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Baracuta, Covent Garden, London

Opened two weeks ago and with a three-month lifespan, the heritage brand’s pop-up shop gives a lesson in creating a storefit on a budget.

Think of a pop-up shop at the moment and the mind tends to turn towards a grungy-looking environment. The modus operandi that’s emerged for this kind of retailing is a white-washed interior, basic mid-shop fixturing and, depending on the brand involved, merchandise that is often wildly at odds with the environment of which it is a part.

There’s a sense of back to basics we are supposed to applaud and that will cause us to beat a path to shops of this kind because they won’t be around for very long. All of which is fine, but you are left wondering whether this is about marketing or retailing.

None of the above applies to the Baracuta pop-up store in the northern reaches of Covent Garden, the first-ever store for the brand – it is generally found in better-end menswear indies. It has been open for two weeks and were it not for the external pop-up store sign, it would look just like any of the other trendy branded stores that fill the length of Shorts Gardens.

As a brand, Baracuta has been around since 1937, when founders John and Isaac Miller set up the business in Manchester. Since that time, its principal claim to fame is that it is the originator of the Harrington jacket – a fact that continues to inform much of its range.

Key looks and merchandise

This store is really about Harrington jackets, the short casual jackets, normally lined, which usually come in a variety of muted colours and may, or may not, have an elasticated waist. The name comes from a jacket worn by actor Ryan O’Neal, in character as Rodney Harrington in 1960s US TV drama Peyton Place. The jacket has been worn by icons such as Steve McQueen and Elvis Presley, a fact used to market this relatively workaday garment to give it a tincture of rebellion.

If you want a Harrington jacket from the Baracuta pop-up, prices start at £79 and head on up to £199 for a patterned style produced in association with menswear brand and design consultancy Griffin Studio.

Ben Sherman meets Fred Perry and shakes hands with Pringle along the way, for much of the rest of the range. It is worth noting the duffle coats boast “real horn toggles”, according to a member of staff. Just as well, because shoppers will be obliged to part with more than £300 if they want one of these, available in fawn brown, grey or black.

Score 7/10

Visual merchandising

This store’s visual merchandising is about as simple as it gets, but is appealing nonetheless. Simple tailor’s bodies are used to display the jackets, complete with check lining and check shirts. Small framed prints of 1950s and 1960s magazine covers fill large parts of the white walls, showing off the brand heritage with movie stars wearing the products.

The sense is that if you want to be a Covent Garden rebel with a cause, then the visual merchandising tells you you’re in the right place. It’s a measure of how simple this store design is that it was merchandised and “dressed” in a day, but this gives it an immediacy that perhaps some of its neighbours lack.  

All of the stock is side-hung rather than forward facing, meaning that in spite of this being a relatively small unit, density is probably sufficiently high to make this a commercial proposition.
It also means, in display terms, that where a single style in multiple colours is merchandised, you get an instant grasp of the offer.  

Score 7/10

Service

Hard to tell. At about 10.30am, when Drapers visited, this louche part of Covent Garden is just beginning to wake up, so seeing the store team springing into service action was a bit of a non-starter. That said, the store manager and a member of staff were being given a Baracuta history lesson by the sales director for the south and Midlands, which included everything from the date of foundation to the styling differences between a G4 and a G9 Harrington jacket.

This, presumably, means shoppers visiting the store will be able to make their minds up on the basis of a plethora of product information. Given the price levels it should come as no surprise that the staff were being given this kind of training – this is an operation in which self-serve is unlikely to play a major part.

Score 7/10

Store appeal

A standard pop-up store will take an existing space, whitewash the walls and then keep additional costs at a minimum. This is exactly what Baracuta has done, except that it happens to have some rather winsome red, square and chunky mid-shop display rails that have been used to advantage. In a reference to the check linings used in the jackets, the shop’s left-hand wall has been covered with tartan wallpaper, but the rest of the perimeter is white. The floor is grey slate, a legacy of the previous tenant, and the lighting is a mix of LED spots that have been sunk into the ceiling and a few naked light bulb pendant lights.

The door has been painted pillar-box red and provides a pleasing contrast with the exposed brickwork. Two fitting rooms have been created at the back of the store by slinging a chromed rail across a recess, fitting a white dividing wall and then putting a tartan curtain with the same design as the wallpaper, to preserve shopper modesty.

There is nothing remarkable about this interior, but then there is absolutely nothing to object to and it does have the considerable merit of not making you feel as if you’ve stumbled into a pop-up warehouse party. It also only cost £4,000 to fit out – a sum that might buy you a single fixture in certain stores.

Score 6/10

Would I buy?

Most of the stock would fall into the “considered purchase” category and therefore this store is not about impulse shopping – unless you’re pretty well-heeled. That said, there is an accessibility and down-to-earthness about stock and store environment that means it would merit serious attention.

The chances are high that you’d visit this store a couple of times, as part of a trawl along Shorts Gardens, before making your mind up to buy anything. Given the urban sophistication of this part of Covent Garden, however, the store stands up to scrutiny against the competition provided by its neighbours. 

Score 6/10

Verdict

A pop-up store that neither looks nor acts like a pop-up. As this is only around for three months, best visit now if you want to see how this trick has been pulled off on such a small budget.

Score 33/50

FACTS

Address 9 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden, London WC2H

Opened November 6, 2009

Lifespan Three months

Design feature Doesn’t look like a pop-up and stands up against rival stores

Fit-out cost £4,000; merchandising and store “dressing” took just one day

Baracuta stockists Higher-end menswear retailers

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