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Harvey Nichols, London

The luxury department store has revamped its flagship’s fourth floor and upped its fashion quota with a younger, more accessibly priced offer

Open for about four weeks now, the fourth floor at Harvey Nichols is devoted to fashion. Nothing remarkable about that you might think, isn’t that what Harvey Nicks has always done?

The answer would be yes, except that the fourth floor was, until recently, the exception, being home to the luxury department store’s homeware and furniture offer.

That has now been swept away and in its place is a floor of what a spokeswoman says is more affordable designer fashion - “a place where creatives can come and get their first [designer] outfit,” as she puts it. And in terms of the offer, there is much that is likely to appeal, although the pricing is such that the young “creatives” may struggle to make ends meet if they spend too much time in here. All things are relative, naturally, and when compared to the womenswear offer on other floors, much of what is on offer might appear something of a bargain. There is, however, still a strong sense of luxury about this floor.

It’s also worth noting that having finally rid itself of homeware, always something of an oddity in a store that positions itself as fashion central, Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge looks more than ever like a shop for women.

Key looks and merchandise mix

When you have a brace of designer offers, each with its own shop-in-shop, laid out across a large area, it becomes hard to tie down key looks. The nature of the designer beast is such that all of those involved will endeavour to set their stamp upon their products and to have a recognisable handwriting. Practically, this means that defining a look for a floor of this kind is nearly impossible.

What matters is less the attempt to identify a common thread than the mix of designers and brands that Harvey Nichols has put into the space. And there are lots of familiar names, such as diffusion ranges McQ, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood Anglomania.

As well as the big guns, those in the know might be taken by offers from US retailer and designer collective Opening Ceremony, Alice by Temperley, Sykes, Elise Øverland and L’Agence, all of which are new to Harvey Nichols.

There are in fact no fewer than 13 brands not previously found in Harvey Nichols, so seekers of novelty will find much to divert themselves with. As far as pricing is concerned, the offer is wide, with some of the less complicated tops retailing for a little over £100 and rising to more than £1,700 for an Elise Øverland jacket. Mention should also be made of the sneaker wall, much of which turns out to be highly decorated variations of Converse All Star sneakers and baseball boots. For those with deep pockets, this is a wide-ranging design-led offer, although there are moments when it merges into an amorphous whole, principally owing to layout.

Score 6/10

Visual merchandising

The design of the floor goes some way towards making the visual merchandising on the fourth floor easy, but you have to hand it to Harvey Nichols - it has a knack for making the good look better.

Much of this is achieved via the use of mannequins positioned in splayed poses at various points around the floor. There are also those that sit on the airport lounge-style furniture or just stand observing shoppers checking out the stock. All of them are what might best be termed international slick - featureless and with shiny grey-silver heads.

The sneaker wall is also worth noting, purely for the way in which it makes the best use of acrylic shelving to display the merchandise in different positions. This may not be the best way in which to get the most stock out on the floor, but at these prices this isn’t really the point.

There is also something of the John Lewis approach to branding as much of what is on offer is presented using signage with the same font and materials palette to indicate which designer or branded offer is being shown.

This is fine in principle, but does lead to a slight impression of sameness about much of what is on view.

Score 7/10

Service

Even considering the relatively knock-down prices of the fourth floor in Harvey Nichols, you’d still be entitled to expect a high level of service when the prices, discreetly hidden on the stock, are taken into account. And for those in the business of browsing or buying, the service is top-end but friendly. The manager of the McQ area, who introduced himself as Daniel, was typical of what could be expected. He was assiduous in his attention to a browsing shopper who was successfully converted into a purchaser.

This is the kind of service you’d expect in a luxury store, but all too often do not receive as a snooty member of staff sizes you up. No such danger on the fourth floor - a positive experience.

Score 8/10

Store appeal

There is no nice way of saying this. Whether it was the brief handed out to the designers - internal or external - or was the fault of the creatives who came up with the template for this floor, it is, er, a tad mass market. Perhaps this is the intention, but it probably isn’t, and when you look at the floor layout with its discreet shiny grey floor that guides shoppers around, it’s hard to resist the comparison with Debenhams. Naturally, the materials palette is expensive, and the niches set into the walls to provide open-fronted wardrobes are beautifully finished. That said, the central mat, where the bulk of the less well-known labels are, is something of a jumble and quite hard to find your way through. Overhead, the starburst lighting design impresses and the geodesic silver grey pillars look good, but this isn’t really enough.

Score 5/10

Would I buy?

Maybe not, if store ambience was a consideration. You’d expect that at this level you’d get the best of the best in terms of store design. What you do get isn’t bad, but hardly outstanding. That said, when the merchandise is considered, this is a strong proposition and might be sufficient to tip the scales. Slick and American are the frequently used words when describing Harvey Nicks. Perhaps this applies to the fourth floor, but there is better in this shop.

Score 6/10

Verdict

Harvey Nichols has lost a furniture floor and put a contemporary womenswear floor in its place. It’s certainly an improvement on what went before, but does it add significantly to the sum total of the offer? Very possibly not.

Essentials

Address 109-105 Knightsbridge, London SW1X

Change From furniture and homeware floor to lifestyle and contemporary womenswear

Highlights Sneaker wall, geodesic pillars and starburst lighting

Number of brandsnew to Harvey Nichols 13

Low point Mid-floor mat, where the offer is somewhat confused

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