Premium denim worshippers will welcome the US brand’s first UK standalone store, but perhaps too much care has been taken over its ‘distressed’ elements
Think jeans and many people’s thoughts will turn to Levi’s, Diesel, Replay or perhaps Lee. Relatively few will think of True Religion, and there are probably two reasons for this. First, the brand has only been around since 2002 and is generally only known by the cognoscenti. And then there is the matter of price. The brand operates at the top end of the jeans spectrum and therefore separates itself from the herd in terms of the number of shoppers prepared to spend upwards of £165 for denim.
Now True Religion has opened its first UK standalone store in Covent Garden, the heart of London’s tourist district. This decision reflects the fact that at these prices a much broader, and probably international, cross-section of customers is required than for lower-priced offers. As Covent Garden is a centre for overseas money, this location makes sense.
The interesting part will be seeing whether having a standalone store will give True Religion sufficient traction to open further UK stores. As things stand, this is a brand stocked by Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and a clutch of independents, with Net-a-Porter among the leading online purveyors.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Given that True Religion is an overtly aspirational brand, it should come as little surprise that the £165 entry price for jeans in this two-floor store is at the lower end of the offer. Should you wish, you can part with £310 for a top-end pair and if you really want to push the boat out, why not go for an embroidered baseball cap at £95 with perhaps a printed T-shirt at £60?
In fairness, the jeans have a highly distinctive appearance, with back pocket stitching that could be mistaken for no other brand, so being part of a small cadre is clearly part of the appeal. The same might be said of the many variations of a tie-dye design T-shirt that are on sale, although the check shirts on the shelves do look a little clone-like.
There are three collections in store: women’s, men’s and kids’, and all of them are priced to impress, or to deter, depending on your expectations. However, it does make Paul Smith, around the corner, look something of a bargain. The pricing does look a little ambitious in the context of the surrounding James Street competition.
As with more conservative luxury brands, you’d expect the visual merchandising to be top notch and in terms of housekeeping, this is certainly the case. The shop holds a lot of stock but there was not an item out of place.
Then there are the props used to bring the stock to life. These range from Buddha-like bronze heads to a distressed picture frame that has been used to create a tableau featuring back pockets from the different jeans.
But the mid-shop table tops are probably the best feature. These are almost over-merchandised, but you’d be hard pushed not to admire the complete lifestyle stories that are told on each one, with jeans and T-shirts carefully selected to complement each other.
The mannequins are also slickly dressed and not over-accessorised. Now couple all of this with internally lit display cabinets for print T-shirts, and you have a store where visual merchandising has been taken seriously.
There were no shoppers in the store at lunchtime on the midweek day of visiting, so it was quite hard to assess how the service would measure up from a customer perspective. That said, the staff were falling over themselves to make sure the store looked good in case somebody with more money than your correspondent should venture inside.
It is also pertinent to remark that there were a lot of staff for a store of this relatively modest size, meaning service levels would presumably be high. Also worth noting is the fact that all of the sizes in every style were on display.
A lot of thought and a great deal of money has clearly gone into creating this interior. The materials alone would be enough to set expectations about the price levels with heavy, polished and irregularly bevelled planks used to create the floors and display cabinets, while the standard of finish for the display wardrobes is certainly high.
And all this is combined with a desire to add distressed elements, in keeping perhaps with the heavy washes applied to many of the jeans. In practice this means the left-hand wall has been given the beaten-up brick treatment.
The slight niggle about this is that where there is plaster, applied to the bricks to further enhance the unfinished effect, it is rather too neatly done.
Praise where praise is due, however. The fitting rooms in the basement, home to womenswear and kidswear, have industrial-style galvanised sliding doors hanging from rails attached to the wall, and the overhead air-conditioning, with the trunking and vents exposed, strikes the right note.
The staircase should also be singled out, as steel semi-rusted fixtures of this nature never come cheap.
Would I buy?
The world of branded jeans is fraught with peril. With the exception of a few hardy perennials, today’s must-have label is all too frequently tomorrow’s target for clearance, meaning an expensive purchase can be consigned to the back of the wardrobe. True Religion is predominantly a jeans-based collection and, given the prices it trades at, it has the potential to be replaced by other leaner, more-desired brands. There is something Darwinian about all of this, and True Religion has been around since 2002.
That is hardly the point, however. This is denim fashion in a fairly pure form and if you really want to separate yourself from the herd, this is one way of ensuring that you won’t walk into a room and see large numbers of other people wearing the same as you.
True Religion’s first UK store looks almost too well finished, but if you want to see the brand in its entirety, then this is the place to visit.
Location 27 James Street, London WC2
Size 1,507 sq ft
Number of floors Two
Uniqueness The first True Religion store outside the US
Price architecture Ambitious
Brand founded By Jeffrey Lubell in 2002
International stores planned for 2010 Toronto and Tokyo