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New Look, Oxford Street, London

New Look sits firmly in the value sector and shoppers entering one of its stores do so with the expectation of not having to dig too deep when making a purchase. In days gone by, they would probably also have expected a stripped-for-action store environment, cheap and cheerful, bright and breezy - the retail equivalent of a no-frills airline.

That, however, was some years ago. Today, value retailers have managed, with varying degrees of success, to pull off the trick of capturing the style zeitgeist while providing shoppers

with store environments that would formerly have been the domain of mid-market operators. New Look, along with Primark, probably leads the charge in conjuring up interiors aimed at making visitors feel they are part of a fashion experience.

Last week, New Look unveiled its latest version with the opening of a 26,000 sq ft, four-floor store at the eastern end of Oxford Street. From the moment you clap eyes on this one, it shouts fashion rather than value - it’s the kind of place that will be frequented because it forms part of a circuit that includes nearby Topshop, Gap, River Island and Urban Outfitters.

With this store, New Look stamps its authority on this part of the street, where there is a distinct cluster of fashion retailers. And expectations are very high. According to New Look marketing director Guy Lister, the anticipated return on investment, in spite of a very substantial fit-out and retail rents that are among the highest in the UK, is under two years.

Key looks and merchandise mix Four floors of fashion, with one devoted almost entirely to footwear, equates to a very substantial offer and New Look covers most of the fashion bases by upping the ante with its menswear and kidswear offers. The initial two floors are womenswear and Lister is at pains to point out that a fair amount of what is on offer here has either very limited distribution or is exclusive to the store.

The underlying thought is to “extend the price architecture”, meaning that as well as the “grab it” stock such as footwear at £10 and printed T-shirts at £8, there are also leather boots at £80 and tailored items above £100. It is the deal that really strikes home however, and whether it’s three men’s button-neck T-shirts for £12 or two men’s polos for the same price, multi-buys and fashion stories are everywhere. There are also “exclusives”, such as checked shirts, that will be in store for a limited time. About 20% of the space in store is devoted to menswear, a far higher percentage than in other New Look stores, allowing more than 900 options to be displayed.

And then there is the footwear, housed on the third floor in the Shoe Gallery. More than 12,000 pairs are on display and as Lister says: “If you’ve had a bad day, shoes are a real pick-me-up. Buy three pairs for less than £50 and you’ll feel better.” This is probably particularly the case when fashion is to the fore, with gladiator styles on sale at £12.

Score 9/10

Visual merchandising

Given that this store offers fashion for the cash conscious, the quality of the visual merchandising is very high. Stand outside the shop and the pulsing, internally illuminated plinths, attached to the wall and supporting mannequins, set the tone for what follows in store. Just inside the entrance, there are a series of circular plinths on which a group of female mannequins strike a pose. Now take a look around and a lot of this store is about propping. This takes the shape of outsize letters surrounded by merchandise and spelling out “Spring 10” in one area, a giant silver purse in another, and golden court shoes that double up as seats on the top floor. And there are mannequins everywhere. On the men’s floor the props are about young male entertainment, with vintage electronic arcade games and table hockey among the many objects that catch the eye.

You’d expect fashion shoppers to be surprised on entering a store, and this flagship delivers on that promise.

Score 8/10

Service

Fast, snappy and fashionable, as this kind of environment demands. You wouldn’t expect personal service of the kind that you find half a mile away in Savile Row, but then this is not what this store is about. If you do need something however, there are plenty of staff on hand to see that you are not kept waiting and there is a can-do attitude.

Score 8/10

Store appeal

There is a lot of wow factor about this shop, with the best probably reserved for the top floor Shoe Gallery, designed by consultancy Caulder Moore. Caulder Moore has worked with New Look since July 2008 and the work it has done for this flagship is impressive. Relatively speaking, this was a fast-track fit-out, but you’d never know it. New Look took possession of the site in November, stripping it completely and putting in banks of shiny escalators, as well as creating a spectacular atrium that extends upwards from the middle of the ground floor.

Worth noting too are the different uses to which the Erica Wakerly-designed wallpaper has been put on the perimeter to change the pace and mood as you move around the interior.

Finally, there is the “paparazzi wall” that backs the escalator as you arrive in the Shoe Gallery. This is a graphic featuring a crowd of photographers whose cameras flash constantly. The aim is to make the shopper the star of the show, and it almost works, given the glamour of this floor on which although the product density is very high, there is a real high-gloss sheen to the interior.

There is a slight question mark about putting menswear up on the second floor though - men are difficult to usher into a store at the best of times.

Score 7/10

Would I buy?

Once more the strictures of age apply and so New Look on this part of Oxford Street would not necessarily be a natural match with your correspondent’s style. That said, for young(er), fashion-hungry shoppers for whom price is an issue, this is likely to prove a very attractive proposition indeed.

Score 9/10

Verdict

New Look has succeeded in opening a second store on Oxford Street that puts it firmly in the running for fashion shoppers’ available wedge. When this retailer opened a Future Systems-designed store at the other end of the street in 2003, it had real design and fashion punch. This store continues that trend.

Essentials

  • Address 203-207 Oxford Street, London W1
  • Size 26,000 sq ft
  • Number of floors Four
  • Previous occupant Book retailer Borders
  • Designers In-house team and Caulder Moore
  • Window scheme Green Room Retail
  • Most impressive feature The mid-shop atrium and the golden court shoes-cum seats on the top floor

41/50

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