The US accessories and bag brand has opened an impressive flagship in upscale surroundings, which pulls off the trick of being high-end but accessible.
Visit Westfield London and in the bit in the middle, beneath the floor where all the restaurants are clustered, there is an odd collection of retailers, ranging from quirky giftware outfit Octopus to what is probably the only All Saints for Men standalone in the country. As such, this area can occasionally feel as if you have wandered into a part of this shopping centre where those retailers that couldn’t really fit with any of the mall’s themed zones have taken space.
Among all of this there is a branch of US handbag and leather accessories retailer Coach. This is not a big store and it looks as if it has been squeezed into a unit that has become available. It is also distant, in Westfield London terms, from The Village – the centre’s designer area, which is where you might imagine this brand would find its natural bedfellows.
It is, however, one of only two Coach stores in the UK and the second has only just opened in the rather more appropriate surroundings of Bond Street. This branch looks and feels like a flagship, situated next door to posh persons’ stationer Smythson, and just along the road from rival bag purveyor Anya Hindmarch.
A lot more love and attention has gone into creating its interior than was expended on the Westfield London outpost. If you want to understand what the Coach brand is about, this is the one to visit.
Key looks and merchandise mix
If you have to ask the price … well you know the rest. Coach is not about counting the pennies, much less the tenners, and all of the price tags attached to the stock are discreetly tucked away to save the blushes of the impecunious, or perhaps to pander to those for whom money is no consideration.
On enquiry, however, prices were firmly in the designer arena with a leather over-the-shoulder bag priced at £725, rising to £1,475 for another bag of similar size with an integrated animal print. A member of staff informed your correspondent that a sale had been made of one of the latter since the store opened, and that the bags were generally in line with what you should expect at this end of the market. Quite.
Nonetheless, the women’s offer, which occupies more than 80% of the space in this two-floor store, is both attractive and comprehensive and includes shoes, bags, sunglasses and purses, all on offer in a wide variety of sizes. The point about this is that you are not just buying a leather handbag; it’s a Coach leather handbag and the brand message is writ large across most of the merchandise.
For men, things are a little more restrained in this respect although prices remain reliably high. Again, just to take a category at random, the starting price for a man’s belt is £90, but styles priced at more than £400 are also on offer.
And like all the better brands, there are entry-level gift items, such as banknote holders or leather key fobs, so that all can enjoy a piece of Coach.
When set against the likes of Kenneth Cole (on Regent Street), which is distinctly flashier, this looks both more upscale and in tune with its immediate neighbours.
This is a store of several parts with a different ambience in each. The light and bright ground floor uses a faux zebra skin, set against the white marble floors, to create a feeling of luxury.
As the bulk of what’s on offer consists of large handbags, these are displayed in jewel-like fashion on shelves along the perimeter. In good designer store style, the temptation to overcrowd the interior has been firmly resisted.
Upstairs, it’s about high levels of light which penetrate to the back of the floor where there is a “museum” area comprising glass cases on standalone chrome stands featuring vintage bags.
Head to the back of the store and the menswear department relies on props such as a vintage-style bicycle and pigeonhole displays for some of the smaller items.
All in all, it’s a tasteful execution.
There were shoppers in Coach on the Wednesday morning of visiting – which came as something of a surprise in a street where many of the stores traditionally seem empty at this time of the day. And these shoppers were buying, being attended to by the smartly turned out staff, all of whom were dressed in a uniform that somehow didn’t feel like a uniform, which is a fine line to tread.
You’d expect stock knowledge to be good at this level and it was. What was good, rather more to the point, was that the service being offered was friendly and inclusive with none of the stand-off snobbery that can be encountered, on occasion, in this part of London.
Woodblock flooring, followed by marble, followed by woodblock again. That is the story of this interior on the ground floor. Carving up the space with different finishes underfoot helps to create different areas and to demarcate where one department or proposition ends and another begins. More to the point, there is a high-gloss interior throughout and if you want to feel quietly sophisticated, this is a good place to do so.
The ground floor is also worth noting for the ‘chill space’ that divides the women’s offer at the front from the men’s department at the back. This is large and generous with comfortable seating and makes you feel like taking your time.
This may be designerland, but there is little sense of intimidation – it’s also more stylistically assured than the Westfield London store.
Would I buy?
For that special person on whom it is worth making an impression, possibly yes. This is not the kind of store in which you are going to conduct a supermarket sweep, but on the other hand, if it’s a matter of treating yourself or somebody else, then it is probably worth a detour.
Bond Street may be a long and expensive designer-led thoroughfare, but Coach manages to impress and be inclusive at the same time. There may be something of the marble gin palace about what’s been done, but in a good way.
Address 41 New Bond Street, London W1S
Number of floors Two
Brand established 1941
Coach (launch) party Featured actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who is the current face of the retailer