Sunglasses shoppers in search of something special will flock to the brand’s revamped London flagship, where the shopfit offers a post-apocalyptic vision.
The unit on the corner of Covent Garden where the piazza becomes King Street has had a number of tenants over the years, with the Dr Martens shop being one of the more notable. For some time, however, the space has been occupied by sunglasses specialist Oakley, which reopened the store a few weeks ago following a major makeover.
The outcome is a store that carries a number of expectations. This is Covent Garden, so value seekers should look elsewhere. It’s also a prime destination for tourist hordes and if it’s streetwear that is sought, then this is probably one of the better places to find it.
All of which means a pair of sunglasses are an almost indispensable item when wandering around the area, even when it’s cloudy, and it may be this line of thinking that has led Oakley to invest heavily. Step inside this store and there can be little doubt that money has been spent, whether it’s the menacing-looking guardian angel fashioned from matt-grey metal and sporting a 25-foot wingspan, or the many pieces of eyewear-testing equipment dotted around.
There’s a great deal of choice when it comes to the matter of deciding where to buy a pair of shades that accurately reflect (sorry) the inner you, but with this store Oakley must be close to the top of the must-visit list.
Key looks and merchandise mix
This is urban warrior territory, with big, clumpy Timberland-esque boots selling at about £145, T-shirts for £20 and baseball caps from £18 to £25. There are even chunky city rucksacks with neon trim at £60. Everything is Oakley-branded and, as you examine the printed Bermuda shorts and bikinis, it would be easy to forget what Oakley is really about: the eyewear.
Sunglasses take up about a third of the space in this two-floor store and are the core reason why people walk in. The offer is divided into two distinct parts. Downstairs there are regular sunglasses starting at a little under £100 and topping out at more than £200. The range of styles is huge, but there would appear to be two major influences - wraparound mirrored cycling glasses and the larger-framed glasses for those preferring the fashion power look.
A lot of what is downstairs is available on the first floor, but the difference on the upper level is that frames can be customised with the lenses of a shopper’s choice. Here, prices are generally higher, owing to the bespoke nature of the ranges and, should you choose to do so, you could spend more than £300.
Oakley is a brand for those in search of slick, design-led difference and the sheer number of options for shoppers does go a long way towards justifying the better-end prices. If you have the time and money, this is a very good shop in which to spend both.
Buying a pair of Oakley sunglasses is not something you are likely to undertake on a whim. These are investment purchases and as such are given the same kind of treatment as a rare item in a curiosities case in a museum.
Individual styles are displayed in the mid-shop in glass box-topped plinths bearing the legend ‘New Arrivals’. Around the perimeter the same kind of thing can be observed, with backlit niches allowing customers to pick up the stock, but in the knowledge that they are handling something precious.
There are, of course, the other elements of the collection and the visual merchandising folk at Oakley have decided that the best way of displaying these in the mid-shop is through a mix of aged steel tables and fairly standard four-way rails. Clothing around the perimeter is, if anything, a little predictable, with neatly laid stacks of T-shirts broken up by forward-facing hanging merchandise. Nothing wrong with this, of course, it’s just that when set alongside the racy visual merchandising that characterises what has been done with the eyewear, this seems a little pallid.
Casual but helpful would be the most appropriate description of service in this shop. The T-shirted staff know their stuff and approach customers without being asked. When it comes to the sunglasses, this is pretty technical stuff and the young man in charge of the bespoke sunglasses was eager to talk about the stock and what could be done with it. Courteous, smiling and useful: hard to fault, particularly the store manager.
It’s the metal angel that sets the tone really. Suspended over the cash desk, it looks like something out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and is one of a series of objects that makes you feel as if you’re part of a post-apocalyptic film set.
The use of materials adds to this sense, with exposed brick, raw concrete pillars and dark grey tiles on the floors. Couple this with concrete bricks with glass centres that have been cemented together to create the overhang for the first floor mezzanine and you get the picture. There are also a fair number of industrial-looking objects, such as the fighter jet seats in which you can test drive the eyewear while viewing a 3D picture, or the sunglasses-testing apparatus. Next to the staircase on the ground floor is the ‘Atmospheric Chamber’, which is apparently a ‘proving ground for testing eyewear’. This seemed like a pretty good idea and, presumably, shoppers are meant to use it, so it was a pity that it didn’t seem to be working.
Would I buy?
Perhaps, but it would be a bit of a sell. That said, staff, shop and stock were doing their best to make this the sort of place that would persuade you to loosen the purse strings. Once you start to spend above £100 on a pair of shades, then you expect something special - on which reckoning, this shop is in with a fighting chance.
Oakley’s remodelled flagship is good enough to drag tourists and locals away from the nearby street entertainment and make them consider splashing out. This is a one-off and worth a visit.
Address 1-4 King Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E
Offer Top-end sunglasses and casualwear
Most eye-catching feature The metal angel
Reopening date April 15
Store ambience Industrial