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Original Penguin, London

The preppy brand’s signature quirkiness is echoed in the design of its first UK standalone store

In nature, penguins are among the most adaptable creatures, creating their burrows in sea caves or among rocks, on sand dunes or even under houses.
In retail, however, they are a little more fastidious.

So when Perry Ellis-owned brand Original Penguin unveiled its London flagship - and its first European standalone store - it had to be in the right place at the right time and with the right look. The place is Covent Garden and the look is the brand’s personality writ large.

David Ward, European managing director for Perry Ellis Europe, says: “The blueprint for the store comes from the US. The primary elements are the materials, such as rosewood which adds a rich, luxurious finish to the furniture.

“Also, harking back to the 1950s and 1960s there are pieces of Scandinavian-designed furniture and original Sputnik lighting. It echoes the heritage and the quirky nature of the brand.”

As with Original Penguin’s clothing, it is the detailing that adds the veneer in the store, as chrome display units contrast with grey stone fixtures and flagstone flooring.

“But my favourite part of the shop”, says Ward, “are the Hugh Hefner-style changing rooms where we have specially commissioned wallpaper from our archives that has pictures of smoking pipes in rich purple shades and other 1950s imagery.”

The challenge when plundering such retro design archives is to prevent a shop from falling into parody. Ward says the store has struck a balance: “The changing rooms are kitsch but not too kitsch, and they’ve got a VIP feel which is important.”

The expectations of the store are “realistic” according to Ward, and its financial targets are set below some of the comparable local stores. “We’ll give ourselves time to reach the premium levels. But it’s still an A1 prestigious location - we will give it six months, and as long as we get the processes right we will look for other spaces in Europe.”

There is a fair bit riding on the store, as Ward knows. “There are 12 million people going through Covent Garden each year so it’s a huge global shop window for us because 70% of them are tourists. But the store is not overstocked.

We have a delivery company that will turn around quickly so we don’t have to hold too much. That lays a certain amount of responsibility at the hands of the manager and 12 staff, but they are experienced and know the requirements of working in an area as busy and cosmopolitan as Covent Garden.”

With the brand’s womenswear collection now expanded in time for autumn 09 and a kidswear range coming to the store in March, there is plenty going on for the brand with the penguin logo. Turns out that this bird may be just as adaptable as its wild namesake. If so, expect it to fare well, even in today’s harsh environment.

Essentials

Size of the store
1,500sq ft

Average number of items on the shop floor
1,750

Proportion of stock that is menswear
70%

Original Penguin Unit 8, North Piazza, Covent Garden, London WC2

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