Hobbs has gone back to its roots to create a quintessentially English look with a modern twist to showcase its NW3 sub-brand on Regent Street.
Hobbs is one of those brands that seems to have been around forever. And to an extent, in the fast-moving world of fashion, it has – its first store opened in the affluent north London suburb of Hampstead in 1981.
For those not hailing from the metropolis, Hampstead’s postcode is NW3 and in a nod to the brand’s heritage, Hobbs’ Regent Street store in London has just been remodelled with the whole of the ground floor devoted to a new, younger sub-brand called NW3. There are in fact two floors in this, the retailer’s flagship, and while the basement has also had a makeover, it stocks the core Hobbs collection. The split between the two ranges is roughly 60% Hobbs to 40% NW3.
And the guiding principle, according to managing director Nicky Dulieu, is that the new-look store should represent a return to the essentially English quality that characterised the brand when it first appeared.
“We looked back into the history of the company and decided that we wanted to recreate that English look, but in a modern way,” she says.
The outcome, created in conjunction with London-based design consultancy Child Graddon Lewis (CGL), is a store design intended to remind the visitor of a Georgian manor, an intention made manifest by a series of deft architectural touches. These stretch from the shape of the ceiling on the ground floor, to the stable partitions around the perimeter in the basement and mention should also be made of the many blown-glass lights around the two floors.
Dulieu says that this interior is still very much a trial for the brand and that a decision on a possible roll-out will probably be taken in the spring.
Key looks and merchandise mix
By its very nature, Hobbs has always been at the better end of the mid-market and in a number of instances, styles veer towards the aspirational designer end of things. Practically, this means that for those wishing to buy a dress from the NW3 range on the ground floor, prices start at £110 and run up to just short of £150 for a checked dress. The top price for a “Heath” (another nod at the NW3 heritage) jacquard coat is £299, while tops lead in at £79 for a short-sleeve jabot top. Colours are muted, with browns, fuchsias and shades of purple predominating. Checks and florals are merchandised alongside the plain fabrics.
Downstairs, the core Hobbs offer, which has a similar price structure, is rather more in your face. Black and white check tie-belt short coats and red Barbour-influenced padded jackets are among the stand-out pieces.
It’s difficult to sell stock at this level of the market without a strong emphasis on visual merchandising – a fact not lost on Lara Snider, head of visual merchandising at the retailer, who has worked on turning a good design into a much better one.
Whether it’s the display cabinet shelving on the right-hand side as you enter the store, filled with boots, bags and hat boxes, or the many niches set into the walls on both floors, nothing appears left to chance. The strategic use of comfortable armchairs and sofas, positioned in the mid-shop to promote a relaxed ambience, is also impressive.
On reopening day earlier this month, legions of staff were on hand – many of them clearly from head office as phrases such as “this has been a best-seller” (uttered while holding a quilted Hobbs jacket) could be overheard, helping shoppers with any queries they might have.
The store had been closed for a few weeks and staff were clearly anxious to capture any potential shoppers. Their efforts appeared to be bearing fruit. Little more than an hour after the store flung wide its doors, the cash desk, on the ground floor, was seeing action.
Dulieu’s vision of Englishness has been made a reality by Snider and CGL, who have transformed the interior of this store. And probably the first thing that will strike anyone who has even a nodding acquaintance with the store in its previous incarnation would be the height of the ceiling. This has been raised by almost a metre, with a series of barrel vaults fostering the sense that you are entering a period interior. The semicircular nature of the vaults is mirrored by, well, a pair of matching mirrors across which a white lattice has been fastened, giving the appearance of grand Georgian windows.
Cost has been a central preoccupation in this project and Snider says that many of the items on display have been sourced from flea markets. Among these, perhaps the most spectacular are the matching oversize carriage lamps that fill the upper part of the space above the stairwell.
The circular staircase is also noteworthy, if only because of the listed dark-wood handrail around which the walls have been built. This means that the handrail is, in effect, recessed into the wall and lights have been put behind it, adding drama to its appearance. It is also worth noting the finish that has been applied to the ground floor walls, which according to Snider is the result of polishing a combination of marble and plaster dust. The effect is striking and upscale, like much of this interior. A tick in the box too for reusing and repurposing elements that could easily have been binned.
Would I buy?
Anyone walking into a branch of Hobbs, or one of the 19 branches that now stock the NW3 range, will probably carry the expectation that a bit of money will have to be spent if a purchase is to be made. The real positive about the Regent Street flagship is that while this may be the case, this is not an intimidatingly expensive interior. Instead, it carries a sense of inclusion and comfort.
A snap early reaction to the NW3 range would be it looks rather better than the core Hobbs range and that it has an altogether less buttoned-up feel about it. The fact it is on the ground floor will also probably ensure it garners the lion’s share of available turnover.
Hobbs harks back to its roots with a store design that goes a long way towards re-establishing links with its past as a quintessentially English brand. The original Hobbs stores were very much a product of their time. This is a good update.
Address 219 Regent Street
Size 1,530 sq ft: ground floor 860 sq ft,basement 665 sq ft
Design intent English manor house meets coaching inn
Features Vaulted ceiling, carriage lanterns and polished walls
Ranges Hobbs in basement and NW3 on the ground floor
Store portfolio 125 standalone stores/concessions
Group stores editor
With a background in fashion buying, including a 10-year stint at C&A in the UK and Germany, John Ryan writes about visual merchandising, store design and the business of launching new shops. As a journalist, he has covered the sector for more than a decade.