A big noise hits London’s stage- Vintage guitars and music photography help John Varvatos make a high-volume arrival onto the European retail scene
John Varvatos’s debut European store on London’s Conduit Street is not just a flagship retailing the US menswear designer’s full collection but also a walk through music history, spanning the jazz, rhythm and blues and rock genres.
The 10,000 sq ft store - the largest of Varvatos’s now 20-store global portfolio - is located at 12-13 Conduit Street, a former Belstaff unit.
Showing Drapers around when the doors first opened on August 1, Varvatos explains that he designed it to offer his customers an experience that would lure them in store rather than online.
Despite its unassuming appearance from the street - with its simple black storefront - once inside the brand’s eclectic, rock ‘n’ roll-style and sense of experience is immediately palpable.
The three-floor shop demonstrates a seamless interweaving of Varvatos’s collections with British and American music heritage, in the form of photographs depicting rock, jazz and R&B legends, vintage guitars lining the walls, a stage featuring a full band set-up, and a vinyl listening room.
The ground floor is devoted to the main John Varvatos Collection (retail prices range from £100 for T-shirts and from £600 for jackets - the most expensive leather jackets sell for about £1,500) including runway pieces, sportswear and the designer’s fragrance, jewellery, eyewear and Ernst Benz by John Varvatos limited edition watches. Featuring prominently by the door is the footwear range, displayed on a large dark wood shelving unit and on mock tree stump plinths. To the left of the entrance a former bank vault door has been reworked into a table displaying jackets and boots.
Black free-standing clothing rails line the walls, and in the centre a cutout in the ceiling linking the ground and first floors is filled with a dramatic dandelion-style 1970s light feature, sourced from a hotel lobby in southern France. Above the clothes rails the walls are adorned with music photography, including both familiar and previously unpublished images of musicians from the 1960s through to the present day such as the Beatles, Eric Clapton, the Who and David Bowie, compiled in partnership with US photograph retailer Rock Paper Photo. The store also boasts its own gallerist on hand to talk customers through the pictures, all of which are for sale.
Offsetting the black and white photos, the back wall features a bright stained-glass window salvaged from an old pub, with a seating area in front. Walking up the spiral staircase in the centre of the shop to the first floor, this level has been set aside for Varvatos’s formalwear and tailoring service, which he says is the fastest-growing element of his business as younger shoppers seek out tailor-made suits.
The top floor is flooded with light from a ceiling display of more than 1,000 bronze convex mirrors, while the central window overlooking Conduit Street is filled with a nine-feet tall 17th-century mirror.
Downstairs in the basement, the atmosphere instantly changes. Here it is darker, with a more industrial feel, taking on the appearance of an intimate gig venue which Varvatos says it could be used for in the future. To support this, at the rear is a raised stage featuring a full band set-up including drum kit, guitars and Marshall amps.
The clothing on sale in the basement covers the more casual elements of the Detroit-born designer’s collections including John Varvatos Star USA (retailing from £40 for T-shirts to £240 for jackets) and Converse from John Varvatos, which is surrounded by posters featuring the likes of Iggy Pop, the Cult and the White Stripes. Tables in the centre display collectable music books about artists such as Jimi Hendrix. This section of the store is styled on the designer’s shop in Bowery, New York - located on the former site of the CBGB club heralded as the birthplace of American punk music - which Varvatos says “brings a bit of New York City and rebelliousness to Mayfair”.
In front of the stairs, the wall is lined with vintage customised Fender guitars, the largest collection of its kind in Europe, and behind red velvet curtains is a vinyl listening room where the walls are covered with album covers and shoppers can choose from a vast array of vinyl to listen to.
Varvatos explains: “I wanted it to be more about the cultural experience - there are not many stores in London that have art galleries, music rooms and guitar shops. The shopping experience is so important. A lot of retailers talk about it, but very few stores do it.
“It’s about being compelling for your customer and thinking what will bring him back - it’s consistency of product, the experience and relationship with staff, the DNA of the brand and the more unique features that you offer, like events.”