The latest arrival on the German capital’s rough and ready alternative retail scene is an object lesson in making the most of a rather bleak location
Take the U-Bahn (Berlin’s equivalent of the Tube) and you are immediately aware of the difference between the German and British capitals - its people. To make a vast and sweeping generalisation, folk riding on London Underground tend to be a mite dressier than those filling the U-Bahn. In Berlin, it is all about staking your space and you are never much more than a seat or so from someone emanating near open rebellion; this is the spiritual home of the alternative.
The same could be said of a broad swathe of Berlin’s edgier retail - it has a tendency to be a little rougher around the edges than its London equivalent, even allowing for trendy enclaves such as Shoreditch and parts of Hackney. In Berlin, much of the interest and current activity is centred on Torstrasse, just around the corner from the former East German showpiece Alexanderplatz, with its iconic TV tower.
And it is on this long, still derelict-feeling thoroughfare that the sweetly named Happy Shop started trading last week. Happy Shop is cheek-by-jowl with a four-lane highway and a series of bars and cheap restaurants, all of which have a vaguely temporary feel about them but which have probably been in place for some years. Add to this a smattering of guerrilla art galleries and the occasional pop-up shop and you have the measure of the area: post-apocalyptic chic.
Happy Shop is a beacon of brightness amid all this urban grit, and its opening party coincided with the first night of Berlin’s uber trade show for the casual and denim sector: Bread & Butter. The small shop’s debut had been well trailed at the event and provided an evening bolt-hole (and cocktails) for those seeking refuge from the branded maelstrom that was the interior of Tempelhof airport - home to Bread & Butter. And for those who made the pilgrimage across the city to attend, the view was remarkable and would have been unlike anything else they would have encountered in the world of independent retail.
Key looks and merchandise
Colour is the first thing that hits you in the eyes when you walk into this shop, and it comes entirely from the stock - there are a lot of very bold stripes, as the shop is resolutely neutral in tone.
The other point that will be obvious is that if you don’t like knitwear, you may struggle.
After that it is open season as the work of 15 womenswear designers is featured, all with widely varied stylings and differing takes on the fashion zeitgeist. At the heart of it all is the house label, Smeilinener, the collection from Berlin-based designer Mischa Alexandra Woeste, who owns the shop.
The blurb that accompanied the opening states that Happy Shop offers a home to everything from “colourful South American markets to Scandinavian workshops, innovative Japanese ateliers to Parisian luxury designer showrooms”. That about covers it and if you can think of more diverse influences, now might be a good time to write to Happy Shop’s creative director and buyer Marck Christian Winderkilde. What is clear is that this is something of an Aladdin’s cave and the adventurous will find pieces from JC de Castelbajac, Kitsuné, Florian and the interestingly named Hello Panda.
Prices are at the better end of bridge collections and head on up into designerland, something that should prove little problem for the well-heeled style hunters in this part of the city. A criticism might be that the offer lacks focus but, equally, this could be viewed as a strength - this is a truly eclectic collection.
In the normal run of things, visual merchandising (VM) is seen as related, but separate, to a store’s merchandise. The purpose of VM is to make more of stock and to tempt shoppers. At Happy Shop however, the stock is the VM. An extraordinary hoist and pulley system puts the clothing centre stage. At the push of a power hoist button, the mid-shop rails, filled with side-hung clothing, can be raised or lowered, creating the capacity for the store’s internal geography to be rapidly altered.
And that is about it, but this simple concept is more than sufficient to make this a spectacle as you enter the shop, and the temptation to start playing with the heights of the rails is actually quite hard to resist. There are a couple of odd-looking white mannequins, which have mouths but no other facial features, and add to the feeling of unfamiliarity about the interior. The most impressive point about the visual merchandising and layout of this shop is that it is so easy to change: total and rapid flexibility.
As the store was visited about an hour before the opening party, it was not possible to assess how good or otherwise the service might be, but you couldn’t fault Winderkilde for enthusiasm.
From the retro-looking green fluorescent logo attached to the upper part of the store fascia, to the plywood and plain walls of the interior, this is an unusual space and definitely a one-off.
The six metre-high ceiling gives plenty of height for the store merchandising system, which is about taking the industrial and the ambience of, well, a building site, and putting it into the context of a retail interior. The design has been inspired by the theatre, where scene changing using power hoists is the norm. Practically, this means everything is suspended from above - stock, mannequins and walls and, unusually, the eye is taken upwards rather than straight ahead. The aim is to offer a space that can move from shop to catwalk to exhibition space and back again at the flick of a few switches. It is an absorbing interior that will be different every time.
Would I buy?
Yes, although the pricing might cause a momentary flutter. There is sufficient variety in the stock, and the store is so unusual without feeling intimidating, that lingering and ultimately making a purchase would seem likely. In a part of alternative Berlin where non-standard is the norm, this store sticks out as worth a visit and will no doubt have the fashion faithful flocking through its doors.
Happy Shop lifts a somewhat bleak part of Berlin and further strengthens Torstrasse’s reputation as a destination for those in search of the idiosyncratic. The thought and care that has obviously gone into the creation of this shop means it deserves to do well, and probably will.
Address 67 Torstrasse, Berlin
Store size 1,660 sq ft
Store design Fingerle & Woeste
Stock The work of 15 designers is currently being sold
Opening (party) date January 19
Standout feature Industrial hoist and pulley system for the merchandise