The preppy lifestyle brand’s new flagship puts its entire collection under one roof for the first time in the UK, all presented in an elegant, understated shopfit
There is a group of US lifestyle brands that seem to have been part of the UK retail scene forever. Names might include Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Gant. To this might be added Lacoste which, although French, covers much of the same area as the US operators.
However, none of them have had a strong presence as far as a retail portfolio is concerned, although inroads are being made. And the latest statement of intent comes from Gant, which has opened an 8,600 sq ft flagship over three floors on London’s Regent Street, on the site of the former UK flagship store of German womenswear brand Gerry Weber.
While it is natural to assume Gant is a US brand, it is Swiss-owned and has its headquarters in Stockholm. It has its roots, of course, as a proponent of the US East Coast preppy style - the brand was founded in Connecticut by a Mr Gant in the 1940s, but the brand’s UK and Republic of Ireland managing director Tracy Stone says that to its US heritage it can now add “European elegance”.
Nonetheless, Gant remains, for the majority of the middle England 35 to 55-year-old males that form its core shoppers, a US proposition where you can get yourself kitted out to look as if you’ve just stepped off an Ivy League campus.
There are now 17 Gant stores in the UK and an 18th is scheduled to open in Guildford this spring. Stone says that in the long term she can see about 30 standalone Gant stores in the UK.
Keys looks and merchandise
There is a safety and almost predictability about Gant’s menswear offer that sits well with the conservative nature of middle-England man. Stone says part of the appeal is the ability to walk into a store and be “effortlessly well-dressed”. In practice, this means checked shirts, rugby shirts, polo shirts, bright knitwear and surprisingly vivid red suede loafers, as well as accessories including belts, sunglasses, wallets and socks. It’s all more or less exactly what you’d expect and it’s very well done. Stone points out that a polo shirt in Gant will cost £55, compared with “£65 in Ralph, £45 in Tommy and £60 in Lacoste”. It’s a measure of how competitive this market is that the managing director knows the prices of all the significant competitors.
The interesting thing about Gant however is that there is rather more to it than menswear. Head downstairs and you enter the world of Gant Rugger, a range previously available in the Stockholm flagship but now being seen for the first time in a UK Gant store. This collection is aimed at a younger market and is likely to appeal to Jack Wills and Abercrombie & Fitch devotees.
On the first floor things really change. This large space is home to Gant womenswear, of which there is a preppy part and a more dressy, occasion-based element, as well as a range of kidswear, and homeware. Given the image of Gant as an East Coast menswear brand, this store is something of a revelation.
Stone observes: “It’s the visual merchandising that really makes a store.” And looking around this large shop, she has a point. Stand at the entrance and the first thing you see is a series of male mannequins, some in shorts, others in jeans, positioned among wooden poles whose tops have been painted in bright colours - to match the tops worn by the figures. This eye-catching display typifies much of what can be seen in this store, where nothing has been left to chance. The cash desk on this floor has a few books casually placed on shelves behind it, to create the ambience of a library.
Elsewhere are simple touches, such as globes, pots of flowers and coffee table books… on coffee tables - all supposed to foster a sense of the domestic. Downstairs, on the Rugger floor, East Coast American English is the aesthetic, with an antique-style bicycle, manual typewriters and more books. The garments are, for the most part, displayed on tables and in open-front wardrobes.
Finally, the womenswear and homeware floor is an exercise in affluent, residential understatement, with soft lighting and low, glass and cream-coloured shelving units.
Smart young men and women in freshly-pressed Gant clothing are out in force in the store. They are clean-cut, slim and living the brand. This is a little like the staff-cum-models found in Abercrombie & Fitch, but for a more mature demographic. All are on hand to help, if required, but this is about giving shoppers space and time to arrive at a decision. As in other branded stores of this kind, the only problem with this is the possibility that shoppers may wind up suffering from a mild inferiority complex when they compare themselves with those assisting them.
The instruction given by Stone and her team to Bratt, the long-serving Swedish design consultancy that works with Gant, was to take the model used in Gant flagships in destinations such as New York, Beijing and Madrid and then improve on it. The result is vast amounts of walnut, oiled for the floors and used as pillar cladding, and fixturing on which little expense has been spared.
Much of the ground and first floors have been divided up into rooms, furnished with expensive-looking sofas, and at the back of the men’s floor there is a space that looks like a gentleman’s club. The whole ambience is one of privileged old money - perfectly in keeping with the supposedly timeless quality of the merchandise that is on sale.
It is easy to see how the year that Stone says it has taken to get the store open has been taken up. She says the return on investment is likely to be about two-and-a-half years.
Would I buy?
When placed alongside its rivals, the Gant shopper is likely to be impressed by this store. With prices pretty much in the middle of the US lifestyle offers, there is little reason to suppose that the sharply presented merchandise will fail to appeal. There is a certain blandness about this form of retailing, but for many this will be a reassuring quality that is likely to see them opening their wallets.
Gant has created a flagship that will act as an ambassador for the brand. Looked at objectively, this is a store that exudes quality and where the store environment is such that it will persuade shoppers to step in and take a look around.
Location Regent Street, London
Size 8,600 sq ft
Store design Bratt
Most obvious feature A large acreage of oiled wood on the floors
Gant’s UK and Republic of Ireland retail portfolio 17 standalone stores with a further branch scheduled to open in Guildford this year. The brand has about 300 UK stockists
Head office Stockholm, Sweden