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Geox, Milan

Customers need not get in a sweat while shopping at the Italian retailer’s new store, which uses its impressive exterior to breathe in the same way as its footwear and clothing

Summer walking in the arid state of Nevada is rarely comfortable, as Geox founder Mario Moretti Polegato discovered when he went for a stroll during a trip to Reno. He overcame the problem of sweaty feet by slashing the rubber soles of his shoes with a knife, providing more or less instant relief. The experience proved the inspiration for the development of Geox, the mainstream footwear and clothing retailer that has more than 1,000 stores worldwide, including 300 in Italy alone.

And in February, Geox unveiled a store in Milan that attempts to replicate what its stock aims to do - breathe. That, at least, is the claim made for the ‘breathing building’, a 10,760 sq ft shop spread over three floors in the heart of the Lombard capital.

The intention is that the exterior panels, which form the upper portion of the building, can open and close to regulate the internal temperature. All well and good, but what this new store really does is create a highly dramatic home for Geox’s ranges in a city where there are 20 other branches. This is as much about creating a point of difference from other Geox stores as it is concerned with seeing off the competition.

The other point worth considering is that Geox is increasingly selecting larger units due to its move into men’s, women’s and kids’ fashion in a way that might have seemed unimaginable a few years back, when it was first and foremost a footwear brand.

Key looks and merchandise mix

Although there is a lot of clothing in this store, it’s for footwear that many will initially beat a path to Geox. The patented soles that ‘breathe’ (patents in 100 countries apparently) have been applied to everything from traditional-looking suede brogues to golf shoes and women’s court shoes. And with shoe prices from about ¤60 (£54) up to about ¤200 (£178) this is a “medium to high” offer, as a spokeswoman puts it.

For those who want to benefit from the full Geox experience, however, the store provides the chance to purchase fashion items which all have the patented breathing membrane as part of their make-up. This, it is claimed, results in 40% less humidity building up when you get a mite overheated. But it comes at a price. It’s not for nothing that Geox stores in Milan seem to be located in distinctly affluent areas. A zip-front silver blouson, for instance, changes hands for ¤150 (£134).

Colours are generally bright and primary and there is a feeling of the high-tech about much of what is on offer, irrespective of age or gender. In spite of a casual feel to much of the merchandise, the ranges are generally tailored and shiny, lending the collection a characteristically Italian feel.

The stock may be for the more active among us (Geox golf shoes will be launched in the UK in April), but this is clothing for the smart set.

Score 7/10

Visual merchandising

There is, in some quarters, a feeling that mannequins and their over-deployment can lead to a somewhat old-fashioned feel in a store. To its credit, this Geox flagship proves this is not necessarily the case. A prime example is to be found on the first floor, home to the men’s and kids’ ranges, where there is a sharp glazed corner that affords good views of the street. Just in front of it, a mannequin - fully Geox clad - sits on a white leather banquette staring out of the window.

The temptation with mannequins is to have them customer-facing, but in this instance the visual merchandising team provides a clever twist by making you remark that it has been placed with its back to shoppers in the store. It’s a move that characterises much of what has been done with the store’s many mannequins. Clean, efficient and interesting visual merchandising neatly complements the Geox brand values.

Score 8/10

Service

In Italy, service is a big issue and, on the day of visiting, large numbers of the mainly female clientele were being carefully attended to by the store

staff. So it seemed something of a shame that the store manager was outside talking to somebody and barely acknowledged the efforts of the Geox PR to allow photographs to be taken of the interior, but this did not look to be a lead that was being followed inside the shop.

Indeed, the majority of those working on the floor were polite and unobtrusive unless called upon to assist - which is as it should be.

Score 6/10

Store appeal

The thing about the Geox flagship is its exterior. The 734 copper-coloured stainless steel shutters that open and close automatically are certainly dramatic. The architecture is by Dante O Benini, while the interior landscape is the work of Paolo Cermasi & Associates.

The interior is a new departure for Geox, with different merchandising systems, a nine metre-high LED screen backing the staircase, and walls and screens used throughout the three floors to create a series of rooms, without creating a sense of enclosure.

Worth noting too are the graphics. Traditionally, Geox has used product shots, with diagrams showing how the item breathes. Now the large, framed graphics are lifestyle shots featuring people enjoying themselves wearing Geox merchandise.

The only real quibble is that the store exterior rather overpowers the Euro-efficient and slightly bland interior. The exterior is effective, though, as a means of pulling shoppers through the doors.

Score 7/10

Would I buy?

This is a really hard question to answer, as you might be inclined to look elsewhere if you don’t sweat much. The point is that this is clothing that is supposed to serve a specific purpose - keeping you cooler - but which also wants to be trendy. Perhaps you can have it both ways, but if you want more trend-driven product, perhaps you’ll head to a fashion store before coming here. As such, the message is a little confused, although there is no arguing with a brand that turned over ¤865m (£772m) during 2009 and that was listed on the Milan stock exchange in 2004.

Score 6/10

Verdict

An interesting departure architecturally for a retailer that is seeking to

shed some of its image as a purveyor of semi-sensible footwear and make

the move into fashion, while retaining some of its original raison d’être.

Definitely worth a look if you find yourself in Milan with time on your hands.

34/50

Essentials

Address Via Montenapoleone 26

Size 10,760 sq ft

Number of floors Three

Number of external shutters 734, which result in a 75% saving on methane and CO2 emissions

Number of Geox stores worldwide 1,000-plus

Geox fans Barack Obama, Kate Winslet, Pope Benedict XVI

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