Custo Barcelona opened its first UK store a little under two weeks ago.
And for those unfamiliar with the name, this is a Spanish retailer with about 50 outposts in its home country, 30 in the US and a smattering in locations such as Caracas, Nice and Hong Kong.
Anyone visiting might feel inclined to compare what’s on offer in this Westfield Stratford store with Spanish rival Desigual, purely because the loud prints and bright colours are reminiscent of that retailer.
The brand itself was set up in Barcelona in the mid-1980s by the Dalmau brothers with a Californian-inspired T-shirt range that morphed into a top-to-toe collection. Its UK debut is a surprise when it is considered how relatively successful Desigual is in France and that Custo Barcelona has only one store in that country.
Address 1st floor, Westfield Stratford
Total stores One
Brands Custoline, Custo Barcelona, Custo Lowxury
Head office Barcelona
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
To an extent, the visual merchandising is determined by what has been done with the store interior. From the walls with curved, internally lit niches that allow single products to be highlighted, to the retro-futuristic mid-shop equipment that means laid stock is to the fore, this is an unusual prospect. It also means the density of the offer is relatively low, although the curving rails around the perimeter and the mid-shop fitting room block mean there is still room to side- hang a sufficiently large quantity of product. The window and in-store mannequins are worthy of comment because of their striking raffia hairpieces. They are also clad in stylish mini-boots.
02 - CONCEPT
The store interior is a convoluted white box – the work of the worryingly named Barcelona consultancy Dear Design & Architecture. Shoppers are presented with tables and perimeter features that look like the kind of finned vents through which air streams when you hit the cooling button in a car. Yet in spite of the highly wrought nature of this interior, there’s a free-form feel to the way it is put together: a good-looking shop.
03 - SERVICE
This is not a large unit, meaning you can take in at a glance most of what’s there. Yet in spite of this, there is a high staff level and on the day of visiting, all hands were on deck making sure that every display was just so. Almost all of the staff had a Hispano-Latin American look, both physically and as a result of wearing the brightly coloured stock. The outcome was that you felt as if you had wandered into the prelude to a samba party – although this is not a bad thing.
04 - PRODUCT
There are three levels of product organised in ascending price order starting with Custoline, continuing with Custo Barcelona and finishing at the top end with, ahem, Custo Lowxury.
All the products are about colour and highly worked details and with prices running from entry-price T-shirts at £40, this is not a budget option. Disappointingly,the shoes worn by the mannequins are for display only … they were “catwalk” pieces, according to the store manager.
05 - COMPETITION
Setting up shop in Westfield Stratford means only one thing – a highly competitive environment where a range has to shout very loudly. Custo Barcelona does this by virtue of there being nothing else like it in the centre. That said, when it comes to reaching for the wallet, there may be no Desigual in this Westfield, but most fashion retailers this season seem to have a pretty heavy reliance on prints, meaning things may be tough for Custo. There is also the fact that while this offer might look good in Caracas, São Paulo or New York, it looked a mite strange on a rainy afternoon in east London.
06 - VERDICT - An original taste of spain
Custo Barcelona is in a league of its own in its first UK home and this could either be a good thing or very problematical. The pricing does appear ambitious, but for those in search of something that will set them apart from the herd, this may not prove too much of an obstacle. Given the pricing, it’s strange the brand has opted for the east rather than the west London Westfield. To the northern European eye, the offer does have more than a passing similarity to elements of the Desigual offer and long term this may prove something of an issue.