The heritage denim brand’s second UK standalone goes head to head with some of the jeans market’s biggest players - and makes a strong showing.
Jeans, according to various sources, appear to have been invented in California by a Mr Loeb Strauss (aka Levi Strauss), and a patent was filed in 1873 for ‘Waist Overalls’. That’s the course of events accepted by many for the genesis of a garment that, 139 years later, is probably the world’s most popular.
Yet claims to have been the first and the original are made by a member of staff at the newly opened Lee store in London’s Westfield shopping centre. This may well be incorrect as a glance at Lee’s website reveals the fact that founding father Mr HD Lee set up as a Kansas grocer in 1889 and didn’t actually produce the first pair of Lee jeans until 1911, although Lee can probably take credit for inventing the zipper-fly jean.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, both Lee and Levi’s are time-honoured brands. The difference is that Levis, in the UK at least, has many more standalone stores, with most major high streets and shopping centres boasting at least one. The Westfield London Lee store is only the brand’s second in this country - the other is on Carnaby Street.
And the new store is more or less bang opposite the west London scheme’s Levi’s store, which should present shoppers with a dilemma - Western-influenced heritage brand or, erm, Western-influenced heritage brand? Whichever is chosen, Lee has opened in Westfield with a store that throws down the gauntlet to the other denim retailers in this location. This is how denim should be sold.
Location Ground floor, Westfield London, London W12
Size 1,075 sq ft (with a 26ft-wide frontage)
Opened April 1
Nearby rivals G-Star, Levi’s, Pepe Jeans, Replay
Ambience ‘Western’, heritage denim
Standout element The strong visual merchandising
Legacy Lee was the first brand to produce zipper-fly jeans
Key looks and merchandise mix
Think Lee and you think jeans, and as there may be a certain prejudice in the popular imagination towards rodeo types wearing this merchandise, the first thing you may picture will be men with lassos, spurs and cowboy hats.
In the Westfield London store there is no shortage of jeans for men, with the bulk of the styles ranging from just north of £60 to a little above £80, depending on the required wash and fit. For women the pricing is similar, although it does stretch up to £90 at the top end, and the broad emphasis is on a slim or skinny-leg profile.
In terms of washes there is almost everything, from indigo denim to the beaten-up bleached look that finds favour with those who may care to wear vintage. There is however rather more to a denim brand than pairs of jeans and for those in the market there are, of course, checked shirts in blue or red, denim jackets, T-shirts and Western-style chambray shirts. In short, there is everything the shopper might want in order to become an urban cowboy.
The collection is split roughly 55/45 between men’s and women’s respectively in terms of the space allocated, but the news from the store was that sales in the first week of trading (the store opened on April 1) were 55% women’s, by value. Of its kind, this is a strong and sensibly priced offer.
Intrinsically, a jeans-based range can be quite dull if something isn’t done to add a little visual interest to the sea of blue. Lee has pulled out the stops in this respect with piles of folded jeans, jeans suspended from butcher’s hooks and jeans set against stripped wood panels set against the black brick wall. It all adds up to taking a basic commodity and giving the shopper a reason for doing something other than turning around and heading for the door.
And every self-respecting denim merchant needs a fit guide. Lee proves no exception with denim-clad pairs of legs printed onto a long strip of card above a rail carrying all of the various styles on offer. If visual merchandising is about making things more attractive, it should also make shopping easier, and this is achieved here.
There are also vintage-looking wood and glass cabinets used to house accessories such as belts and bandanas.
On the day of visiting, an entire family shopping outing looked to be being taken care of in the women’s area of the shop. Advice on how the garments looked as each person emerged from the fitting rooms flew thick and fast and all of it was pertinent and constructive.
Selling denim is about selling a dream and making a potential customer understand why a particular style matters. On this basis, the Lee store should do well.
Dark wood predominates in Lee’s Carnaby Street store, while in Westfield things are a few shades lighter. This is still a relatively dark environment however - the sort of place where accent lighting in the form of lines of black, theatre-style spotlights and pendant lights ensure there are moody areas of light and shade.
The walls and ceiling are also black, with exposed brick used extensively around the store with slate-coloured shelving around the perimeter and in the mid-shop. Graphics are dotted around with the eye-catching slogan ‘In Your Body We Trust’ positioned above an image of a woman with her denim-clad legs in the air. Interesting.
But the store is in fact typical of what is done by many denim retailers these days when they emphasise heritage. This is a good example of what is possible, but if you took the branding off and then did the same to the Levi’s store, which is not 20m distant, you might struggle to work out which brand’s store you were in.
Would I buy?
It’s a pleasure to be able to take an entirely personal view on this and the answer is yes. Store atmosphere, pricing and available styles make this a serious contender for pressing the wallet into active service.
Lee’s second UK standalone store is a respectable addition to Westfield London’s casualwear offer and puts the brand in the race for denim spend. If there were a criticism, it would be that it’s a mite generic, but it’s still worth a visit.
Final score: 37/50
To see more pictures from the Lee store, go to www.drapersonline.com/news/shopwatch