Occasionwear” is a niche category in the fashion market, where a garment may be purchased in mild panic and be worn only a couple of times before a new item is considered.
Address 270 Oxford Street, London W1C
Total sq ft6,000
Store design Lee Broom
Ambience White-box glamour
There are relatively few high street occasionwear purveyors and the ones that exist have to be keenly aware that shoppers are on a mission – they will not end up there by chance.
Get things right and the chances are good that a sale will be made, but if shop or product is out of kilter then the modest pool of shoppers becomes even smaller. Repeat business is an option, but weekly, or even monthly, top-up shops form little part of the agenda.
With all of this in mind, Coast has opened a flagship store on Oxford Street. It is four times the size of any other branch in the chain and represents a new direction for the retailer.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
Other than sticking them on mannequins, it’s hard to know what to do with posh frocks, tops and skirts. As well as grouping mannequins into clusters at this branch, they have also been put in abstract settings: on the ground floor they gather around a sofa and a ladder, with a ballgown-clad mannequin climbing it in a sort of glam DIY vignette. The basement, a larger space than the ground floor in this two-level store, is more standard, with mannequins on white plinths and accessories displayed mainly on tables.
But the real showstopper is the fascia. With its Hollywood-style lights overhead and white, neo-Georgian portico, it’s Rodeo Drive meets Oxford Street.
02 - CONCEPT
This is a ritzy white box with lit perimeter module surrounds and a video screen showing deco-style images and film clips on the ground floor. It cost £1m and the idea is to make the shopper feel special. Most of its 6,000 sq ft is in the basement and the ground floor is narrow. However, designer Lee Broom has created an interior that works with the product. The large fitting rooms have semi wraparound mirrors that provide shoppers with rear views.
03 - SERVICE
This store sells romance and glitz and the staff reflect this. The few male members of staff are dressed in that current crossover suit that makes the wearer look somewhere between a maître d’ and an awards night attendee. The real glamour, understandably, is female, with all staff equipped in backless numbers, little black dresses and quasi-wedding outfits. They are on hand to make the fraught business of buying a dress for an occasion less troublesome and they do this well.
04 - PRODUCT
This is a single category shop in a space four times larger than any other Coast branch, so you’d expect the offer to be wide-ranging. There are lined jersey wrap dresses at less than £100 and it’s possible to head on up to just shy of £700, which buys a full bells and Whistles ballgown, with a lot more fabric and detail. The sense of colour hits one between the eyes. Whether it’s canary yellow or feral fuchsia, there’s something for everybody, and there’s a fine range of fascinators too.
05 - COMPETITION
The fact that Coast is pretty much out on its own on Oxford Street as a standalone offer does not mean that it has no competition.
A visit to any of the department stores along the strip, and particularly Debenhams and House of Fraser for this market, reveals the usual Oxford Street scrabble for customers. Coast does benefit from its status as a specialist occasionwear retailer, however, and if you are in search of something of this kind it may prove to be the initial port of call – it’s just easier that way. It also has the considerable benefit of feeling like an occasionwear environment.
06 - VERDICT - A glamour hot spot
This used to be an unloved branch of Clinton Cards and not much has been altered. But it is almost completely different, and whether it’s the marble staircase where each rise is backlit, or the fitting rooms with their trompe l’oeil curtain wallpaper, a lot of thought has gone into transforming the space. It’s a workmanlike attempt at creating glamour, and if this points the way ahead for Coast, it may become a natural destination for the category. It’s an eccentric addition to Oxford Street, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.