Calvin Klein’s bridge collection is all about understated cool, and its first UK standalone store does this well. But it runs the risk of relative anonymity
Address The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester
Size 1,830 sq ft
Standout features There aren’t any, but that’s the point
Calvin Klein Inc A wholly owned subsidiary of Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation, headquartered in New York
Calvin Klein has opened its first UK store - in Manchester. What? Aren’t there loads of these and doesn’t the brand have a presence in almost every major shopping centre you visit? Well, yes and no. Calvin Klein didn’t get where it is today without a canny ability to segment the brand into different but closely related offers and so, until now, what UK shoppers have frequented has been either Calvin Klein Underwear or Calvin Klein Jeans.
Now, a little confusingly, there is a CK Calvin Klein store - a store that sells some jeans, almost no underwear and a lot of men’s and women’s casualwear and occasionwear. This is the brand’s ‘bridge collection’ - prices are not stratospheric but, nonetheless, you should expect to dig deep on approaching the till. And, although there is no outlet for either in the UK, there are two further strings to the Calvin Klein bow - Calvin Klein and Calvin Klein Collection.
This CK Calvin Klein store is in Manchester’s new Spinningfields development. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Emporio Armani (Drapers, October 1, 2010), Flannels and Brooks Brothers among others, the 1,830 sq ft store is relatively modestly priced compared with some brands on sale in the area, but this remains an aspirational addition to Manchester’s retail landscape. There are currently no plans for further CK Calvin Klein stores in the UK, with Milan and Madrid the next locations on the brand’s drawing board.
Key looks and merchandise mix
As a brand, Calvin Klein has never been about prints, with the focus more on shape and fabrication. It is no surprise therefore that, when you stand at the entrance to this store, there are only a couple of prints in the entire offer - both are on womenswear and neither is elaborate. Generally, colours are muted: sand, white, grey, black and blue, while red is used to provide a womenswear highlight.
Initially, the emphasis appears to be on shape and cut but it’s not long before you begin to notice that there’s an awful lot of low-key logo action going on. This is particularly the case in the accessories offer at the front of the shop. Many of the bags and wallets are covered with the CK logo - clearly aimed at those who like to tell people they can afford Calvin Klein prices. This is perhaps the point because, while the name may conjure up visions of affluence and cool New York loft living, the prices on the tickets tell a rather different story. If, for instance, you hanker after the viscose crêpe dress that is at the top end of the in-store range, it will cost £299; bags start at under £100 and jeans are a little more than that.
Perception is everything when looking at a brand and the perception is that prices are probably a little higher than in reality - which is good news. The criticism might be that it is hard to identify the standout pieces, because there don’t appear to be any. Then again, it’s equally hard to object to anything.
CK Calvin Klein turns out to be like other parts of the Calvin Klein empire - slick. From the exterior, the high window sets the scene with the upper half of the vista dominated by a huge graphic of models, set against an entirely minimalist white background. Then there are the bodyforms - hangers suspended by poles from the ceiling just inside the window that bear men’s and women’s suits. Finally, at the base of the main window, there are fluted, sand-coloured breezeblocks. The smaller, right-hand window has a silvered plinth, providing a perch for a cream leather bag. All in all, this is a pared-back scheme and perfectly on brand.
Inside the shop, a mix of understated, backlit perimeter shelves and large, block-like, mid-shop tables form the basis of the laid merchandise displays. There are, of course, mid-shop rails, with side-hung stock and at the back of the shop it’s hard not to admire the niche in the wall to the side of the cash counter, where the CK One fragrance is displayed. This is a well thought out series of displays and if anonymity is your thing in an urban kinda way, then it has great appeal.
Rating the service in a store with anything above mid-market prices when visiting late on a Thursday morning is difficult, as you’re unlikely to find any shoppers. This was the case and, while the store was spotless and the staff all smiles, it is difficult to offer an assessment of what the shopper can really expect. For this reason, and given the high level of housekeeping - which is how it should be at this end of the market - the score is a default position.
On the evidence of this store, CK Calvin Klein is about disappearing in the crowd and enjoying urban anonymity while, at the same time, turning heads. The blurb that accompanied news of the store opening stated that in the mid-shop there are “custom fixtures made from warm stainless steel and grey metal”. No wish to be picky, but at what point did stainless steel become “warm”? Still, it is sleek. This is almost exactly what you’d expect from Calvin Klein and if you took the sign down and replaced it with Calvin Klein Underwear or Calvin Klein Jeans, with corresponding stock, few eyebrows might be raised. Moody lighting and a very good use of the store frontage, however, make this the sort of shop that has a good chance of attracting passers-by through the door.
Would I buy?
Why not? It is affordable and, for the most part, there is much in this shop that warrants close inspection. The line might be drawn at parting with £138 for a pair of trainers with CK all over the fabric, but many of the casual linen-mix suits look the part.
CK Calvin Klein glides quietly and urbanely into the UK. There is quite a lot of this kind of store around if you care to look, but few do urban in such a slick and knowing fashion. A good store and with a fair chance of success.
John Ryan - Group stores editor
With a background in fashion buying, including a 10-year stint at C&A in the UK and Germany, John Ryan writes about visual merchandising, store design and the business of launching new shops. As a journalist, he has covered the sector for more than a decade