Vintage finds, retro lighting and an abundance of space for stock and mannequins have further enhanced the department store’s luxury environment
Oddly located about halfway down New Bond Street, Fenwick has seemingly been around for ever and yet if you were to ask shoppers on Oxford Street where it is, you would no doubt draw a few blanks. But this is a department store that has a loyal following and, unusually for the West End, the bulk of its shoppers are local, according to a spokeswoman, earning their keep in pounds sterling rather than euros, dollars or yen.
This is likely to mean it is not as subject to the vagaries of overseas economies, but it also means it cannot rely on big spenders jetting in. The store has to work harder than most if it is to deal with the competition and keep the tills ringing. Perhaps this is the reason Fenwick is close to finishing a store-wide makeover that has been under way since 2007.
It’s a makeover that has involved increasing the store’s selling area by 20% to more than 70,000 sq ft, with additional space given to four of the five floors (the exception being the basement, devoted to menswear and yet to be refurbished).
This is a posh store. It’s not the largest in the curious chain that has a highly decentralised structure, but there is a good argument, owing to location and brand mix, that it is the most upscale.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Fenwick on New Bond Street is full of brands and always has been. The extra space created has meant that on the Designer Collections floor (read the second floor) there is a raft of new labels including Paule Ka, Zhor & Nema, MSGM and Vèronique Leroy. The pattern is repeated on each level with International Collections (first floor), adding Just in Case, Forte Forte and Line, while on the top floor the Weekend Collection adds Norma Kamali and Missoni swimwear, among others.
To get a real sense of the price levels, look no further than the tables and perimeter modules housing the denim ranges on the top floor, where the average selling price is about £160, rising to just shy of £250.
The denim ranges, located in the young fashion area, do much to illustrate the pricing levels and the store is adept at capturing the major movers in the designer arena with brands such as Paige Premium Denim and 7 For All Mankind. The store stands up well to close scrutiny in terms of the diversity of brands, particularly in the fashion area, but also in the beauty and cosmetics department on the ground floor, where all major bases are covered.
Department stores, particularly those that have fashion as a central pillar of their offer, tend to use a lot of mannequins and Fenwick New Bond Street proves no exception. There are mannequins on all of the fashion floors, positioned in groups and solo figures in moody poses. The space that has been afforded to stock and mannequins is notable. Even by luxury department store standards, it’s a very spacious layout with the gaps between pieces of mid-floor equipment such that you might feel like donning a pair of roller skates to navigate your way around.
The best visual merchandising is about detail and this comes to the fore in the accessories department where the jewellery area features internally illuminated chromed display cases arranged like pictures in a gallery.
The level of service in any department store targeting the luxury market is always going to be higher than in a store of equal size with more modest pricing. There were a lot of staff busy making the best of the displays and ensuring all was shipshape on the day of Drapers’ visit last week. When help was wanted, it never seemed to require any effort on the part of the customer to find somebody to assist.
It was still relatively early in the day, so customers were thin on the ground, but there was hardly a display on any floor with a garment out of place.
This kind of slickness is what good department store service should be about and Fenwick seemed to have more than its fair share.
Although the spokeswoman was unable to provide details, it’s clear that any project that involves construction on this scale and over such a protracted period will have cost a great deal of money. And certainly, if the aim was to enhance an existing luxury environment then it is a case of mission accomplished.
That said, there is a sense in two out of the three fashion floors that you could be in a luxury department store almost anywhere. The appropriate level of white meets cream is apparent across each of the floors and the mid-shop equipment is certainly chromed and shiny enough to set up the expectation that you will be paying a fair amount for what’s on offer.
The interior landscape is the result of Fenwick working with London consultancy Studio DB and it is obvious that a great deal of time has been spent sourcing one-off vintage pieces to add character to the floors. For example, in the lingerie section there is a beautiful mirrored counter with a Murano glass chandelier, and retro lighting pieces feature across the store.
The top floor has been dubbed ‘Industrial Barbie’ in-house and with exposed air-conditioning trunking and a polished roughness, it’s easy to understand why. It also happens to be the best and most individual part of the fashion offer.
Would I buy?
I might, but it would be a matter of spending time and being a loyal customer in the first place. This is a store environment about which there is little to object and in terms ofselection the offer is broad. However, there is a significant amount of competition and Fenwick might still find it hard to attract a fresh cohort to browse its displays.
Fenwick New Bond Street has spent a great deal of time and money on refurbishing its interior and the result is certainly glamorous. However, the store is still in danger of being too low profile to attract the Oxford Street hordes, although again, whether its loyal shoppers would want that situation to change is a moot point.