It’s got a prime location and has only been open for three weeks, but this womenswear store’s collection gets lost in space.
Every now and then you see something and wonder why it’s there. Guildford High Street is a bastion of mid-market respectability – the sort of place where well-established fashion retailers come to try to tap into the Surrey county town’s well-documented affluence. This is not a location where a make-do-and-mend approach to store design, fit-out and display are the order of the day, with the great bulk of the offers broadly representative of the best that a particular retailer can offer at any given moment.
It’s something of a surprise, therefore, to see a shop called Miss London not far from the middle of the high street. Miss Who? Miss What? No, you’ve not done a double take and misread Miss Sixty. This is in fact the only store bearing this name to have set up shop anywhere in the UK, according to the store manager. And it’s been open for about three weeks now, meaning it really is a newcomer, both to Guildford and to the fashion retailing arena.
The obvious question about all this is: why now? There have surely been more propitious moments to institute a fashion empire, and setting up shop in Guildford’s High Street is not necessarily an inexpensive option. Store manager ‘Anne’ said the store was a ‘franchise’. On closer questioning, it turned out that this is the one and only Miss London at the moment and that franchising may be an option if this one works out.
The store itself is in a large unit – it used to be Habitat, meaning there is something of the ballroom about the interior and Miss London trades from just one of the three levels from which the furniture retailer formerly purveyed its wares.
Given that Miss London does not have an online presence, the suspicion must be that this is a temporary let, a pop-up by any other name, but it is an interesting development nonetheless.
Key looks and merchandise mix
With one or two exceptions, this is a mono-brand shop with the overwhelming majority of the merchandise bearing a Miss London label. And the stock is a mix of mainly party-oriented or occasionwear clothing and accessories that would have been as relevant two decades ago as it is today. This looks, in short, like a London garment manufacturer that has decided it might be a good idea to test the waters and go direct to the consumer, rather than subjecting itself to the predations of high street buyers.
Practically, this means that pricing is mid-market with a white shiny vinyl ‘Miss London Shoulder Bag’ at £19.95, ‘Basic Vests’ (and who thinks that calling a vest ‘basic’ is a selling point?) at £9.95 and blouses boasting two front patch pockets, a fake placket and gold buttons at £19.95, all forming part of the offer. This is merchandise that would not look out of place if you wandered into a supplier along London’s Fonthill Road [a stock house area in north London], but there were shoppers checking it all out and a purchase was in the process of being made. All in all, the clothing was a mite overpriced given the quality that was on offer, however.
It is difficult to make your mind up about the visual merchandising in this shop. There is almost too much space for the amount of stock on display, meaning it becomes quite hard to relate the various elements of the offer to the store as a whole.
The one thing that does stand out, however, are the mannequins – all glossy and black, with each one sporting a brightly coloured card cube on its head. This is actually pretty dramatic and certainly makes you want to take a look as you wander down the High Street.
The same is true of the store’s fascia, which has been painted in a high-gloss black with the lower-case ‘miss london’ logo described in white against this. There is something ‘King’s Road in the 1960s’ about it, but the size of the floor against the quantity of stock conspires to make the interior a little disappointing.
Friendly, welcoming and eager to make the store work. Those who had made it beyond the threshold were being told about the nature of this new arrival and were urged to tell their friends.
The store was well looked after, as far as sizing and housekeeping standards were concerned, although this was probably not that difficult given the paucity of mid-shop equipment.
Miss London still bears all the hallmarks of the previous tenant, with a wooden floor at the front leading to polished tiles deeper into the store.
The lighting should be sharper in order to show off the better points of the merchandise and perimeter shelves and pigeonholes would be better suited to interior furnishings than handbags. All in all, one has to say it does not appear as if a great deal of effort has been expended.
The cash desk is a curious, stone-clad object that is readily found, owing to the extreme ease of navigation – as there is not much in the shop.
Will it work?
This may be a pop-up store, although this was denied by the staff, but whether it is or not, a betting man would not place money on its continued existence six months from now. From the outside, the combination of box-head mannequins and black gloss window surround make this a mild shot in the arm for Guildford High Street.
The real problems start when you walk into the store, when the paucity of the offer and the acres of space do militate against any kind of feel-good factor.
Miss London lacks a good number of the elements you’d normally associate with a high street fashion offer and the overall feeling is that the stock has been placed in a location that was not built for it. In total, this looks like a deal that has been done in haste and may be repented with equal despatch.
Address 149 High Street, Guildford
Category High street fashion
Highlight The store’s location