It’s almost three years ago to the week that Swedish premium casualwear brand Acne flung open the doors of its London flagship on Dover Street, cheek-by-jowl with Rei Kawakubo’s Dover Street Market.
Address 93 Pelham Street, London SW7
Opened July 18, 2013
Floor space 2,289 sq ft across two floors
Ambience Industrial luxury
Now it has a second standalone store, but this time it’s an almost entirely different proposition and its location, where ritzy Knightsbridge morphs into South Kensington, tells you all you need to know.
This is a store for those who crave the edgy design credentials that characterise this brand, but want a more grown-up version, in keeping with the quiet opulence of this genteel part of west London.
Acne in this location reaches out to an almost entirely different demographic from its sister store a mile or two away, and both store design and stock reflect this.
01 VISUAL MERCHANDISING
Like the Dover Street store, this Acne branch pursues a doggedly minimalist agenda but does so in a way that is considerably less about objets d’art and rather more about giving the stock space to breathe and letting the store design do the talking. There are chromed runner rails and a few perimeter side-hanging rails on the ground floor, while downstairs there’s a long table for merchandise and an industrial-looking series of pigeonholes for the jeans display.
The standout VM feature is the screen at the back of the basement, which features a series of hyper-coloured images of people wearing, presumably, Acne clothing. It adds a touch of glamour in the middle of a generally restrained store environment.
‘Industrial meets luxury’ would perhaps be the best shorthand for what has been done in this store. There are steel walls everywhere, which pick up the light from the banks of overhead white neon tubes. This industrial feel is softened through the use of a deep-pile grey carpet and the occasional use of the Acne brand colour - pastel pink. The feeling is one of efficient luxury and the expectation is that prices will be on a par with other stores in this area.
As a brand, Acne may have something of a rebellious streak about it, but given the prices that are being asked - from £160 for denim and from £850 for leather jackets - this isn’t the kind of offer that is going to sell itself, for the most part. The staff are incredibly friendly, although severely trendy in a way that will probably have you examining what you are wearing and how it measures up. There is much to be said for letting shoppers get on with it until they need help and this balance seemed to be being successfully struck on the day of visiting.
Jeans are always a good indicator of the sort of price bracket within which a brand operates and in this store shoppers can purchase a pair of Acne denims for just shy of £200 at the top end. This is pretty reasonable for a premium offer, but the denim range is far smaller than in the Dover Street store. Instead, there is greater concentration on high-ticket items such as leather jackets and full-length coats. This is a casual brand in transition to becoming a label that will appeal to a more mature audience.
There is a Chanel store next door to Acne in this location. Peruse that offer and suddenly Acne seems astonishing value for money. Stella McCartney is close at hand and Ralph Lauren is only a short walk away. This, in short, is a small pocket of London that oozes cash and Acne will be something of a bargain for shoppers familiar with the other retailers and brands operating hereabouts. The real question is whether there is just a little too much edge about this brand for an area that is intrinsically conservative. It does succeed in being one of a kind in the locality, however.
06 VERDICT: Out of step with its locale
When Acne opened on Dover Street, where fashionistas come in search of Japanese minimalism at the eponymous Dover Street Market, it seemed perfectly in tune with its location. This could not be said of South Kensington, a location where ladies and gentlemen who lunch have multiple options to choose from. Acne has worked hard to tailor its offer to the location, but it is still evident that it sits apart from the bulk of what others are doing in the area. Are the shoppers found in this part of town really ready for a brand like Acne?