With a change of location in Lakeside, the Essex indie has opened a store that breaks little new ground but is in tune with its brand-obsessed customers.
A by invitation viewing of a new store in a shopping centre is a tricky one at the best of times, and probably in few places more than Lakeside. Last week, designer indie Choice unveiled its relocated store (well, two stores with a single fascia - see below) in the Essex mall, and at the pre-opening evening men were posted at the door brandishing lists of names. Predictably, in spite of prior arrangements having been made, your correspondent’s name was not among this select number - but after a brief conversation the guard was dropped and Drapers was in.
And given the interest that this one seemed to be generating, large numbers of others were also crashing the party as the men with the lists proved unequal to the enthusiasm of those clamouring to get in. There were in fact two entrances, one to the women’s store and the other to the men’s. To the uninformed passer-by, however, this would have been one seamless whole, as the windows were given the same treatment and the logo above the two entrances was identical.
This is a change from the two units Choice previously occupied in the mall, which were more or less opposite each other but were clearly discrete. Now the Choice customer still has, ahem, choice, and the offers remain split by gender, but to all intents and purposes this is a single unit with an internal wall that separates.
The store is halfway along the mall’s Brompton Walk, which sounds posh but, with the exception of Choice, isn’t.
Key looks and merchandise mix
There is little point in talking about price when describing Choice, as that isn’t really the point. Those entering this store will be seeking something that, quite literally, shouts label, and if you exit with a garment that doesn’t provide a broad hint about its designer provenance, then you will have been highly selective.
For women, it’s a mix of all your old favourites, with everything from Juicy Couture (a brand that has a particular resonance in this part of the world) to Lulu Guinness, by way of D&G, Barbour and Ugg. Head next door and as the men’s shop is roughly twice the size of the women’s, the choice is a little more esoteric. There are certainly mainstream labels, with Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren, Prada and a nice line in sports shoes from Alexander McQueen Puma, all vying for attention. But then there are also some that may be less familiar, with T-shirts from Judas Sinned being the most obvious case in point.
What is clear is that much of what is on offer is clearly striking a chord with the local demographic, and while it may be a little in-your-face for some, this is well in tune with Choice’s target market.
The best thing about Choice and its visual merchandising is the windows. These are actually quite old-fashioned, relying upon multiple mannequins with extravagant hairstyles and attitudinal poses to capture the gaze of the passing shopper. Jet black wigs for the male mannequins and magenta for the vampish female versions are complemented by dark, autumnal colours and the whole thing is lit theatrically. In spite of the fact that Choice is two shops, the windows provide little clue that this is the case.
In store the VM is tidy but unremarkable, relying again on mannequins located in niches and on low plinths in front of pillars. And a word of advice on displaying two-button men’s suits on a hanger at the end of a display module - do not fasten both buttons as there is no body form to take up the slack created - you end up with something that looks as if it should be in a charity shop, in spite of the hugely aspirational Hugo Boss label. Overall, however, the VM was tidy.
In both stores, heavily tanned and sharply coiffed young men and women were on hand to ask if you were “orright” and in truth it was hard not to be, such was their enthusiasm. Paying customers were being attended to and there was a general air that there was business to be done and the staff were taking care of business.
They’re a glitzy lot in Choice and this could be quite intimidating, but on the other hand they are all perfectly on brand.
Although the frontage leads you to expect a single shop, this really is two stores with the same name above the door. The women’s shop is smaller and brighter with light tiled floors, light-coloured wood and light beige walls. In the mid-shop, it’s all about luxury and princess wannabes with a gold chandelier and purple studded velvet banquettes to sit on while you ponder whether to snap up a Franklin & Marshall tracksuit or a pair of Hunter wellies.
The men’s shop is more moody and washed in testosterone with dark wood slatted screens, a mix of tiles and parquet for the floor and a severe backlit white perimeter for the shoe display at the rear. Unlike the women’s shop, there are no views across the floor and it feels far more enclosed, even though it is a bigger space.
As with the visual merchandising, this was breaking little new ground, but on the other hand, what had been done demonstrated a keen attention to detail.
Would I buy?
Probably not, but I’d certainly enjoy looking around. The offer is wide and the store lives up to its name. Wardrobe building should be no problem for those who want to splash the cash. And that might be the point - this is one of the more upscale shops in Lakeside, so there will be a lot of envious browsing action, but not everyone will have the funds to make a purchase.
For brand-conscious shoppers, this is as good as it gets in Lakeside and the store is definitely an improvement on the two shops the retailer occupied before. Choice is a retailer that understands its customers.
Address Brompton Walk, Lakeside, Essex
Store design Rob Fairhurst from TUW
Store ambience Aspirational
Target customer Brand and price aware
Other Choice stores in Bluewater, Canary Wharf, Romford, Westfield London
Managing director Laurence Davis