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Desigual, Paris

The future looks bright in terms of both product and sales at the Spanish chain, which has made a statement of intent with its new Paris flagship

Last month, Barcelona-based young fashion retailer Desigual opened a 18,300 sq ft flagship store in the heart of Paris. The move comes as it seeks to extend its activities in France and Germany this year and so can be regarded as nothing less than an uncompromising statement of intent.

Like its UK flagship store on Regent Street in London, the new store is in one of the French capital’s most high-profile shopping areas, just around the corner from the Opéra and Boulevard Haussmann, where Galeries Lafayette and Printemps ply their trade.

Unlike the UK, however, there is a Desigual roll-out taking place in France this year with up to 10 more outlets planned compared to just one here (still within London). France is a key market for the purveyor of brightly coloured printed and detailed garments for men, women and children and one in which it seems to have more success at finding sites and customers for new branches.

Desigual chief executive officer Manel Adell is bullish about the chain’s prospects, pointing out that every year since he took the reins in 2002 the company has enjoyed 60% year-on-year growth and that he sees no reason why this shouldn’t continue. Sales have grown from ¤8m in 2002 to a projected ¤450m turnover for 2010. “We need to make every collection better,” he says, adding that the Desigual concept is “global”.

For shoppers in Paris, the reality of this statement is that they have a store that is quite unlike any other in the area and that they are in the vanguard of Desigual’s European expansion

Key looks and merchandise mix

To say that Desigual has an individual merchandise assortment would be an understatement. The stock, which tends towards the extreme of continental casual, is a mix of loud, primary-coloured prints, stripes and patchwork detailing, applied to washed fabrics. Over the past year, the most rapid growth according to Adell has come from kidswear, at the expense of womenswear, and this is reflected in the large area devoted to it in the basement.

Adell says that initially the modus operandi for kids was to take adult styles and scale them down. This has since been abandoned and the kids’ ranges are now a distinct entity, sitting alongside menswear.

To a UK eye it might be a case of ‘only the bold’ for menswear, as unless you have a penchant for strident patterns, the ranges might appear difficult. Adell says: “If you are a glass-half-empty person, this is probably not for you.”

For women, the ground floor is filled with an “artisanal collection”. This translates to naive prints and patchwork patterning, with hardly a plain garment in sight. The ranges are designed to hark back to the retailer’s origins in 1984.

If you want a one-off piece, a member of staff can sew on a few beads or put a piece of embroidery on your purchase.

You have to admire Desigual’s ability to plough its own furrow, even if in doing so it limits its potential market.

Score 7/10

Visual merchandising

It’s the visual merchandising that makes sense of the stock and, as in all Desigual stores, it is branch specific. There’s an element of make do and mend about the visual merchandising, with trees fashioned from T-shirts, giant cloth flowers and bundles of off-cuts on shelves.

Wooden fruit boxes have been turned into counters and display shelving. It’s all very rough and ready and complements the artfully naive nature of the clothes.

There are numerous blackboards positioned on mid-shop tables and around the perimeter with messages such as “The T-shirts say hi guys”. This may sound odd, but it works in the context of the store.

It’s also hard not to clock the mannequins. To the blank face of each has been attached a colour mugshot of a staff member from the head office.

The smallish shop windows are a triumph for technology, with one filled by a screen with continually moving, somewhat frenetic, films and images.

Score 8/10

Service

This is a proposition that is intended to appeal to a broad age range, according to Adell, but the store is staffed almost entirely by those for whom turning 30 is a distant reality. They are a cheerful and helpful bunch, on hand when needed, but not over-solicitous.

They know the offer and are ready to advise if required. They are also efficient - queues were kept to a minimum and shoppers looked happy.

Score 7/10

Store appeal

Unusually, the best thing about this store is probably the basement. It has had the normal stripped-back, industrial look applied to it that is in favour with so many retailers, but it does benefit from very high ceilings. These have been painted in a distressed off-white colour and the store also follows the ‘light the stock, not the shop’ mantra that is in vogue.

There is also concrete, large amounts of it, in many instances not coloured.

It forms a neutral backdrop for the lively garments, particularly in the escalator well where some are hung on the back wall, from the basement to the top of the store, two floors above.

This is a retail space of contrasts, with the highly polished, azure blue Moorish tiles used on parts of the ground

floor contrasting with the reach-me-down nature of much of the shopfit. It would be hard to find fault with what Desigual has set out to do, which is presumably to create a form of ethnic bazaar within a warehouse setting. If you like this sort of thing, it’s about as good as it gets.

Score 9/10

Would I buy?

Perhaps. For its fans, Desigual can probably do little wrong and the year-on-year growth speaks volumes. It would be nice if there were a few undecorated garments, but that’s not the point and for its customers this store will see them reaching for their euros.

Score 9/10

Verdict 40/50

Desigual provides central Paris with a store that will have many beating a path to the Opéra district. In spite of the random appearance, it’s a strong example of a retailer that knows what it stands for.

Essentials

Address Place de l’Opéra, Paris

Size 18,300 sq ft

Floors Three

Total investment 2.5m (£2m)

Number of Desigual stores in Paris Five

Number of store openings worldwide in 2010 40

Year-on-year growth for Desigual since 2002 60%

Projected company turnover for 2010 £450m

Desigual shops in the UK Regent Street, London; Westfield London

 

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