The Italian luxury brand’s new flagship in central Manchester aims to be an upscale fashion department store, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Manchester probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you mention the name Armani. Your thoughts would probably stray to the Milanese catwalks, where impossibly thin, glamorous and occasionally austere-looking models sashay down the catwalk. But such is Giorgio Armani’s ubiquity that there’s hardly a city anywhere that doesn’t have some form of representation.
In the capital of the Northwest there have been outposts of the Italian maestro’s empire for years, in the shape of two Emporio Armani stores. Now both have closed and in their place comes a two-floor, 7,965 sq ft store in the currently-being-let Spinningfields luxury retail development, just around the corner from St Peter’s Square.
And standing outside the new store, which has NatWest, some empty offices (directly above it) and the Victorian John Rylands library for neighbours, this is an arresting shop. It holds its own against all comers in the area, looking the part and satisfying the designer requirements of everyone from the city’s footballing community to the women of Manchester’s substantial Jewish community, according to Sarah Graham, regional manager for Emporio Armani. “We want to be a sort of fashion department store,” she says. It is also symptomatic of the way cash continues to be splashed around central Manchester, in spite of the property crash that hit the city post Lehman Brothers.
The store has been designed with enough care that it probably won’t date in the way that a number of the higher-profile department stores have since the remodelling of Exchange Square and the Arndale Centre.
Key looks and merchandise mix
The bulk of the ground floor is devoted to menswear, with the marginally smaller first floor housing womenswear. For men, it’s a mix of casual, formal and sportswear with entry and medium price points provided by the Emporio Armani collection and the upper-end coming courtesy of the Collezioni range, a pattern followed in the women’s offer. Male shoppers can buy a pair of jeans for £79, but if there is an urge to splurge, then limited-edition denims are £475.
This broad price range is mirrored across the categories, with suits ranging from £629 to £1,700, although more than £2,500 is possible if the bespoke path is followed. Men’s accessories start at about £17 for underwear and cover everything from scarves to watches. Colours are overwhelmingly black and grey, with narrow profiles de rigueur.
The women’s offer contains mix-and-match suits at £600, but for those seeking an entry price piece of the brand, printed T-shirts are £59. There are plain T-shirts for £49 in the men’s department. At the top end, expect to pay £1,900 for a stamped leather jacket sold, perhaps unsurprisingly, under the Collezioni label.
Graham says traditionally sales have been roughly split 65/35 men to women’s, but since this store opened three weeks ago, it’s been level pegging.
This is a well put together range, selected by Graham and her team from the Armani range, and is a good response to local demand.
You’d expect nothing to be out of place in an Armani store, whatever the sub-brand on offer, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The belts and scarves serve as a good example of the attention to detail. These are arranged on a perimeter panel, ranged across three parallel bars that are at different heights and distances from the wall. It is simple and uncrowded but has a great deal of sophistication about it.
And if this is insufficient to convince, then it’s worth taking at look at the translucent mannequins. They have a metropolitan ease that makes them appear as if they could have stepped out of the pages of a glossy magazine, perfectly in keeping with the merchandise. As for the merchandise, this really does feel like a show home - a look achieved by high staffing levels and a desire not to pack too much into the shelf space.
There are 25 staff in the store, a mix of full and part-time, according to Graham, and on the day of visiting there were a few customers spending what looked like serious money. As in the best restaurants, the service on offer was about the staff being on hand to help, not being snooty but being sufficiently well informed. Add to this the fact that all of them were friendly and far from standoffish and you have the kind of service that you wish was more prevalent in designer stores, but so frequently isn’t.
There is an impersonality to this store that could actually be quite intimidating for potential customers. From the outside, the flashy glass chevrons and the illuminated Emporio Armani eagle, formed from blue and white LED lighting, has a sternly modernist impact on passers-by. Within, the storefit was designed by the brand’s in-house architects and the mix of cream floors and glossy black fixturing around the perimeter and in the mid-shop smacks of luxury.
Couple this with beige granite and a suspended light staircase that links the two floors and you have an impressive interior, although it does run the risk of being almost too slick.
Would I buy?
It has to be admitted, the temptation was there. This is a store for grown-ups for whom style probably takes precedence over trend. Prices are eye-watering, so if you’re reading this, Mr Armani, the black patent leather shoes looked fantastic, but the plastic was kept in check as £350 remains a considerable investment.
That said, if money really isn’t the point, then chances are you would leave clutching an Emporio Armani bag.
Worth a trip. Manchester has a new, bigger Emporio Armani store that is an improvement on those that preceded it.
Address The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester
Size 7,965 sq ft - 4,520 sq ft on the ground floo and 3,445 sq ft on the first
Labels Emporio Armani and Armani Collezioni
Outstanding feature The exterior
Best-selling men’s jacket A basket-weave, narrow lapel number at about £600
In a word Slick