Young fashion chain Pull and Bear opened its fourth UK store two weeks ago, and the expensive-looking shopfit has been pulling in the crowds on Oxford Street.
Even allowing for some of the oddities that fill our high streets, Pull and Bear must rank as one of the most curious name choices for a shop. What does it signify? And why yoke together either two unrelated verbs or even a verb and a noun to come up with this?
Whatever the case, the UK’s fourth branch of Spanish group Inditex’s Pull and Bear fascia opened on London’s Oxford Street a couple of weeks ago, and it is an interesting addition. The uncompromisingly white modernist exterior, which it shares with sister chain Massimo Dutti, is stylish and contemporary and is definitely an improvement on the Gap frontage that preceded it.
Inditex country manager for the UK and Republic of Ireland Dilip Patel says the store’s interior and exterior are the outcome of a major makeover that has seen major structural alteration as well as a cosmetic revamp of the unit. The result is a shop that demands attention whether you’re loitering in front, admiring the LED light screen in the window that fires messages at passers-by, or are standing in the thick of things on either of its two floors.
There are elements of many other fashion chains in this design, with River Island, Topshop and Topman and, owing to its use of dark wood, All Saints all springing readily to mind. Nonetheless, Pull and Bear does succeed in having a character of its own, even allowing for the somewhat cobbled-together feel of the name above the door. It is also a distinct improvement on the branch at Westfield London, which opened last year, along with its stores in Liverpool and Belfast.
Key looks and merchandise mix
The store has two floors, with women’s clothing on the ground floor and men’s upstairs. This is a shop for young casualwear shoppers where printed fabrics, woven checks and semi-distressed, garment-washed finishes abound. The prices are mid-market and although there are transitional pieces, such as light zip-through jackets for women at £25.99, summer weights are still very much in evidence. The denim shops on both floors are also noteworthy with a range of washes, from dark to very light, providing a strong offer. It’s hard to resist a smile at the brand name Pull and Bear uses for both genders – Sicko 19. You couldn’t make it up… but this retailer has.
Display plays a prominent role in this densely merchandised store from the moment you step through the door. Overhead, 3D sculptures – formed from padded denim – are suspended in the atrium that is just inside the entrance.
Beyond this, faceless mannequins pose among straw bales and then it’s into the shop. The first thing that strikes the visitor is that the mid-floor is on equal visual merchandising terms to the perimeter – with mannequin torsos, and wood and metal cages used to create interest.
Now take a look at the women’s denim department, just to the left of the entrance, which typifies much of the store’s merchandising technique. The bulk of the stock is presented in a series of open-fronted brown wood wardrobes and is hung, rather than laid, forward facing or displayed on hooks. Smaller boxes in the wardrobes are used for laid presentation, to ensure a reasonable density and all of this is combined with co-ordinating check shirts.
An illuminated Sicko 19 logo is used to draw the eye to the space, but it is really the variety of display in this area that will keep shoppers busy. The area serves as an icon for much of the rest of the store’s visual merchandising.
On opening day, the store was busy, although to be fair, so was Oxford Street. Service in a mid-market space of this kind means two things: looking after the customer and keeping displays in shape.
In spite of the close inspection that many of the rails and tables were subject to, the store did not resemble a bad day at Primark further along the street, with garments neatly folded and hung. Equally, while there were queues at the cash desks, shoppers were being politely and efficiently dealt with.
This store has great appeal, but it is hard to escape the sense that its design has been a case, in certain areas, of trotting out the better elements of other fashion retailing interiors, with the denim area being strongly reminiscent of Old Navy in the US.
However, the Escher trompe l’oeil tiling in the middle of the ground floor is original, as is the scene immediately behind the cash desk on the first floor. Here, what looks like a picture of the Nativity turns out to have depth and is in fact a staged set, complete with animals, mannequins and a guiding star. And in the middle of the first floor, on a raised platform, an antique blue leather sofa is set to be a stage for future in-store events. This represents a considerable sacrifice of potential selling space and is therefore a very specific marketing and design feature.
With the use of black metal and dark wood, both the lift and the stairs that surround it work well as objects of interest in their own right and the graphics throughout the store are strong. Overall, there is much to commend.
Would I buy?
The merchandise offer is attractive and Oxford Street shoppers are being offered something new and affordable. This is an antidote to the white open spaces of nearby Uniqlo, and is a retreat into an altogether darker world where the design department at Inditex has played the now familiar trick of lighting stock instead of shop.
Whether shoppers will continue to dig deep once the initial novelty has worn off will depend less upon what is on show in Pull and Bear and more on the level of competition. In the normal run of things, there would be plenty of reasons for making a purchase in this shop, but then this is Oxford Street and there are many excuses for doing the same elsewhere. Nonetheless, this is a highly competent range.
Pull and Bear has morphed into something new with this branch. This is a better-looking shop than the other UK branches that have opened so far. Patel says it has been a process of evolution to get to this stage. It’s been worth the wait. This will have been an expensive fit-out for Inditex and Oxford Street rents remain high. Volume sales will be essential.
315 Oxford Street
In 1991. The chain trades in 40 countries and entered the UK in 2008
The Oxford Street store is 8,610 sq ft, split between women-wear on the ground floor at 5,920 sq ft and a 2,690 sq ft menswear offer on first
Number of UK stores
John Ryan, group stores editor
With a background in fashion buying, including a 10-year stint at C&A in the UK and Germany, John Ryan writes about visual merchandising, store design and the business of launching new shops. As a journalist, he has covered the sector for more than a decade.