Browns Focus, the young fashion arm of designer retailer Browns at the heart of South Molton Street in central London, has been united with its more grown-up relation by moving from one side of the pedestrianised thoroughfare to the other.
Address 24 South Molton Street, London W1
Official launch July
Number of floors Two
Now Browns Focus is physically part of Browns, although both its shopfront and interior mark it out as being different from the rest of the operation.
It also serves to reinforce Browns’ status as the South Molton Street fashion lynchpin - somehow by joining the different parts together, this looks a more forceful offer, which also happens to cover a wider age span, all under one roof. Yet this remains a discrete part of the Browns empire and to judge by the age of the shoppers heading into it, this is an almost equally separate customer, which is probably a good thing.
01 VISUAL MERCHANDISING
The visual merchandising in this store is pretty straightforward - side-hang most of the stock around the perimeter and then stand back. And while this may seem simple to the point of ennui, it works well owing to the physically narrow nature of the interior and the requirement to keep the mid-shop clear. The basement is wider and white tables created by bonded wooden batons are used here to display accessories. Stacked metal cubes are used as the vehicle for further accessory displays and there are modishly dressed mannequins in the windows. The store was on Sale on the day of visiting, but it did not feel cheap and as an exercise in showing a range of labels in a relatively modest space, this was effective.
This is black box, rather than white box, on the ground floor at least, but the principle is broadly the same. The ground floor is blacked out and this does give a reasonably minimalist shopfit the feeling of boutique. Things are reversed in the basement, where all is white. There is nothing complex about the store design in Browns Focus, but everything works with everything else and it is clear that things have been carefully thought through.
At this end of the market, there is an all-too-frequent tendency for those who are supposed to be looking after the needs of the shoppers to judge. There is none of this looking down the nose about Browns Focus and your correspondent was met with a cheery greeting and when the “just looking” flag was hoisted, the staff knew how and when to back off.
The other point is that when service was needed, it was on hand as required and rendered with a helpful smile. Good all round.
‘SHUT UP YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD’ says a hand-sequined Ashish top in the window. This may not be the most conciliatory garment, but it goes some distance towards indicating what can be expected in Browns Focus - this is a range of labels for the conspicuously well-heeled who either are kids or would rather like to be ‘down with’ them. The range features many familiar names, but there are a lot of designers who most shoppers probably won’t have heard of.
Selfridges, Matches, Primark, H&M, Zara and maybe House of Fraser. These are just a few of the names that stand not as direct competitors (although Selfridges and Matches arguably are) to Browns Focus, but as offers that will certainly exert a pull on the purse strings of shoppers in the area and which may therefore detract from the ability to spend big in this store. The difficulty of being an independent is simply put - there will always be bigger and better-funded operations and you therefore have to fall back on your visual merchandising wit and creativity to survive and prosper.
06 VERDICT: An improving offer
Joining the rest of the Browns party seems to have benefitted Browns Focus. This has been a fairly hardy perennial as far as the Browns empire is concerned, but there was a sense that it was almost too discrete from its parent. That is now gone and for those in search of something different, at a (high) price, this is a good place to start. The decision to make this a stark contrast with the rest of the Browns offer also seems a canny one. This is about young, or young attitude fashion and it needs a sense of being separated from the main ranges.