Extraordinary furnishings and deep pockets are the norm when you enter the rarified atmosphere of the luxury brand’s
new London flagship
When you think luxury and thoughts lead to New Bond Street, the general inclination is to think small. The price of property in this part of London, and the tendency for the merchandise to be at the top end of pricey, means that the great majority of shops here tend to be limited in scale.
Unless, of course, you are called Louis Vuitton, in which case you abandon the store you opened previously along the strip, employ star architect-cum-designer Peter Marino and open a 16,150 sq ft, three-floor store that is rumoured to have cost north of £30m to put together.
In other words, this is a luxury store whose selling area is not so far removed from that of a small supermarket. But there the resemblance to a food retailer ends, as where a supermarket is about streamlining costs and maximising efficiency, no expense appears to have been spared in the creation of this shop: it’s all about excess.
It also represents a very distinct marker for London as a Louis Vuitton city (this is reputed to be the most expensive Louise Vuitton store to date).
Until it opened a couple of weeks ago, the most high-profile stores owned by the brand were to be found in its home city of Paris, and dotted around the Far East, where the brand has always been seen as a guarantor of high status. It is also a feather in New Bond Street’s cap, putting it ahead of other luxury retail neighbourhoods in the capital.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Louis Vuitton is a byword for expensive merchandise and there really is a sense in this store that if you have to ask the price you probably can’t afford it. That said, for the curious, head to the men’s footwear area in the basement where, if you look hard enough for a ticket, you’ll find that buying a pair of plain-looking Oxford shoes in black leather will involve writing a cheque for more than £700.
Prices were, in fact, only evident on a couple of the styles on display, so the really ritzy (aka bling) green glitter men’s dancing shoes conspicuously lacked any kind of indication about how much they cost. Elsewhere in the basement, men with the urge to splurge can find generally formal, but contemporary, clothing, most of which is, somewhat predictably, black.
Footwear, however, is not really what most people tend to think of when the name Louis Vuitton is uttered. This is a brand primarily about luggage and bags, and these are to be found in almost every conceivable shape and size on the ground floor. Again, price isn’t really the point here; it’s the width of range that impresses. If it’s LV luggage that you crave, there’s nowhere better to satisfy your heart’s desire.
Upstairs, it’s predominantly womens-wear, although there is a gallery area where shoppers can check out a range of art books.
In the luxury arena, you expect visual merchandising levels to be a cut above the norm. It would be difficult to list all the tricks that have been played in the creation of this interior, but highlights include the wall of cases, bags and packing trunks that are set at different levels on shelves around three corners of part of the ground floor. The ceiling in this area has been mirrored, creating the impression of a huge atrium-like space - a simple device, but highly effective. And then on the first floor there is the mannequin catwalk at the top of the stairs featuring a crowd of figures whose heads are covered with large handbags. It looks strange, but then the notion of shocking the onlooker is a familiar trope in the world of super-luxury.
As far as the windows are concerned, a scarf-wearing giraffe, bell jars filled with faux-stuffed animals and filigree metal, and glass display cases set against a studded blue velvet background, all demonstrate the skills of the visual merchandiser. And don’t forget the animated scrapyard sculpture in the basement, located in the stairwell. As its various gears and cogs whirr and click, it rings a bell at sporadic intervals. It was enough to make shoppers stop and stare.
When was the last time you walked into a store that deals solely in luxury goods and had the sense of being overwhelmed by crowds? The store was mobbed by a cosmopolitan mix of Far Eastern, US and Russian shoppers, as well as home-grown visitors. At times, it looked more akin to a busy day at, say, River Island, than a super-luxe emporium, but the staff
dealt with the whole thing with admirable speed and charm. Potential shoppers were still being treated with the kind of attention you expect at this end of the market - all while staff managed to keep the tills ringing.
You’d be hard pushed not to be impressed by Louis Vuitton Maison. This is three floors of unashamed and unfettered luxury of the kind that doesn’t happen too often these days. From the internally lit, blue-glass staircase, to the wall of boxes that moves constantly via a series of small motors and miniature sliding doors (to reveal different handbag styles), this is a design tour de force.
By contrast, the men’s area is an exercise in design restraint, with different varieties of high-varnish wood used to foster a sense of quiet luxury. It is the ground floor, however, that really impresses, with its inventive use of the available space, and multiple rooms created to break the space into manageable and discrete areas.
The inclusion of a gallery on the first floor does look a little like a nod in the direction of a museum aesthetic, but it succeeds in giving the shopper a break from the full-on luxury experience.
Would I buy?
Working on the assumption that if you’re in a Louis Vuitton store then you’ll probably have deep pockets, the customers in this store are likely to reach for the chequebook. There is a real sense of being ushered into a form of gracious living, even if there is a little bit of the Dubai shopping mall about the brand.
Louis Vuitton has taken the plunge and opened a true flagship in London. This is the kind of store that is an event
in itself and which makes shopping different and a break from the luxury norm. It is also refreshingly inclusive in terms of the welcome that is provided, whether you’re in the business of buying or just wanting a look around.
Address 17-20 New Bond Street, London W1S
Number of floors Three
Architect Peter Marino
Estimated cost £30m
Outstanding design feature The wall of cases, handbags and packing trunks
Number of Louis Vuitton outlets in London Eight (including concessions)