For Pan Philippou and Steve Davies, London’s The Content Store is the product of a meeting of minds
“He took me shopping and I never looked back,” chuckles Pan Philippou, owner of independent menswear retailer The Content Store, rolling back his shoulders and shifting in his chair. “He” is Steve Davies, The Content Store’s creative director, who sits opposite, bright eyes beaming.
“Fifteen shops visited in a day,” Philippou recalls. While it may have been a slight exaggeration from the owner of the 650 sq ft shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street in Bloomsbury, central London, I doubt it was. And secretly, I wished I could have been there, rummaging through the racks of clothing, seeking out new brands and trends, shop after shop, with them.
What a pair. Philippou, who operates with the “left side of the brain”, has years of number-crunching experience, notably for Diesel. A trained accountant, he started at Diesel and then made his way to CEO by 1994. Davies, the creative right brain, sits slightly distracted by a steady stream of phone messages while we sip coffee at a cafe a few doors down from their first project together, the refit of The Content Store.
These two menswear veterans have come together with plans to grow the store, which stocks brands such as Edwin, Saturdays NYC, and Oliver Spencer, as well as its ecommerce site. Ally McAnally, wholesale accounts manager for Edwin denim, one of the first brands to be stock at The Content Store, says, “We have some great ideas for the future together, like in-store parties and developing more of a strategy around drops.”
“I said OK, let’s do something. Let’s build it up and make something really special.”
Philippou explains how a mutual friend introduced him to Davies for a different project at around the time Philippou was buying out the other half-share in The Content Store from Mark Batista, co-founder of London menswear tradeshow Jacket Required. Philippou met Batista at Diesel, as his manager. Batista opened The Content Store in 2013 and Philippou joined in 2014, as “more of a sleeping partner,” he says, letting the founder run it “his way”. Philippou took control of the store in March 2016. He reflects on his early ambition: “I said OK, let’s do something. Let’s build it up and make something really special.”
In addition to working at Diesel, Philippou opened the first Maison Margiela store in London on Bruton Place in 2003. He also ran designer brands DSquared2 and Emanuel Ungaro. At the end of 2003, he was asked to go to New York to “fix up some situations for Diesel and its associate brands”. While he was in the US, Philippou relaunched Diesel USA and took it on to the catwalk. He also opened the first Maison Margiela store in New York in 2005.
By the time he left the US in 2008, Diesel had 75 stores globally. Philippou was headhunted to be global CEO at Ben Sherman, which he describes as a “shirt business”, where he stayed for almost three years. Philippou is also co-founder of Shushilala – a showroom in central London’s Soho Square, which works with childrenswear brands Livly Clothing and Poppy Rose, among others.
Coincidentally, across the road from Diesel in Covent Garden in 1995, Davies was kicking off his career as buying director, general manager and designer at Duffer of St George. Davies then became creative director of the collection Lost Souls in May 2007 with Nick Stavrakakis, the co-founder of fashion distributor Indigoferra. He went on to co-found Shoreditch High Street-based menswear independent Present with Eddie Prendergast in 2009.
Davies left Present two years ago to become a freelance stylist and brand consultant, during which time his roles have included brand retail curator for menswear brand Hardy Amies, which involves buying, styling, and creating and directing all visual concepts for it. He also worked with American Rag Cie Asia and Private White VC on similar projects.
His eponymous label, Steve Davies Studio, launched for the autumn 16 season (wholesale prices from £20 for accessories to £295 for coats). For spring 17, Davies has collaborated on a sports footwear collection with designer Mick Hoyle’s London footwear brand F-Troupe entitled Steve Davies Loves F-Troupe. His full autumn 17 menswear collection will debut at The Content Store, accompanied by a collaboration with C6 Bags.
Davies’s experience was what Philippou and The Content Store needed to start doing the “heavy lifting” in his new small business during a difficult time in the market.
“You’re faced with brands that want to become retailers,” Philippou says. “And you’re also faced with retailers that want to become brands. You have to ask: what are you as an independent? You have to stand out in the marketplace. Be different, and it has to be really strong.”
“I knew my strengths and my weaknesses,” says Philippou. “My strengths are in business, not in products or selling. The only man in town that really knows all about product, that knows about direction of trends, is Steve. That’s why I brought him on board, to be my lieutenant.”
Appointed as creative director of The Content Store in April, Davies was thrilled to start work on a refit of the shop within two months: “I wanted to liven it up, make it more fun, give it a bit more edge and make it more interesting.”
The shop refurbishment “has been a quick fix, and we’ll keep growing it, expanding it and changing things around”, he adds. Since he joined, Davies has also added brands such as Atelier & Repairs and Engineered Garments to the collection.
“We treat the store as a great showroom, and we keep the stock on reserve. Now that we’ve changed the layout, customers can take a bit of a journey now. They can touch and feel things,” says Philippou. “We’ve got lots of fun little bits that you can pick up. If a customer is coming in to spend some serious money, he can add a few things on. Or if a guy comes in and he’s browsing, and doesn’t want to spend too much, he can pick up a pair of socks or a bottle of aftershave.
“Prices range from about £10 to £1,000. It’s more about the way the product is curated and put together though, than pricing.”
The pair agree that shopping behaviour has changed since they started their careers.
“There’s a much bigger demographic of people who are actually interested in fashion,” notes Davies. ”It used to be skins, punks, casuals, hip-hop, but now it’s more like there’s a generic look that you can pick and look respectably nice.”
Philippou sees the change in fashion behaviour as an effect of the rise of European football in the 1970s and 1980s: “When British teens were brought to Italy to play and they realised that the guys out there dressed a lot better them, the Brits upped the ante. It raised the whole ‘must do better’ attitude to some extent. Football was the catalyst for it. People saw other guys dress up, and Italian guys dress fantastically. Now, it’s not embarrassing to dress up. It’s almost embarrassing not to dress up.”
With this ethos, that men now find shopping “interesting” and realise that a shopping experience is a journey that should be fun, the shop has grown 40% in sales year on year – although he will not reveal figures – and Philippou says they are on track to compound that again this year. By September, The Content Store and Content & Co [its sister shop in Exmouth market] will both have updated ecommerce sites, an important part of the company’s investment, aside from the new physical shop refits.
“It’s my job to build the pillars and all the processes, and for Steve to get the correct brands, and then we’ll look to expand,” Philippou says. One way Philippou is setting up his successful foundation is also by investing in the team on the shop floor, “You want everyone excited. We want to make it a cool thing to work in retail. To bring people on internally and bring them up. Inspiration for me is ‘Give people wings to let them fly’.”
“You need to have the right team on board, who actually live and breathe the brand,” he says. Clearly both Philippou and Davies do.
For a full image gallery of The Content Store’s new shop refit, click here.
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