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Shopwatch: Lark London

A model and a Vogue staffer have opened a store offering premium womenswear at accessible prices.

It’s easy to be convinced when Lark London’s co-founders Lucy Olivier and Phoebe Pring insist they know their customers: they look exactly like them.

Olivier, in grey jogging bottoms and a bright orange jumper, and Pring, in the tightest pair of cropped white jeans paired with New Balance trainers, are mirror images of the 30-plus, fashion-conscious women of Kensal Rise in northwest London, the same women they are targeting with their 640 sq ft boutique on Chamberlayne Road, which opened late last month.

“Lark is really about offering lovely, quality daywear,” says Olivier, a Vogue journalist, who has been friends and neighbours with former model Pring for 10 years. “There are lots of creatives in the area who like to look stylish but don’t need to go for a tailored look or wear a suit. We’ve both lived here for 10 years, know the area really well and know what women here need and want.

There are lots of mums and nurseries here, and equally, women who are young and also interested in fashion.”

Olivier’s analysis of the demographic is spot on, as is her and Pring’s identification of the locale’s lack of a womenswear shop to cater for this clientele. Menswear and womenswear independent Supra, further up on Chamberlayne Road, has a great men’s offer, with womenswear catching up, but the brand mix is different to Lark’s. Across the road, Love KR, a womenswear boutique, closed in December to allow the development of an accessibility lift at the adjacent Kensal Rise railway station.

But despite the suburb’s cool, fashion associations - Mulberry has named a bag after the area and Chamberlayne Road was dubbed London’s most fashionable street by Vogue five years ago (its editor-in-chief used to live there) - Kensal Rise is not as affluent as neighbouring Notting Hill, nor the adjacent Queen’s Park.

As a result, Olivier and Pring want to ensure they offer accessible price points, starting from £35 for T-shirts to £300 for a coat.

“With the exception of Genetic jeans at £90, we’ve steered clear of denim because we want to stay competitive,” Olivier explains, as we discuss the strong denim offering on the market at present. Womenswear independent Iris in nearby Queen’s Park offers jeans at £250, which Olivier believes is beyond what the average Lark customer is willing to pay.

“We’ve gone after labels like Sundry and Second Female that do regular drops [in order to keep the offer fresh],” says Olivier.

“We also have one-off pieces that Phoebe has picked up from her trips to India, such as fur gilets and kaftans. And we have a second-hand, vintage and pre-worn rail of items we’ve picked up from Portobello or that friends have brought in - we’re happy to do a sort of in-store eBay.”

Other brands include Nanushka, Wildfox, footwear label Ash and accessories from Kenzo.

Olivier says Pring has “guided the buy”, while her own background will help inform Lark’s editorial and social media strategy. As Drapers went to press, Lark was due to launch a transactional website with a blog. The shop already has a Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram accounts.

As for the store itself - Olivier says the business as a whole has been funded by personal investment - the interior complements Lark’s souped-up daywear edit of the brands it stocks. It’s almost an all-white affair, with white walls, custom-made white fixtures, white wooden floors and a long white table in the middle of the store that let the product - which is merchandised on side-facing rails above shelving for shoes - shine through. But an exposed brick wall with naked light bulbs and a sign saying ‘Love’ add warmth and interest.

The windows are particularly eye-catching, decorated with a selection of gold birdcages, sourced by Pring from Sunbury Antiques Market at Kempton Park racecourse in Middlesex. Pring says the idea has already been copied by a local store, but sheepishly admits that Lark borrowed it from Louis Vuitton anyway.

Olivier says the experience so far has been a “huge learning curve”, particularly trying to persuade brands to come on board.

“Brands don’t take you seriously without an ecommerce site,” she adds.

But Lark appears to have all the ingredients: a good-looking store and soon-to-launch website, an edited and well-targeted brand mix with good pricing architecture, strong presence on social media and a duo that understands its customers. Let’s hope there are enough of them in northwest London to support this welcome addition to the independent retailing community.

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