The premium footwear retailer has opened a flagship store that combines glamour with the serious business of selling volume product
Step out of the tube at Covent Garden in London and head down towards the piazza. It’s a path trodden by huge numbers of tourists and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the thoroughfare that takes themthere, called James Street, is filled with fashion retailers.
The sheer volume of footfall should ensure that all you’ve got to do is open your doors with halfway decent products and the tills should begin to ring. Sadly, this is far from reality and shops change hands here with the same kind of frequency as anywhere else.
The upside for shoppers is that there has been a steady flow of new shops coming into the area for years and, owing to the location, retailers tend to put their best foot forward. An example of this took place three weeks ago when premium-to-luxury footwear retailer Kurt Geiger opened a flagship on the corner of James Street and Covent Garden Market.
This used to be a branch of US footwear retailer Nine West, but all traces of that have been erased. The store has been remodelled, morphing into a glamorous emporium, courtesy of a collaboration between Kurt Geiger and London design firm Found Associates.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Kurt Geiger is best known as a premium brand and even the most cursory glance at the stock in this flagship store will do much to confirm that reputation.
On the ground floor there is a modest selection of men’s shoes. A pair of suede Kurt Geiger-branded moccasins costs £140 - a fairly typical mid-price, although you can pay more than £300 at the top end or as little as £80 if you opt for KG-branded shoes. KG men’s is actually a relatively classic range, where colour and outré stylings are kept low key.
For women, the range is broader, stretching from ballet pumps, displayed in a mirrored, open-fronted cube, to outrageous stilettos.
The basement is where most of the women’s footwear action is and the looks on offer include platform stilettos, lattice-front stilettos and straightforward courts in a vast array of patterns and finishes.
Prices at the lower end come, once again, via the KG sub-brand and hover just above the £100 mark for high heels, to about £200 if you opt for boots.
At the higher end, Kurt Geiger stilettos are close to £200. Those searching for other brands normally stocked by Kurt Geiger won’t find them here, apart from a small selection from Ugg Australia.
This is a flagship store with a very large offer.
The Kurt Geiger flagship is about glamour and the visual merchandising reflects this aspiration. Throughout the store, many of the styles are displayed on high-gloss, chromed single shoe stands, tilted to allow the shopper to admire the in-sole details as well as the shoe’s upper. These stands are bespoke and have been designed with a curved and sloping pedestal, mirroring the form of the fronts of many of the styles on show.
Then there are the white female mannequins, found on both floors; naked except for the shoes they wear. Full-body mannequins are unusual in a shoe shop, but the ploy adds to the feeling of extravagance that characterises this space. Compared with many footwear chains, the merchandising in this store is not dense.
Talk to any woman who wears high heels for a long evening and it’s normal to hear a complaint about the comfort, or otherwise, of the footwear. Now consider the plight of the staff working in this store.
With the exception of the lone man working in the basement, they were all wearing high heels and had been doing so for the whole day. Yet in spite of this, they were all smiles when dealing with the many shoppers who had chosen a Monday afternoon to visit. All the shoppers seemed to be being served efficiently - and there were a lot of them.
This is where this shop really scores. From the moment you walk in, it’s a tour de force of innovative design. On the walls everything is mirrored. Daniel Beardsley, the designer who led the Found Associates team that worked on the project, says the ceiling mirrors are a form of lightweight mirrored Barrisol membrane.
Also on the ground floor, the other thing that is hard to miss is the shoe chandelier - a large, overhead lighting fixture festooned with an array of current footwear styles, acting as both visual merchandising prop and display feature. Beyond is the ballet pump cube and then it’s down to the basement.
This is accessed by an untreated oak staircase, which has a dramatic series of descending display plinths next to it. These form an outsize version of the staircase and are filled with shoes and mannequins for shoppers to inspect.
The basement is divided into two long, narrow rooms, separated by a wall with white light boxes. There is also an interactive monitor set into the mirrored mid-shop wall, which gives access to the ranges online at the touch of a finger.
This is an extravagant exercise in store design, marrying the workmanlike wooden floors with the high camp mirrored shopfit: a brave move.
Would I buy?
Bank balance permitting, yes, I might. If you are seduced into entering this store, it is so different from the nearby competition that reaching for your wallet would seem to be the logical next step.
There is also a breadth of product offered that means there is probably something for everybody.
Kurt Geiger has opened a flagship that, for a change, lives up to that term. This is the store that will set the standard for the rest of the chain and it is the one that shoppers will think of when they consider Kurt Geiger.
Location 1 James Street, London WC2
Size 4,000 sq ft across two floors
Storefit Found Associates
Reasons for visiting Breadth of range and store design
Most arresting feature The shoe chandelier
Previous tenant Nine West