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Shopwatch: Jolly's of Bath

Jolly’s of Bath has been renovated to make better use of the 184-year-old, Grade II-listed store’s architectural features.

Stroll up Union Street past the Roman Baths and ahead among the genteel Georgian façades you will see a blonde sandstone building sitting regally on Bath’s Milsom Street. Easily identifiable by an ornate plum frontage and red marble columns, crowned with nine House of Fraser flags, you have arrived at Jolly’s of Bath.

Dating back to 1831, the department store was the brainchild of father and son James and Thomas Jolly. It was originally eight Victorian houses, which combined create a 42,500 sq ft store. It dominates the street, positioned among premium fashion retailers such as The Kooples, Reiss and Comptoir des Cotonniers.

Part of the House of Fraser group since 1971, Jolly’s last year embarked on a multimillion-pound refit and restoration to create a destination store. The vision of HoF director of store development David Blakeney was to emphasise the period features of the Grade II-listed building, working with local craftsmen to add natural light and utilise the wall space.

Work started in February 2014, ripping out the heavy wardrobe-style shopfit introduced during the last refurbishment in 1995. The phased refit ensured the store remained open during the eight-month process, before the October 23 relaunch. Removing the boxy shopfit increased the perimeter wall capacity by 20%, making space for 27 new brands including Aquascutum, Armani Jeans and Radley.

Of the new brands 16 are concessions, while the rest are brands bought by HoF. They join in-house HoF labels such as Linea and Howick, taking Jolly’s up to 50 brands post-refurbishment.

“The store has a huge following and we wanted to bring it to life, putting the architectural features at the heart of the redesign,” explains Blakeney. “We aimed to create a modern classic.”

This aesthetic starts with the front-facing windows. Blakeney’s strategy was to have ‘window walls’, which let the natural light pour in and allow customers to see through to the garments on display inside. Product is kept to a minimum so as not to obscure the light. Instead, small-scale displays are used to highlight the different ranges inside.

The first set of windows features layered shelving, showcasing blue and white handbags and accessories from Biba, Radley and Untold. The second is split between two mannequins, one wearing men’s formalwear brand New & Lingwood, the other dressed in women’s fashion from Pied a Terre.

After two windows dedicated to beauty, the final couple have a small display of men’s shoes, signposting customers to the first floor department, while the other pairs Kurt Geiger and Dune women’s footwear with Michael Kors and DKNY handbags.

There are four front entrances, and two at the back on John Street with access to the lower ground floor only. Once used only as a clearance area, the lower ground is now home to Jolly’s tearoom and homewares department.

The ground floor encompasses accessories, womenswear, women’s shoes and beauty. Every detail has been taken into account, including piping in a fresh lemon scent from roof units at both the back and front entrances.

Walking through each of the four glass doors at the front leads the shopper along avenues filled with individually branded spaces, showcasing women’s fashion, accessories and shoes. Each brand is divided by ornate columns uncovered during the refurbishment. The accessories department opens with Michael Kors, while womenswear opens with Mint Velvet, both brands new to Jolly’s and to Bath. The women’s footwear department opens with concessions from Kurt Geiger and Dune, the only two women’s shoe brands stocked in store.

Each avenue leads up to a central walkway, linking the front half of the store to the back.

Jolly’s listed interior features pendant lights which cast soft lighting down these central areas, spotlights that pick out product on walls and shelves, and natural light streams from the vaulted ceilings, decorated with stained-glass panels.

Beyond this central walkway is a network of three smaller rooms accessible by mini staircases linking the different areas of the ground floor, which take the shopper from contemporary womenswear and occasionwear to lingerie and young fashion.

Since the refurbishment the space for womenswear has expanded by 52% to 11,500 sq ft, allowing for the addition of a premium denim department with brands including Salsa and Calvin Klein Jeans. This area is located next to the coat shop and Barbour area at the far left, which is lit by a recently restored stained glass window with a central kingfisher design.

At the heart of this premium womenswear section is the Queen Mary room. It was designed in the 1930s for Queen Elizabeth’s grandmother - who was a patron of Jolly’s, which held a royal warrant for supplying her with silks - and has three entrances so her maids could exit quickly. Store manager Sam Little decided to put Jaeger in the Queen Mary room as a heritage brand befitting the space.

The need to emphasise Jolly’s 184-year heritage is at the heart of Blakeney’s vision. He introduced 10 wall-mounted plaques throughout the store that highlight key historical features. One in the womenswear department draws attention to the frieze of a golden peacock, Jolly’s trading emblem since the 1880s. The frieze remains unfinished as the unnamed artist died in around 1908 before it was completed.

As a listed building, Jolly’s has no escalators and to reach menswear on the first floor, the shopper has to walk up the polished stone central staircase. Blakeney decided to cut the half moon-shaped staircase in half to create more selling space, meaning the steps now curve upwards to the right.

Casual and contemporary menswear brands such as Howick, Fred Perry and Label Lab greet the shopper at the top of the stairs. As in womenswear, each label has its own branded space, stretching along a room flooded with natural light from the skylights.

Since relocating from the lower ground to the first floor, menswear has doubled in size to 12,500 sq ft, a third of which is devoted to formalwear. Blakeney removed a restaurant to create the men’s shoe department, which stocks brands including Dune, Bertie and Lacoste. The area is now connected via a mini staircase up to the men’s accessories and luggage departments on the second floor.

Straight ahead of the staircase in the main room is a smart, minimalistic 1,750 sq ft Hugo Boss area, split across two levels. Behind the mezzanine level of this area lies Jolly’s Gallery, a special area showcasing store memorabilia, including a portrait of founder James Jolly and vintage photographs of the staff.

Back on the first floor, taking a left off the main menswear department, the shopper reaches a series of individual rooms running the length of the building overlooking Milsom Street. Each is dedicated to a different brand - Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Gant, Original Penguin, Kenneth Cole and Aquascutum - and also includes a men’s formalwear area. Original features remain, such as marble fireplaces and sash windows, all renovated by local craftsmen.

At the end of the gallery is a buy-and-collect area, complete with a computer for browsing online and leather sofas to make the wait more comfortable. Customers seem to approve, with click-and-collect orders rising 40% since the refurbishment.

In a matter of weeks this front section of the building will accommodate three beauty treatment rooms, and two personal shopping consultation rooms are also due to open at the back section of the first floor.

The success of the refurbishment since its launch in October can be measured by the high double-digit sales growth in store, although Blakeney would not reveal the exact figure.

Senior sales manager Liz Watson, who has worked at Jolly’s for 15 years, agrees there has been a big change in the customers visiting the new-look store. “The average spend per customer has increased and people are spending more time here as they enjoy the shopping experience. Jolly’s is a future HoF flagship.”

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