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Benetton, Oxford Circus, London

The refurbished UK flagship retains the Italian lifestyle chain’s colourful signature identity yet gives it a more mature feel with high-quality furnishings.

Remember Benetton? Of course you do, and for those of a certain age it is ingrained on the memory as the place you went to in the late 1970s to watch people endlessly folding the brightly coloured knitwear you had wandered in to mess up. Back then it was the first to do this - the sight of walls and table displays with everything looking untouched was a minor miracle.

Thirty-something years later, carefully folded knitwear is a commonplace and certainly not worthy of comment. Yet Benetton set the trend and, in some ways, little has changed in its stores.

Or at least that might be a reasonable summary if you haven’t been into a branch of late. Yes, there are still tables of knitwear and they remain beautifully tidy. But Benetton has been hard at work and nowhere can this be better seen than in its four-floor UK flagship at Oxford Circus in London. There’s been a Benetton store here for years and everybody knew it was there, but for the majority it was only entered from time to time - it just wasn’t really on the list. Following a complete refit and redesign however, Benetton has staked its claim among Oxford Street’s must visits with an interior that can challenge the mid-market’s best.

Key looks and merchandise

Starting with the bit that everybody knows, there are a lot of fine and finer-gauge jumpers in this store: some with crew necks, some with V-necks, some with tipping around the neckline, some without. And prices range from £20 to £45 at the top end for diamond jacquards.

Although knitwear is still an important part of the range, things have moved a long way from the point when it was the signature category. In Oxford Circus, the ground floor is about a wide variety of womenswear. Move up a floor and it’s menswear, more womenswear and accessories, with kids’ and baby wear on the top floor. In the basement is the more directional Sisley collection.

Colours are generally muted with camel, navy, black and grey all featuring strongly. There are of course brights, not least the range of knee-length women’s mouflon coats at £99.

Overall, prices are very reasonable, with women’s scoop-neck and V-neck tops starting at £19 for cotton voile, while £22 buys a printed T-shirt. On the tailored side, there is a sense that this is a self-consciously north Italian range where subdued grey and tweed jackets dominate. At the top end, £145 will buy a Sisley coat, with £139 doing the same from the core Benetton range. It’s an appealing mix with something for most tastes.

Score 8/10

Visual merchandising

Again it’s the knitwear that catches the eye as you enter the shop. Having a wall of the stuff, all folded and in a series of floor-to-ceiling pigeonholes in a niche along the perimeter may be familiar stuff, but it remains a powerful signifier for Benetton. The drama is reinforced by the choice of black for the fixtures and fittings, allowing the merchandise, in all its technicolour glory, to shine out.

In the mid-shop, small black platforms are used to display accessories and footwear. As this is a large store, full advantage has been taken of the space, with asymmetric yellow tables on the first floor used to show off anything from blouses to footwear, but all with the kind of minimalist economy you’d usually expect to find in a luxury store.

The kidswear is notable too, with double-tiered displays making the best use of the pink and lime colourways used for the toddler ranges. And unlike the adult collections, the display equipment here is white, although again, this is about using a neutral surface to make the most of the coloured merchandise.

In general, there is a very grown-up feel to the visual merchandising in this store, a contrast with the somewhat kids’ TV presenter approach that seemed to characterise the retailer’s previous incarnations.

Score 8/10

Service

Very friendly and helpful. It didn’t seem to matter whether it was the nattily pigtailed Italian security guard or the well-turned out sales staff, everybody was pleased to help and obviously proud of the new store they were working in. And when they were not busy folding jumpers, they were in sufficient numbers to ensure nobody was left looking for somebody to help them.

Score 8/10

Store appeal

Pre-refurbishment, this was a bit of a dull corner of Oxford Circus. Now it looks better than the H&M store that faces it, and invites shoppers in with its broad frontage and the curious graphic on the ground floor which asks ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would be as sweet.’

Shakespearean quotes notwithstanding, with its black and white design this store could be in danger of being a little mundane, but this is avoided by a series of high colour features, including a multicolour staircase that runs from the top to the bottom of the shop. There is also a white pylon, located in the escalator well, that has stripes of colour on it, again rising from the ground floor to the top. The Sisley fitting rooms are worth a look too, being circular cubicles created from black curtains.

If you like plain brown corrugated cardboard, then you’ll probably like what you see in this store. The material is used to provide 2D objects that sit on top of the fixtures and as pricing signage.

In terms of layout, there is room to move throughout, making for a comfortable experience.

Score 7/10

Would I buy?

Certainly. There is a lot to choose from and in its new incarnation there is every reason for visiting this store. For central London, the prices are not intimidating and there is a quiet sophistication about the early autumn collection that makes you consider reaching for your wallet.

Score 8/10

Verdict 39/50

After years languishing in the doldrums, Benetton has reinvented its presence in the heart of London and created a store that demands to be taken seriously. There is little reason to suppose increased turnover will not be the outcome.

Essentials

Address 255-259 Regent Street, London W1B

Number of floors Four

Extent of store refurbishment A complete revamp of every level

Store design highlights Coloured stairs and a corrugated cardboard graphics package

Price range From under £20 to £145

In-store labels Benetton and Sisley

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