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Shopwatch: Ariella at Brent Cross

The British occasionwear brand brings a dose of glamour to Brent Cross

Brent Cross shopping centre in north London isn’t renowned for its glitz and glamour, but at women’s eveningwear brand Ariella’s first store in 29 years, red carpet styles deliver a taste of Hollywood.

The British brand recently took over the TV coverage sponsorship of Hollywood awards such as the Oscars on UK Sky and E! channels, and the shopfit takes its cue from Ariella’s first TV ad – made at a cost of £70,000 – airing on these channels, in which a woman enters a sleekly designed room filled with cocktail, evening and occasion gowns then finds and leaves with her perfect dress.

Founder Achilleas Constantinou now hopes to replicate this process in store, rebuilding the retail offer for a brand that operated 11 stores in London when, in 1986, he closed the retail division following the death of his brother Aristos a year earlier.

Ariella’s 2,400 sq ft unit sits next to Whistles on one side and Hobbs on the other, neither of which target the same shopper. Constantinou believes future store openings will be made easier due to the fact that wherever the brand positions itself, it will not be adjacent to a competitor because no rival brand that solely sells premium own label occasionwear has a strong retail presence.

The exterior’s black shop front with the Ariella name and logo in gold sets the glossy tone. Window displays feature poised mannequins, with arms tucked behind their backs and one foot set forward to reveal the drape of the dress.

The store’s immersive Hollywood feel becomes apparent on entry, with an abundance of mannequins, not only between display rails, but also on a catwalk that runs down the centre and row after row of bright white spotlights mimicking the paparazzi’s camera flashes.

The black colour theme runs throughout the interior, with the gold Ariella logo used as a repeat pattern on walls and on its own. White wooden flooring helps brighten the space and white walls behind rails allow products to stand out. 

The shopfit feels carefully considered, which is quite an achievement for a store that was transformed from a branch of Jack Wills in just six days by eight men at a “considerable” cost, opening its doors on April 8. 

All the fittings, including the payment counter, rails and fixtures are modular, made up of block pieces covered in black fabric that slot together and can be easily moved. Like the stock, which comprises entirely limited edition pieces with runs as small as eight pieces that change weekly, Constantinou sees power in the ability to refresh the layout.

Despite housing both the Ariella London range (priced from £95 for a short shift dress to £295 for a beaded ball gown) and the premium Ariella Couture collection (from £200 for a chantilly lace minidress to £2,000 for a lace and silk chiffon red carpet dress), the store neatly separates dresses by colour rather than length, design or occasion.

There is also an exclusive bespoke atelier designer service, starting at £2,000 for a fishtail ball gown embellished with Swarovski crystal beads, created by the Ariella design team, which is led by creative director Lana Marie Constantine, who is Constantinou’s daughter.

Next year the brand will celebrate its 50th birthday but it has not failed to develop with the online world – its website generates 50% of sales – or acknowledge the digital buzz that surrounds red carpet events.

A huge cinema screen projecting Ariella’s catwalk shows and events is positioned at the rear of the store as part of a sofa area, while a smaller TV screen at the entrance streams pictures of celebrities wearing the brand’s designs. iPads are used to allow customers to digitally browse the ranges.

Further nods to Ariella’s famous clientele can be found in the three changing rooms, one of which is large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. The hall and walls of the area are adorned with framed images of celebrities in Ariella gowns, from the late Princess Diana to pop star Leona Lewis, and TV presenters Amanda Holden and Myleene Klass, as well as coverage in magazines, including Drapers. 

A new company, the Cocktail Clothing Company, has been set up to separate the wholesale arm from retail, and Constantinou’s attention now turns to the next phase of his three-year plan to build up the brand, which includes launching a handbag range in the near future (he declines to reveal when) and adding two or three more stores in as yet unknown locations. All while making sure every woman who shops with Ariella leaves ready for the red carpet.

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