The designer-meets-sportswear brand has finally opened in the UK with a stylish store in the centre of the capital. The only potential problem is the hefty price tags
Take a designer famous for detail and technical clothing and team his way of working with a sportswear brand best known for being a purveyor of sports rather than leisurewear, and the outcome is Y-3. The brainchild of Yohji Yamamoto and Adidas, Y-3 has been around since 2002, although Yamamoto had even approached Adidas two years earlier than that.
Since that time, Y-3 standalone shops have sprung up around the globe, with the first opening in 2004 in Taipei, followed by, curiously, Atlanta, Hong Kong, Paris, Miami and New York. Given the distinctly top-end pricing of the merchandise, it is a measure of the success of the formula that there are now two Y-3 standalone stores in Hong Kong, Taipei and New York.
Now it’s London’s turn to join the Y-3 party and you have to wonder why this has been so long in coming - although elements of the range have been available through department stores in this country for some years.
It’s also been a while since the last Y-3 opening, which was in New York in 2008, so the arrival of a central London standalone on Conduit Street might seem to signal fresh impetus behind the brand as it seeks to expand further.
The other point about the brand is that it is Y-3 and not Yamamoto or Adidas - at least that’s what the PR people say. However, look at the logo above the door and while it’s Y-3 that is the prominent feature, you don’t need bifocals to spot the A or Y words that are positioned above and below it. Y-3 may be a successful fusion of two pretty disparate elements, but the stables from which it has sprung are still apparent.
Key looks and merchandise mix
There are clothes for men, women and children in this two-floor store and the palette alone should be sufficient to inform shoppers that they have wandered into the sometimes severe world of Japanese design: black is the overriding colour. After that, it’s white and there’s a smattering of bright red on the ground floor with ranges in the basement that include blue, light blue, yellow and purple. There are very few prints, large polka dots being the exception, with contrast provided, for the most part, by horizontal stripes and the use of different fabrics and textures on the same garment.
The Y-3 collection for kids does not head off in a separate and broadly unrelated direction, as is so often the case, working instead as a very obviously integrated part of the adult ranges.
Now comes the difficult bit. We live in recessionary times and so T-shirts at £70, canvas belts at £40 and straw hats at £105 look ambitious. That said, trainers at £190, with the top price being £250, actually look affordable when compared with other designer labels. The most expensive garment in the store, a grey, waisted leather parka will set the shopper back £1,105, which again looks more reasonable in the scheme of things than many of Y-3’s accessories and entry-level garments.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that with Y-3, there is value in the detail, which may compensate in small part for the somewhat wallet-voiding prices.
Y-3 visual merchandising is pared back, but the quality of the settings provided for the garments means that whatever is displayed persuades you it is worth a glance. For the most part, the garments are side-hung around the perimeter, but internally-lit white cubes in the mid-shop act as light boxes across which items are laid.
There are also a number of faceless white mannequins that provide a neutral canvas for the garments, helping the shopper focus on the details. Also worth noting are the black plinths with edge-to-edge glass boxes on their tops that are used as display modules for footwear on the ground floor. Y-3 pulls the museum display trick with this one and it does draw the eye.
It is the window, however, that does the real visual merchandising donkey work. Two edgily dressed mannequins are braced by electric guitars, eight in total, which are positioned around them. Whether this is meant to reinforce the association of Adidas, and perhaps Y-3, with the hip-hop community or whether it’s just to create an interesting window is a moot point, but it does make you stop and look.
It was early on the day of visiting and the potentially louche kind of shopper that will frequent Y-3 was probably still in bed, so getting a true feel for the shop in action was not easy. The staff were pleasant and friendly with none of the designer demeanour that is often encountered in this upmarket part of London. They were also well-informed about the nature of the ranges, the brand history and why the products justified a premium price. For a relatively small shop, there were also lots of staff, meaning personal service should be a given.
The understated store frontage, all black with just the orange Y-3 logo adding a splash of colour, sets the tone for the rest of the shop. With this kind of merchandise there is always the danger that the shop design may stray into the realms of flash, but this is studiously avoided at Y-3. The other point about this minimalist interior is that being set on two floors, ground and basement, there is room to move on both levels, instead of the basement being a cramped afterthought.
The combination of cool, green glass, black slate floors and stainless steel accents, give this store design a suitably contemporary feel and offers a space that allows the stock to shine.
Would I buy?
Probably not, although it is easy to see the appeal of what’s on offer. The only consideration that shoppers are likely to make is that in a number of instances they will be able to buy something similar for considerably less money. Individually, the garments are certainly worth a look, but the sticking point for much of what is on show remains the price tag. There is a market for this, but the current climate may be mildly against it.
Y-3’s London debut will prove a shot in the arm for fans of the brand and the store is well thought-through, but a minimalist aesthetic and high prices may prove difficult for the store in the short term.
Address 54 Conduit Street, London W1
Number of floors Two
Reason for visiting The brand’s first UK standalone
Standout feature The white, mid-shop cubes