Abercrombie & Fitch-owned underwear brand Gilly Hicks has opened its first UK store, but shoppers may get the feeling they’ve seen it all before.
The chances are fair that anyone alighting from the tube at Shepherd’s Bush is bound for Westfield London, and among those doing so a sizable minority will be heading for young fashion emporium Hollister. Although it’s only been around in this country for a couple of years, Hollister’s distinctive ‘casa Mexicana’, with its bevy of rather too good-looking assistants (or ‘models’ as parent company Abercrombie & Fitch would prefer them to be known), has become a fixture in a number of UK shopping centres and its appeal shows no sign of diminishing.
But now there’s a rival, in Westfield London at least. Just around the corner from Hollister, there’s a structure that seems remarkably similar, in that its frontage consists of another fake house rather than a normal shopfront. And, hang on a minute, there’s a tall, handsome young man wearing an undone reefer jacket under which he has no shirt and a hairless chest. He’s even greeting people wandering into the store. It’s all just like Hollister.
The name above the door, however, states Gilly Hicks and, while this is clearly from a very similar stable, it’s not the same. This is Abercrombie & Fitch’s female underwear brand, aimed at teens who want to look cute in their smalls.
And for those familiar with the interior of either a Hollister or the UK’s lone branch of Abercrombie & Fitch, this will feel like very familiar territory. You do have to wonder why you would put both in the same centre within
100 metres of each other. For the record, on the midweek day of visiting, Hollister was the footfall winner, although Gilly Hicks was attracting its fair share of shoppers.
Key looks and merchandise
This is an offer that is supposed to be about Australian-influenced underwear, or that’s what the logo would suggest, with the word Sydney sitting beneath Gilly Hicks. But what’s surprising is how widely the category is interpreted. In practice, there are plenty of undies from Down Under in styles ranging from tartan boxer shorts, offered as singles and as multibuys, to thongs. But there is also swimwear, loungewear (read hooded sweatshirts at £40 a throw), nightwear and a pretty extensive cosmetics and perfume offer.
This may well be because this is a relatively large store and, well, you can’t keep offering more of the same, so the chance to widen the offer has been seized upon. In general, colours are bold, with a lot of red checked, chintzy gingham styles.
A strong emphasis is placed on steering shoppers away from the purchase of a single item, with three for £12 offers a feature of much of what is
on view. And for those eschewing underwear proper, there are the hoodies with Gilly Hicks emblazoned across their front, but which might just as well say Hollister instead, although the name does make a change.
This is a tightly constructed range, in spite of the fact that large liberties have been taken with the notion of what constitutes underwear.
As you would expect of an Abercrombie & Fitch-owned retailer, everything in this store is beautifully presented. And as in every one of the retail group’s stores, the perimeter consists of a series of large pigeonholes into which carefully folded merchandise has been placed.
In the mid-shop, the majority of the merchandise is tabled, arranged in low piles by style. There are also, of course, female torsos sporting the stock and, once more, checks seem to be the order of the day at Gilly Hicks.
For those in search of a stocking filler for Christmas, the corridor beyond the entrance features a series of dark wood tables and glass-fronted cabinets filled with cosmetics and perfume. These have been semi gift-wrapped with checked bows attached to the packaging in an effective tie-in between underwear and associated products.
As far as additional props are concerned, the shopfit has a softly, softly approach, with items such as a porcelain Chinese willow-pattern table lamp and cut-glass pendants hung from the ceiling lending a boudoir feel to the interior.
A real positive in terms of the manner in which all of this is organised is that it may be for young women, but the interior is not so overtly feminine that young men feel unable to shop it - there were plenty of them inspecting the merchandise.
Abercrombie & Fitch is a US company and its stores reflect the service-based ethos that characterises North American retail. In spite of the word Sydney that forms part of the logo, this store is solidly US in the stance that it adopts to looking after its shoppers. The winsome greeters at the door are followed by many more members of staff within looking to help.
The store consists of a large number of rooms and there is at least one member of staff in each, with several in the cash desk area at the back of the shop. All are there to serve.
If you like Hollister, with its low lights and nightclub appeal, then you will like this. From the outside, rather than a casa Mexicana, this looks like a two-storey southern US colonial mansion, complete with fluted pillars and soft chair on the porch. A row of windows carry mannequins in underwear, seemingly peeping out from behind floral curtains - it’s all a bit Gone with the Wind.
Within, it’s a case of music, dark rooms where the stock rather than store is lit, and dark wood throughout. The individual rooms are actually quite modestly sized, but each is used to house a different aspect of the offer and, like nearby Hollister, it does help to promote a sense of a moody domestic interior.
A shopfit of this kind doesn’t come cheap, but it will certainly appeal to its target market.
Would I buy?
Yes, if I were of the appropriate gender and demographic. The stock is reasonably priced (although higher-end if
you happen to be a teenager) and the appeal is cutesy faux innocence rather than vamp.
To judge by the shoppers who were there on the day of visiting, this will be as much about parents treating their offspring as teenagers digging deep. On a number of items it would be a toss-up between Hollister and Gilly Hicks. The retailer’s name still sounds odd, although this will fade as more branches open.
Gilly Hicks is part of the Abercrombie & Fitch stable and obviously so. Nonetheless, it will find favour with Westfield London shoppers in the run-up to Christmas and is very different from the other lingerie retailers in this shopping centre.
Address Level 1, Westfield London
Ambience Colonial mansion meets chintzy boudoir
Store design Similar to a Hollister
Outstanding store feature The shopfront
Available online in the UK? Not yet