This flagship store for the purveyor of waxed jackets is finding favour with the urban set as it seeks to be all things to all style lovers.
Muddy fields, Golden Retrievers, double-barrel shotguns and tweedy flat caps. For a long time, this was the predominant image when the word Barbour was used and even for those who weren’t part of the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ set, ownership of a Barbour jacket was still a passport to all things rural and would likely go some way towards establishing your credentials as an active member of the Tory shires.
This all disappeared some time ago, but the South Shields brand still trades in large measure on its ability to provide countrywear in the shape of muddy green or brown hip-length jackets.
But the heritage does extend beyond this. Visit the recently opened Barbour flagship on Covent Garden’s Long Acre and the first image you’re presented with as you approach is the Barbour jacket as appropriate clothing for the fast-moving business of motorcycling.
This is a forerunner to what lies within – two floors of Barbour merchandise with the larger ground floor pandering to the demand for high fashion versions of the clothing standard. For those for whom this is all a bit much, there is the first floor where Barbour’s tradition is reasserted.
There are two other Barbour stores within a mile of this one – one just off Carnaby Street, and another on Regent Street. But this is where the brand puts its best well-crafted leather boot forward.
Forget the gun dog and head for the retro bike shop. Centre stage is the Steve McQueen Collection, for which read, well, a fairly traditional Barbour waxed jacket, a long-sleeved knitted rever collar top with knobbly leather buttons and a horizontally broad striped T-shirt. Couple this with chambray shirts with printed neck linings and lightweight zip-through collarless jackets (unwaxed) and you more or less have the look wrapped up.
This is for men, but there is nothing clear about this, because while there are waisted jackets for women, it’s equally possible that non-males will still opt for the clean-limbed, firm-jawed outdoors jackets that are Barbour’s bedrock.
There is an awful lot more to the offer than the basic jacket, however. Whether you’re male or female, you can choose from a riot of brightly coloured jackets.
Many of them bear quilting details and after you’re done with this, you can move on to consider the other elements of the range with tops, scarves, Union Jack despatch bags and gloves, among the many items to select from.
The point, however, is that the ground floor may be about fashion, but it is modishness with a vigorous nod to Barbour’s heritage, and as this is a brand that has been around since 1894, expect a large slice of tradition. The first floor will come as a relief to the conservatively minded, with everything you might associate with the brand on show.
Barbour has never been about scrimping and saving – these are investment garments that may well be around for as long as you are. With this in mind, prices are aspirational.
The windows, as windows should, give the game away about what you’re about to see in this store.
The top of a Shell petrol pump is combined with a large picture of Steve McQueen on a motorbike and assorted goggles, tyres and retro-looking helmets providing the setting for the collection bearing the film star’s name.
You know at a glance that this is a shop where retro fashion is on the bill of fare. The windows also permit glances deep into the shop where more graphics seek to anchor the brand in the world of motorbike scrambling.
Inside, the two floors are merchandised almost as two separate worlds. Both are about detail, with Americana featuring strongly on the ground floor, while upstairs it’s poachers’ bags, wooden decoy ducks and country ties artfully emerging from vintage leather suitcases.
The schism that is apparent between the two floors, both in terms of merchandise and presentation, actually works well, as both sets of (very different) customers are put at ease. The VM is about understanding a core customer and then seeking to move things on.
Staff were enthusiastic and willing on the ground floor, but a little oblivious to anything upstairs. A greeting was immediate when entering the store and the member of staff (who had also been responsible for the VM) was very helpful.
On the first floor, your correspondent might have been invisible as the two people whose job it is (presumably) to look after shoppers were having an in-depth conversation about something.
You can’t have everything and while the verve of the ground floor service was laudable, this was somewhat negated by the countrywear department.
This is a flagship, so you’d expect something impressive and you aren’t disappointed. Exposed brick walls, industrial cable trays and silvered air-conditioning pipes overhead work well with the scaffolding-style mid-shop fixtures and the plain wood museum-style display cases.
The ground floor is all you could wish of a brand playing the 1960s cool heritage card. The first floor is less showy, but boarded wooden floors, brown leather club chairs and framed pictures of things bucolic do much to affirm the image of the brand for one set of customers.
Taken as a whole, the ground floor works rather better than the first, principally owing to the high ceiling that allows more to be done with the lighting, but this is a good-looking store.
Does it work?
Barbour has a loyal following and even on one of the coldest days of the winter so far, when many other stores were empty, this one had shoppers. The point about the two discrete interiors created for each floor is that neither seems to work to the detriment of the other.
A brand that has countrywear at its heart emerges from its rough-hewn chrysalis to become a store for high-fashion shoppers. This is a success on most levels.
Address 135 Long Acre, London WC2E
Ambience Fashion metro heads into the country
Number of floors Two
Opened Late summer 2011
Reason for visiting Investment purchasing
Target customer Almost everybody