A Phase Eight store tends to be one of those shops that you feel ought to be a well-to-do indie, but is actually part of a relatively substantial chain.
Address 10-12 James Street, London W1U
Store design Four By Two
Number of floors Two
This is where the well-heeled woman who has long since forsaken the blandishments of Topshop and its ilk might be inclined to head when in search of something fashionable that captures the mood of the moment.
‘Well-dressed’ might well be the hyphenated double adjective that should be applied to the Phase Eight shopper - the sort of person who absolutely wants to be noticed without running the risk of being considered ‘mutton dressed as lamb’.
Yet while this quasi-independent retailer fulfils a similar function to an indie and might attract the same crowd, prices are considerably lower. Indie style on a mid-market budget perhaps.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
Looking around, it’s almost ‘ladies who lunch’ territory in terms of displays, with wide gauze-like brimmed hats adorned with bows, teamed with sharp court shoes and heavily patterned tie-dye and abstract print scarves. All good. There is, however, a mild quibble. Above most of the mid-shop and perimeter rails on the ground floor and a fair portion of the display equipment in the basement there are the words ‘New Collection’. There is such a thing as crying wolf and this feels suspiciously like that - ultimately, it becomes the visual equivalent of white noise and is pretty meaningless. The shop window display also feels somewhat conservative, with its tall mannequins in long, formal dresses.
02 - CONCEPT
This is a store with two floors - with wood flooring and exposed brick for daywear on the ground floor, while downstairs for bridal and eveningwear it’s reclaimed planks for the floor and white, vintage-style tiles for the fitting rooms. This makes for an attractive but indistinct interior and there is the feeling that you may have seen much of this before. And in terms of design, it’s hard to escape the sense that this is a matter of ticking the ‘reach-me-down chic’ box.
03 - SERVICE
Pleasant and engaged. On the bank holiday Monday of visiting, staff were busy attending to the two shoppers who had ventured in. Indeed, the latter were being well looked after and a sale was in the process of being completed. As you might expect at this upper end of the mid-market, the store was tidy and no faux pas had been made with the displays. It’s difficult to say more than this as the sales staff were not being unduly taxed, although your correspondent was greeted with a mix of curiosity and mild suspicion.
04 - PRODUCT
If this were an indie, you’d almost expect a price tag for one of the many dresses to run into the multiple hundreds of pounds. It’s a very pleasant surprise then to see that, while the ambience is indie, the prices are not, with the great majority of the dresses (which are perhaps the major in-store category at the moment) starting at around £100 and topping out at £150. This makes Phase Eight good value for money, when ambience and service levels are taken into consideration. As a one-stop shop, this works well.
05 - COMPETITION
There really is a lot of competition for this Phase Eight branch. Whether the shopper chooses to go with the Oxford Street hurly-burly and shop House of Fraser or perhaps John Lewis, or to head instead for the more boutique-led environs of nearby St Christopher’s Place where the likes of Whistles et al ply their trade, there is a lot to compare Phase Eight with. This is perhaps why independent stores tend to be found in places where the competition is less red of tooth and claw. This may not be an indie, but it does appeal to the same target customer and has a lot to contend with given its location.
06 - VERDICT: Where am I?
Two elements make this branch of Phase Eight mildly, but not overwhelmingly, problematic. The first is the location. James Street is off-pitch as far as clothing retail is concerned, with the real action happening on St Christopher’s Place and Oxford Street. This is a street dominated by casual dining not clothes shopping. The other point is the interior. This doesn’t pass the clichéd test that asks the fictional shopper to name where they are if the logo above the door is removed. They would have little clue, although they would find it a pleasant in-store environment.