It may be synonymous with the huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ set but Barbour is now hobnobbing with London’s trend followers in a store off Carnaby Street.
Think of trudging through wet fields as the rain lashes your face and a pair of black Labradors put their heads down and narrow their eyes against the wind. Now think of what you might wear on such an occasion. Probably the first picture would be of a waxed jacket – proofed against the elements and perfectly suited to the outdoor life.
If you’ve got this far, you are probably now thinking Barbour, the word that, like a Hoover or Thermos, is verbal shorthand for a particular sort of garment. And until relatively recently the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ set had this area of fashion pretty much to themselves.
If you move in fashion(able) circles, however, you’ll probably also be aware that Barbour has been having something of an extended moment of late and that it’s no longer the preserve of the rus in urbe Chelsea set. Today, Barbour jackets, in a variety of shapes and sizes, are worn everywhere from Carnaby Street to the Champs Elysées and absolutely as a fashion item rather than a practical piece of outdoorwear.
Perhaps with this in mind, South Shields-based J Barbour & Sons opted to open a small, two-floor shop on Fouberts Place, just off Carnaby Street, a couple of months ago and dubbed it a “Heritage” store. In fairness, there’s quite a lot of history wrapped around this brand, so calling it a heritage store is excusable. Read the blurb that accompanied the shop’s opening and you discover Barbour is “a fourth-generation family business” .
Much to be proud of, then, and still the name by which other waxed garments are judged. However, given its location, this is not a store that country folk, mole-skinners, beaters, ostlers and such like will find their way to – it’s a fashion store in a fashionable location.
Key looks and merchandise
There is rather more to this store than row upon row of almost identical bum-covering waxed jackets. On the ground floor, much has been made of the brand’s association with motorcycling as well as country pursuits. Practically, this means that The Heritage Collection is less about history and more concerned with injecting some pizzazz into Barbour’s International jacket – a garment with multiple pockets on its front, which may, or may not, be belted. Much of the effort in this instance has been focused on the linings, which appear to have a considerable effect upon the price.
Then, if accessories are required, a limited range of bags, hats and scarves also form part of the offer. This is the Heritage store’s fashion floor, but head downstairs and things are rather more what you might expect of a shop selling Barbour merchandise. The perimeter has a single-level rail on which large numbers of similar-looking waxed jackets are hung… and little else. The entry price is provided by the Bedale jacket, which sells at just under £180, and then moves up a notch with the Beaufort, at £190, finally topping out at about £250 for a more fancy version.
For those who don’t require a waxed jacket, there is also a limited range of woollen coats, but these do look something of an afterthought.
This store is about visual props. There is remarkably little in terms of differentiation between one waxed jacket and another (although no doubt the retailer would argue this point with your correspondent), other than subtle colour changes and the addition or subtraction of a few pockets, whether you’re looking at the men’s or women’s ranges. The store therefore relies heavily upon visual merchandising props to convince the shopper that there are big differences between the various ranges.
On the ground floor, this means an almost unrelenting use of old-fashioned motorcycle helmets in bright colours, complete with goggles and striped scarves, sitting on top of faceless heads. If you don’t get this, then the Union Jack-backed pictures of groups of men in motorcycle clothing should provide an appropriate clue.
Dressed male and female torsos are also kitted out ready for a spin on a Triumph 750 or something similar.
Couple all this with the use of the British flag, emphasising the national characteristics of this brand, and the store is an almost complete departure from Barbour’s traditional associations.
Although the visual merchandising is insistent, it is relatively subtle, serving to set a mood but not to shove it down your throat.
Visiting the store on a late midweek afternoon is a bit of a test. Christmas may be coming but most of the stores in the area were not overly troubled by shoppers. Barbour was one of the exceptions. It was busy and shoppers were being attended to by staff in a friendly and attentive manner. The majority of those in the shop were not there by accident and therefore were at least semi-serious in their intention to walk out of the store Barbour-clad. What was impressive was the way in which the staff were able to point out the many differences between the various garments on the rails and those that might be most suitable for a particular occasion or end use.
Now here’s the thing. This is a store that has very little about it in the way of hard-core design, yet persuades you that a design intelligence has been at work. Whether it’s the monochrome graphics or the plain wood floors, the simplicity of the ground floor shopfit has an appeal that, if you considered each element in isolation, might lead you to think this store wouldn’t work. Yet it does. Even the fact that the display rails are nothing more than one-height rails bolted to the perimeter is fine, owing to the use of props and glass shelves above them.
It has to be said, however, that the basement disappoints. As an area, it’s just too simple – white-washing a space and putting a one-level graphic around the perimeter makes it look rather more of a supplier showroom than a shop.
Would I buy?
Perhaps. The ground floor, in particular, is a good, fun place to be and has enough variety to encourage an extended dwell time.
Barbour gives its brand a shake-up with this store, turning on its head the usual rural pursuits associations. This is a decidedly metropolitan shop and one that is finding favour with its devotees.
Address Fouberts Place, London W1
Opened End of September
Design features Visual propping, with crash helmets taking centre stage, graphics and an old-fashioned shopfront
Waxed jacket entry price £180, rising to £250
Transactional website www.barbour.com
Head office South Shields