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Ben Sherman, Portobello Road

The Mod label has opened a concept store in London that takes its lead from quirky indies – it’s a world away from what you’d expect from a big brand.

S tand outside the newly arrived Ben Sherman ‘unbranded’ store on Portobello Road and you could be forgiven for not knowing the store’s provenance. On one side there is a large branch of All Saints, and on the other an art gallery. Between the two is a clothing shop with a black awning on which the legend  ‘115 PORTOBELLO ROAD’ appears. Move closer, and beneath the awning and directly above the door, the game is given away. Here the words ‘Ben Sherman A Heritage of Modernism’ describe what you are about to peruse – but there is still something missing.

Where are all the shirts that are the mainstay of the brand? And why does this store look more like a quirky independent? The answer is that the Ben Sherman store in this part of London is a concept store, meaning that anything goes and, like concept cars, it will look pretty but is highly unlikely to go into production and be found elsewhere. 

The store opening, around a month ago, coincided with the completion of the Carnaby Street flagship revamp. Both stores trade under the same name and both have been designed by the same consultancy, Brinkworth, but they couldn’t be more different. This perhaps shows that offers can differ wildly but still trade under the same name without compromising the brand. It also shows that as well as the international roll-out of the Carnaby Street template, scheduled to take place during the coming months, Ben Sherman is a brand that is considering its place in the grand scheme of things and seeking to widen its franchise.

Key looks and merchandise mix

There are three Ben Sherman brands. There is the eponymous Ben Sherman label, the mildly more edgy and premium Plectrum and, finally, there’s Modern Classics. The latter finds its spiritual home in 115 Portobello Road, and a quick glance at the back-neck labels reveals that this store is full of Modern Classics.

This is, in fact, the only Ben Sherman store to boast the full collection and it is given prominence in the front part of the premises. As the name might imply, Modern Classics is about looking back while taking things forward a little. Practically, this translates as Fair Isle jumpers, knitwear with shoulder patches, waxed jackets and heavyweight shirts in plains and checks.

The accessories range is relatively limited, with shoppers being asked to choose from a small selection of shoes, man-bags and belts – but everything has been well thought through in terms of presenting a total look. It is the outerwear selection that is really drawing the crowds at the moment, according to the store manager, and a rust-coloured waxed jacket with brown leather detailing on the front has been a best-seller at £250, as has a belted, khaki military coat.

At the back of the shop, the Plectrum brand joins forces with Modern Classics, and for those in need of coloured chinos, there are EC1 trousers, which take their name from the brand’s headquarters in east London. Overall, the offer looks well in tune with the local area.

Score 8/10

Visual merchandising

Side hung or laid, this more or less sums up the merchandise presentation in 115 Portobello Road, with almost nothing being forward hung. The left-hand wall at the front of the shop is an open wardrobe, where individual items of stock double up as visual merchandising props, instead of, well, props.  

And as is so often the case with Ben Sherman, the British card is fully played – off-colour Union Jack prints are hung from the walls and a more traditional national flag is draped from a pole as part of the window display. The rest of the window uses a metal runner rail from which garments are hung, and a small blackboard on which the message ‘Exclusive Modern Classics AW11 Collection’ is chalked. This is simple, yet appealing visual merchandising.

Score 8/10

Service

For such a small shop there were three members of staff on the early afternoon of visiting. Given its size, this might sound excessive, but on enquiry the store manager said that things tend to be busy on Portobello Road during lunchtime.

This is a store that is not overrun with stock, so you’d expect things to be spick and span. They were, but it was encouraging to note that remerchandising of the space was under way following a new delivery, and that consideration was being given to rather more than just keeping things tidy.

Score 7/10

Store appeal

There is a pleasing simplicity about what has been done in this store that helps it fit nicely into the boho chic ambience of this part of Portobello Road. Internally, the store is ostensibly about no-nonsense fixturing – straightforward metal rails suspended from the ceiling placed around the perimeter, the open-front wardrobe and a few vintage, low tables in the mid-shop.

To this, black Anglepoise lights (also used at the Carnaby Street store) have been added, and the plain whitewash – coupled with a grey accent colour for the till area – make this an interior where the focus is automatically on the stock. It is the back of the shop that really captures the gaze, however. Here the walls have been covered in overlapping wooden tiles, lending a vaguely Scandi sauna feel to the whole. It is also in keeping with the distinctly outdoor nature of the Modern Classics and Plectrum’s autumn collection.

Score 8/10

Would I buy?

Certainly. The range is attractive, the prices are not (too) off-putting and if you were in the mood for a little wardrobe renewal and found yourself in the Notting Hill area, then this would be a good bet. Being largely unbranded on the outside, this is the kind of shop that you might wander into on the basis of finding something different from the run-of-the-mill branded operators – in spite of the fact that this is precisely what this is. Well designed and with good stock – it’s not very often that the two go hand-in-hand.

Score 8/10

Verdict

Ben Sherman’s concept store turns out to be an independent lookalike of the kind that you might want to see more of. If big brands were able to do this more frequently, instead of screaming about who they are across their store fascias, the high street might be a more generally forgiving and idiosyncratic place.

39/50

Essentials

Address 115 Portobello Road, London W11

Ambience Boho indie retailer

Store design Brinkworth

Standout feature Wooden tiles used as a wall covering

Brands stocked Modern Classics, Plectrum

Reason for visiting To get away from the high-street norm

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