The head of retail at property group Shaftesbury on bringing new brands and stores to London.
At London property group Shaftesbury, Samantha Bain-Mollison shapes the fashion retail mix in some of the capital’s most sought-after destinations. She now has responsibility for a portfolio covering 14 acres in London’s West End, including districts such as Carnaby Street, Seven Dials, St Martin’s Courtyard, Berwick Street and Soho.
Tell us about your average day.
Lots of meetings. There is normally an internal strategy meeting to discuss the plan for an area, building or street and then meetings with retailers. With existing retailers, we discuss performance, collections and planned press and events. For new retailers, we need information about their brand so I can assess whether they would be a good fit. We have a strict tenant mix policy and it is important the brand adds something special to the area and becomes part of the community.
At some point I usually visit one of our holdings to look at the latest openings and stay up to date with what brands are doing, as well as checking whether shops and streets are busy. Then some desk time to answer emails.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Retail is full of lots of creative and interesting people who are always coming up with new ideas and creating cutting-edge brands. I feel lucky when I’m able to help retailers or businesses make their ideas a reality and they are able to open successful shops that contribute to making our districts unique retail destinations. The retail sector is constantly changing and evolving, so it is important that our retail strategy is relevant and evolves too.
What would you change about your job if you could?
If I had a genie or a Room 101, I would immediately eliminate email and probably ditch the iPhone too, but it’s the world we work in.
What’s been your proudest moment in your career so far?
Last year we secured more than 30 new lettings to retailers, all of which were new international entrants to the UK, concept stores and West End flagships. These were all fashion, accessories and footwear stores in Carnaby and Seven Dials, while in Soho we like to have a mix of uses. Great examples from last year were US accessories brand Shinola in Newburgh Street, French premium brand APC in Lexington Street, Swedish menswear brand Our Legacy in Silver Place and skatewear brand Element in Shorts Gardens. But it’s a new year and I’d like to have better stories by the end of 2015.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
We have several large projects underway, which will provide rare flagship retail space in prime thoroughfares. For example, we have 7,500 sq ft that we are marketing on Foubert’s Place opposite Adidas Originals and Italian womenswear brand Brandy Melville. Some is available to let this year and some in 2017, but we are discussing it with potential retailers. We are looking for brands who want to make a unique statement.
And the least?
We have a number of international research trips planned, which is a great source of inspiration for our business. The trips are really useful to see other cities and their offers, visit retailers who are interested in opening stores in London and go to trade shows like Pitti Uomo [in Florence] to see collections. It’s a bit pathetic, but the only downside to all of this is that I am a very bad flyer so I really dread the flying part.
What’s the biggest misconception you face?
That Shaftesbury won’t be interested in letting shops to start-ups or independents. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as we love supporting new concepts and have a high proportion of independents in our portfolio. Exciting independents we let to last year included footwear store F-Troupe on Ganton Street, menswear store Oi Polloi on Marshall Street and Finisterre, London’s only surf shop, in Earlham Street.
What is your favourite look for spring 15?
It still feels like the depths of winter to me, so it has been all about my Canada Goose jacket, Woolrich bobble hat, SuperTrash biker boots and Sophie Hulme mini tote.
Name your fail-safe office look.
Jeans or a pretty dress and a leather jacket.
And for a night out?
A jumpsuit, good heels, great bag and minimal jewellery.
What’s your biggest fashion faux pas?
I feel like it should be everything I was wearing in the 1990s, but it would all be bang on trend now.
And your favourite wardrobe item?
Sophia Webster suede heels from the Net-a-Porter Sale on Boxing Day - they are pretty special.
When was your most ‘fashion’ moment?
It has to be my wedding. I wore an Elizabeth Fillmore Margo dress and Manolo Blahnik Godichefac sandals. I wore my outfit the whole weekend - from Saturday until Monday morning. True love.
When are you at your happiest?
Spending time with my husband and friends, going out for food and good old-fashioned cocktails in Soho or Hackney.
What do you do to relax?
Go for spa treatments or have a long bath with lots of candles and a good book, such as Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood.