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Shopwatch: Stradivarius

Striking the right note: With Inditex fascia Stradivarius a few months into its UK expansion, we visit its first store to assess its chances of success.

Stradivarius may not be a household name in Britain but the Spanish women’s casualwear brand is hoping that will change following the opening of its first UK store.

Parent company Inditex has taken a cautious approach to the British market with the fascia, launching a transactional website in September 2013 before unveiling its UK flagship at Westfield Stratford on August 27.

“We felt Westfield Stratford was a great fit for Stradivarius given its established customer base of stylish young shoppers,” says an Inditexspokeswoman. “Inditex is always seeking out the right locations for each of its brands. We are in no rush, but we will expand when the right
opportunities arise.”

The 4,252 sq ft flagship is sandwiched between fellow international imports Guess and Miss Sixty. Previously occupied by lingerie brand Gilly Hicks, the Stradivarius store is on the first floor along with Inditex stablemates Pull & Bear (casual fashion for young men and women inspired by California and Palm Springs), Zara (fast fashion aimed at urban young professionals) and Bershka (trend-led men’s and women’s clothing). Stradivarius is Inditex’s only female-dedicated fashion label and is focused more on feminine style and less on urban trends.

Named after the prized violins and other stringed instruments built by members of the Stradivari family, and recognisable by its treble clef logo, Stradivarius was established in 1994 as a label for 20- to 35-year-old women. The brand opened its first international store in Lisbon in 1997, before being acquired by the Inditex group in 1999.

The Bohème store concept, used at Westfield Stratford, was devised last year by the Stradivarius design team in Sallent, a small town outside Barcelona, more than 1,000km away from Inditex’s headquarters in A Coruña. While Inditex declined to divulge the cost of the shopfit, it stated that its intention was to create a feminine, vintage look, complemented by retro lighting, soft colours and bespoke fittings.

The exterior is dominated by an open concertina glass door, with a third of the space devoted to a window display. Four mannequins are styled in pieces from its autumn 14 collection, such as a white shirt at £17.99 paired with a grey jumper at £19.99, or slouchy distressed jeans at £29.99 worn with a long line camel waistcoat at £59.99 and chunky scarf at £15.99. The mannequins are set against sheer panels printed with sepia countryside scenes and lit by bulbs fitted with blackbird-shaped shades.

The store appears heavily merchandised. To the left, a white cash desk sits beneath a wall of mismatched pastel wood panelling, lit by a trio of vintage glass lamps. High-level whitewashed tables display nail varnish and lip balm (both £2.99) in Perspex boxes.

The shabby chic theme is reflected in the distressed wood-effect flooring and white corrugated iron roof, inlaid with panels of vintage print wallpaper in the ceiling.

The product is merchandised in three zones, ranging from the main fashion offering at the front to shoes and accessories in the middle and a casual denim area at the back of the store. New product is delivered twice a week. The main clothing zone is dominated by two banks of distressed wood tables. T-shirts at £3.99 to £12.99 and jumpers at £22.99 are folded in piles on each table or styled on four mannequins, which are updated every two weeks along with the window display.

On the right-hand wall, a mixture of basic garments and those from the Fantasy range are merchandised on rails and shelves. Peeling paint-effect wallpaper and panels of stained glass windows echo the vintage styling. To the left, a wall of accessories range from statement necklaces for £12.99 to colourful plastic bracelets, earrings and rings, all £5.99. On the shop floor in the centre of this first zone, knitwear at £17.99, jackets at £39.99 and shirts at £17.99 are grouped on island tables or rails.

Walking further into the store, the second zone is separated from the front fashion area by white antique-effect pillars, a lowered roof and a diamond-pattern tiled floor. Shoes (pumps from £15.99 to high-heeled boots at £69.99) are merchandised on freestanding metal shelves and inside a large open wardrobe. Scarves from £9.99 to £15.99 and bags from £9.99 to £29.99 are displayed on coat stands.

Towards the back of the store, nine mannequins wearing skinny fit jeans and jeggings (both £19.99) stand on top of a long table running down the centre of the denim area. Stradivarius jeans are from £19.99 to £39.99. This includes push-up jeans at £25.99, flared boho jeans at £25.99, super high-waisted skinny fit at £19.99 and dungarees at £39.99, available in black, grey, dark blue, stonewash, ripped and distressed. Customers will find them folded on the bottom shelves of the table, alongside T-shirts and trainers from £25.99 to £35.99. Denim shirts at £19.99 and dresses at £25.99 hang on rails against the back wall. In the left-hand corner a long corridor houses 13 changing rooms.

The UK flagship design is consistent with Stradivarius’ 877 stores across 59 countries. Complemented by an online presence in 13 countries, the label’s global sales rose 10% to €509m (£400m) during the first half of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013.

While Kate Ormrod, analyst at Verdict, agrees Stradivarius was right to launch its UK website in advance of the physical store, she questions if the brand has done enough to raise awareness, especially as it does not operate a UK Twitter account.

“While Stradivarius is a success worldwide, Verdict believes that UK fashion tastes are too advanced for its offer, with shoppers having higher expectations on design, detailing and quality - set by players such as Asos.com, River Island and Miss Selfridge,” says Ormrod. “Stradivarius is unlikely to steal share from rivals, particularly given stablemate Bershka already caters to this customer. The retailer would be better off investing in marketing campaigns to increase awareness ahead of store roll-out.”

Inditex, however, is confident in its strategy. “We believe that Stradivarius offers UK customers a strong, differentiated product range at competitive prices,” counters Inditex’s spokeswoman. “As with all Inditex brands we have gained a strong following through the combination of a compelling store image, great locations and an offering that evolves according to customer feedback.” Inditex declined to give an estimate of the size of its store portfolio for Stradivarius in the UK.

Packed with product at affordable prices in a high footfall area of Westfield Stratford, Stradivarius has a lot going for it, but only if the brand can raise its profile with UK consumers and establish a point of difference in an extremely crowded market.

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