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Shopwatch: Firetrap, Meadowhall, Sheffield

The brand’s new look uses industrial props and the macabre to put it at the leading edge of Meadowhall’s fashion offer

Firetrap is one of those fashion brands that feels perennially edgy and for which the colour black plays a leading role. Wear something from this brand and chances are that the high street may be recognised as your natural habitat, but it will be the more refined end and you will be seen as possessing an understanding of the rudiments of street style.

The new store in Meadowhall has been open for a little over a month and is, the staff say, a natural development from what has been done previously. But the industrial feel has been pushed just a little harder by design company Think 19, which has worked on the majority of the brand’s stores.

And it is sufficiently differentiated to make it stand out from the herd in this massive shopping centre, resulting in a store with the capacity to make shoppers stop, stare and consider giving the interior the once-over.

That this is a brand that targets a predominantly young fashion clientele is immediately apparent, but the pricing is such that it is likely to find some of its shoppers coming from the late 20s and early 30s demographic, rather than the teenies.

In terms of its rivals, think Cult, All Saints (for womenswear, although Firetrap takes the lion’s share of its sales from men) and, to an extent, Ted Baker. This is a positive addition to Meadowhall and one that is likely to find favour with those for whom Hollister’s nearby Casa Mexicana storefit is not a draw.

Key looks and merchandise mix

Firetrap is not for the thin of wallet and is a totally casual proposition. On the day of visiting, the store was on Sale, so it was hard to gauge the full offer. But certain key merchandise elements were apparent. Walking into the store, the front of the shop has two “priority walls”, one for men and one for women. For the men, pride of place is given to the best-selling Iago leather jacket, which originally found large numbers of takers in spite of its £290 price tag (currently it’s on Sale at a shade below £200). Men’s and women’s non-leather casual jackets sell in Firetrap for £50 to £80 and a range of printed T-shirts go for between £25 and £30.

On the accessories front, watches start at £100 and two of the styles, in neon pink and lime green, were limited editions, to make them more desirable, presumably. Rough-and-ready faux-leather shoulder bags are about £60.

It is at the back of the shop, in the jeans area, that the brand really comes into its own, however. The jeans offer is broad and starts at £60 for a straight leg in a basic wash, rising to £100 for women, and topping out at £135 for a zip-pocketed jean with multiple details for men.

The offer therefore has broad(ish) appeal in terms of pricing, although it does tend towards the aspirational.

Score 7/10

Visual merchandising

It’s never easy to assess the visual merchandising impact of a store at Sale time because normal rules and standards are often suspended. Yet this store manages to impress, even with more than half the stock on display not at full price. The idiosyncratic window, with its black gloss chainsaws suspended from strings inside the glassline, creates a disturbingly Texas Chainsaw Massacre image and sets the scene for the post-apocalypse visual merchandising that is a characteristic of this store. From heads covered with printed words and with six-inch nails for hair to the many painted skeletons suspended around the walls, this is an example of visual merchandising that aims to unsettle.

Then there is the cluster of mannequins in the middle of the shop wearing variations on the black theme and with heads formed by placing strips of bent steel across each other - a kind of update of The Man In The Iron Mask. There can be little doubt about the underlying intention: shoppers are enjoined to feel that they are extras in a Blade Runner outtake. This is visual merchandising that is perfectly in tune with the stock it seeks to show to best advantage.

Score 8/10

Service

Anxious to please might be the best way of describing the staff’s attitude. The store ambience may have an offhand nonchalance that implies you are part of a select group but the service was anything

but. Nothing appeared to be too much trouble and, it being January, when shoppers are thin on the ground, they were doing their best to make a sale.

Score 8/10

Store appeal

As a design, this store has natural appeal in spadefuls. Stand outside and you stare at a shopfront that uses bevelled black tiles, of the kind seen in trendy domestic kitchens, to form the window surround. Step into the store and the interior is all about detail. The floor has been covered with aged oak planks and the mid-shop equipment is, for the most part, about beds of nails. These are used to form seats, with layers of plate glass between you and the nails, to display the jeans on and to support the accessory displays.

Much of the rest of what can be seen is about creating an industrial feel. The lighting uses groups of insulators, of the kind seen on electricity pylons, to which spots have been attached. And, as in the best contemporary store designs, this is about lighting the stock rather than the store, so shadows and dark areas play as much of a part as the spaces immediately beneath the lights.

The right-hand side of the shop is for womenswear and the left for men’s, but the same design logic has been applied to both and the use of rusting steel joists and metal plates to form the back wall of the jeans shop does rather bring to mind elements of some of Cult’s newer stores.

And even the power switches, also rusted, which tempt you to flick them to “off” and plunge the store into darkness, are only there for effect - they aren’t live. Finally, it would be hard not to notice the glass bottle wall - formed entirely of glued-together milk empties.

Score 8/10

Would I buy?

Yes I would and would feel pretty good about doing so. This may not have been aimed at your correspondent, who recently entered his sixth decade, but the combination of good store design, canny visual merchandising and stock that is not totally age-limited means an ill-advised purchase might well be made.

Score 8/10

Verdict

Firetrap unveils a store in a shopping centre in South Yorkshire that wouldn’t look out of place in any of the capital’s most chichi locations. It also pulls off the tricky task of creating an interior that almost exactly complements the stock on offer.

39/50

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