.

The womenswear department, created by design firm Caulder Moore, has all the visual hallmarks of a premier league retail player. The spacious white-walled rectangular area meanders easily from an own-bought section with an indie-friendly brand breakdown to the kind of concessions-led approach more familiar to department stores.

Merchandise director Julie Hayward says: “We have young customers all the way up to 50-year-olds, but all of them are fashion conscious and we have to reflect that.”

The women’s brand mix, bought by womenswear buyer Sarah Daniels, takes in mainstream favourites such as Country Casuals and Viyella, through to contemporary collections such as Sticky Fingers and Day Birger et Mikkelsen, with a smattering of short-order options from the likes of Saint Tropez and Lipsy. The concessions business is driven by Hobbs, Phase Eight and Whistles.

Sandwiched between the lower ground floor homewares department and the vast menswear section, the Quest men’s and women’s area is a shrine to young fashion. “We want to be the major player in branded young fashion between Colchester and Bluewater,” says menswear and Quest buying manager Charlie Peel. “As well as local shoppers, there are plenty of students. Also, we’re a garrison town so soldiers come to spend money on young fashion labels.”

The men’s and women’s brand roster takes in commercial big-hitters G-Star, Diesel, Replay and Firetrap, alongside edgier alternatives such as Junk de Luxe.

Dedicated to casualwear and lifestyle brands such as Ralph Lauren, Gant and Marc O’Polo, the ground floor menswear area is dominated by a dramatic sweeping staircase ascending into a sophisticated tailoring offer. Canali dominates sales, but there are options for leaner budgets including The Label, while brands such as Without Prejudice and Hackett cater for more trend-savvy shoppers.

This democratic buying mantra extends to kidswear and footwear, while luxury jewellery from Mont Blanc and Links Of London, plus a handbag area anchored by Mulberry, Orla Kiely and Billy Bag, set an aspirational tone to customers entering on the ground floor.

Williams & Griffin 152 High Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1PN

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