Will west London shoppers be worshipping at this cult young fashion brand’s Portobello Road store?
Glance at the website for Religion and you’ll be informed that this is a brand that emerged in the early 1990s “when music was chemically inspired and beliefs were publicly expressed on statement tees”, according to its website. While this is all well and good, isn’t that what a lot of brands do, chemical inspiration or otherwise?
At its recently opened store at the lower end of Portobello Road in Notting Hill, you will find several types who look as though they’ve just stepped out of an edgy club (both staff and shoppers). Clearly, Religion has carved out a niche. And the notion of calling a brand Religion has more to do with the clothes and associated cult-like music, rather than something that’s revered and worshipped, according to a member of staff.
The brand is not unknown in west London as it is stocked in both Selfridges and House of Fraser, but this is its first foray into the area as a standalone shop (it has two stores in east London, in Brick Lane and Shoreditch). The choice of this part of Portobello Road seems a canny one. The environs are distinctly scruffy and rather more Ladbroke Grove than Notting Hill, although this still doesn’t make it a trustafarian-free zone.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Much further along Portobello Road is a large branch of All Saints and the chances seem good that if you like that shop, then you’ll give the thumbs up to Religion. This is a collection where the predominant colours are shades of black, with browns, beiges and greys.
Much of what is on display has a washed and worn quality about it. This is perhaps best seen in the jeans range, which occupies a large area at the back of the store. Heavily washed and generally beaten-up denims are the order of the day. Soft-handle jeans-style twills also form part of the offer and prices would probably bring a smile to the face of those who’ve been to All Saints, as jeans start at £70 and top out at £100.
T-shirts are around the £40 mark and there are indeed many with statements on them. The rest of the offer is mostly the kind of thing that would find favour with indie band fans with about an equal split between the men’s and women’s offers. This is a clearly defined and somewhat narrow range, but it is relatively good value and offers a ‘look’ that will not be sported by many other people.
Just what is it about skulls that so many retailers feel they’re a good idea as visual merchandising props at the moment? Silver skulls, in groups and as single items, lend a semi-goth ambience to the store’s interior, along with other items such as a leather-bound Victorian pulpit bible and a large crucifix in the open-air space visible through the window at the back of the shop.
The theme is picked up, to an extent, by the ‘jangers’ (jeans hangers, pay attention), which take the form of leather hooks with robust chromed dog leash clips. These allow the denims and twills to be hung from the wall by a single belt loop, giving a draped feel to the presentation. The manner in which the jeans are casually laid on a table at the back of the shop may also look as if it has been done in a carefree manner, but it is the outcome of careful visual merchandising.
For those who might once have frequented the indoor Kensington Market, the somewhat crowded mid-shop hanging displays will seem familiar and the large wooden display cabinet on a market porter’s cart just inside the window adds to the reach-me-down feel of this interior. This is a very well considered piece of visual merchandising in a modest single-floor space.
On the day of visiting, a Wednesday afternoon, there were shoppers in the store and all were being attended to with a mix of soft-sell and friendliness that was engaging. When questioned, the staff knew about the brand, what it stands for, its history and who it is aimed at. As this was an unannounced visit, the view was the one that any shopper would get on any day of the week and it was positive.
There is something rather confusing about a shop that doesn’t have its name over the door. Look at the website again and there is an address listed for the branch, but arriving outside, if you didn’t know this was Religion, you might be none the wiser. This is not necessarily a bad thing for a brand that trades on a cultish reputation, and the simple exterior is immediately pleasing.
Internally, a lot of tricks have been played with this long, narrow space.
A prison door, for instance, is set into the left-hand wall, but the eye is immediately taken to the rear of the shop by the natural daylight that comes from a glass wall. This affords views out to a small courtyard and means the cash desk is bathed in light and also invites a progress through the shop.
Will it work?
The fact it was being shopped on a Wednesday in mid-January speaks volumes for the brand’s appeal and for the store itself. There are some elements about the store’s interior that could be seen as indie brand standard, but everything is so well executed that the tendency will be to overlook this. It is far from being a me-too brand though and as such is likely to continue finding favour.
Religion’s westward London progress is good both for the brand and for Portobello Road. This is a store that is worth making the long trek down the street from Notting Hill to visit.
Address 257 Portobello Road, London W11
Opened Autumn 2011
Not to be confused with True Religion Jeans
Other stores Brick Lane and Shoreditch High Street, east London