Fans of Evelyn Waugh would probably have looked fondly at the John Lewis menswear department in days gone by.
The Panama hats were in place and the tweed jackets were waiting to be tried on. And to an extent, nothing has changed if you visit the Oxford Street flagship. But while there are still tweed jackets and Panama hats, these are part of a highly contemporary offer.
Accessible gentility might be one way to describe what this offer is about, and it’s working. In days gone by, John Lewis might not have been on the list of destinations for discerning male wardrobe builders.
But things appear to have changed.
Address Rear ground floor of the Oxford Street department store, London W1A
Refurbishment completed April 2012
Brands Mainstream midmarket and own label
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
There are parts of this large space, at the rear of the ground floor, that would fit readily into Waugh’s novel Scoop, with vintage desks, packing trunks and leather armchairs used as visual merchandising props. These are, however, just elements of the whole, and there is plenty to keep the more modernist shopper happy.
Packeted white shirts are displayed in a semi-discrete space that uses naked pendant light bulbs to lend atmosphere. If you want a handmade shirt, a glass cabinet contains a variety of collars to alert you to the fact that the offer runs from mid-market to fringe Savile Row. Almost every aspect of the department has been considered and the suit area, in particular, is worthy of praise.
02 - CONCEPT
John Lewis has turned adversity to advantage. At its heart is a major bank of escalators; on one side of the escalator there is formalwear, with brands being given their own areas, while casualwear is on its other side. It is a simple arrangement and given that the casual side of things features different identifiable parts, the decision has been taken to create accessories and pyjama/underwear departments. Set back from the escalator is a long cash desk with sufficient space.
03 - SERVICE
Well let’s be fair, this is John Lewis, so you would expect the service to be scrupulously polite and helpful. It is both and nothing seems to be too much trouble. And when the time came to pay the queue was orderly with a management-looking type overseeing matters and ensuring all ran smoothly. Good service and John Lewis are almost a retail cliché, but like all clichés, it is a cliché because experience has found this to be almost universally the case.
04 - PRODUCT
If it’s mid-price brands you’re after, this is a good place to consider, whether it’s Ted Baker Endurance suits or a pair of Diesel or Levi’s jeans. But unusually for a department store, it’s the own-brand merchandise that steals the show. The retailer has played the heritage card with its John Lewis & Co offer that extends from the aforementioned tweed jackets to striped tops of the Breton sailor variety. There is also a bespoke suiting service as well that is relatively inexpensive.
05 - COMPETITION
myriad nearby menswear options, John Lewis was packing them in with this well-put-together space. In truth, almost any of the items could have been bought somewhere not too far away, but as an exercise in making sure that shoppers beat a path to its door, the flagship department store was working overtime. And the odd part of all of this is that customers of All Saints or Marks & Spencer would, in all likelihood, have found something to their liking.
06 - VERDICT - The prospects are good
John Lewis has come a long way from when it was thought of predominantly as a purveyor of homewares – in spite of the fact that it has nearly always had clothing ranges. When the overhaul of its womenswear environment and product took place just over two years ago, it became a destination for a category that had not previously been one of its highlights. The same has now taken place with menswear and if John Lewis can do what it has done on Oxford Street in its other stores, then it will have a formula with genuinely wide appeal.