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Simplicity and impact: the Drapers take on Arket's debut store

With its monochrome interior and extremely minimalist design, Arket is bringing Scandi-inspired lifestyle essentials at high street prices to Regent Street.

A secret project started in Sweden in January 2015 and was announced to the world in March this year. H&M group’s latest high street launch has finally come to life in London at 244 Regent Street, where it debuted its latest Scandi-inspired universe, Arket, on 25 August. Drapers went to take a look.

Describing Arket – which means “a piece of paper” in Swedish – as a “modern-day market”, the project’s creative director Ulrika Bernhardtz says the aim was to create a “single destination for a curated assortment for men, women, kids, and the home”. Essentially it is retailing an affordable version of the very of-the-moment Scandi lifestyle – stylish, healthy, good quality – via pared-back clothes, functional yet design-driven homeware and an elegant in-store vegetarian cafe.

“Every item is seen as the perfect version of itself,” explains Bernhardtz, referring to anything from a white shirt to a pepper grinder or a coffee blend. “We have the mission to democratise quality.”

As soon as you walk through the 17,000 sq ft store’s Regent Street entrance, you are confronted by Arket’s strictly monochrome interior, as a neutral grey envelops the entire two-floor store. Walls, ceilings, light fixtures, shelving, stools – everything, even Arket’s bespoke hangers, come in the same shade of grey, complemented by a matching terrazzo floor.

Arket regent street (7)

Arket regent street (7)

Fixtures and fittings are built from an interchangeable system of planks of wood in identical sizes, used both horizontally and vertically to create one strictly ordered structure of replicated heights, widths and sizes.

Equally, the same small set of materials are used throughout. In fact, a carpet used in the changing rooms is designed to mimic the pattern of the marble floor to keep visual variety to a minimum.

“It’s all very low key, but through repetition it becomes impactful,” notes Bernhardtz. “It becomes impactful when seen as a whole.”

This all-encompassing greyness and strict use of materials could be seen as unexciting, even dull, particularly when compared with the poppy colours and collage of materials seen in other stores – take Weekday, Arket’s H&M group stablemate that opened its 29th store next door on Regent Street the week before, or nearby department store Liberty’s new menswear department. But it is a smart choice here – Bernhardtz is right that the store’s calm simplicity has impact, and adds a sense of maturity by borrowing a more premium aesthetic typically seen in luxury interiors.

Furthermore, the grey enhances Arket’s “everyday uniform” of very simple clothes, their textures and their pops of colour – these details might get lost among a busier interior. And while to some the repetitive design could seem utilitarian, verging on clinical and laboratory-like, it successfully creates the sense of edited curation and simple functionality that Bernhardtz aimed to achieve – everything has a home and is easy to find – but is softened by textures, lighting and colour accents.

The team took a “new approach” to displaying product, and introduced extra-long rails to pack more merchandise into one place and create a fresh visual element.

“Stores are normally thought of in square feet and how much you can squeeze in, but we have to change that,” says Bernhardtz. “The long rails are efficient and allow us to concentrate products in areas.” This contributes to the “generously spacious” feeling of the store.

Arket regent street (10)

Arket regent street (10)

The Arket team has also increased the height of rails. Not only does this allow all products to hang neatly in full length, it also lets rails be used to create spaces, walls and corners – dividing sections but not diminishing the overall sense of open space.

Menswear is at the front of the store, and womenswear and kidswear (from baby to 11 years old) are upstairs – a bold move, given that stores usually put womenswear in the most prominent position at the entrance.

Arket’s large homeware section sits prominently in the centre of the ground floor, dividing menswear in two at the “heart” of the space, while the Arket cafe is at the back and has its own entrance on Great Marlborough Street.

Both the cafe and homewares sections focus on food – kitchenware products for cooking, serving and dining are key, while a spread of food and drinks are for sale alongside books, stationery, soft furnishings and beauty products.

“There is so much going on in the food industry and it’s all connected to health,” notes Bernhardtz. “We believe [the Arket] customer is not about fast fashion trends, but more these overall lifestyle trends.” Therefore, Arket offers everything you need to build and live that stylish Scandi-inspired life – it is a lifestyle store in the truest sense.

Arket regent street (2)

Arket regent street (2)

The store also noticeably lacks the techy bells and whistles some shoppers might have come to expect – there are no flashing videos or digital screens, no iPads or click-and-collect computers. Instead, the focus is on shopping, tasting, eating – an offline counterpart to Arket’s digital home, which also launched on 25 August.

“Exhibition spaces” within the store focus on craft, textiles and Arket’s manufacturing processes, while seasonal artistic postcards are given out “to give the store another physical element,” explains Bernhardtz.

“We believe that the store needs to provide something else going forward. With online growing so much we really need to think about what a store means,” she says of the focus on the physical and the introduction of the cafe and homeware areas. “They provide another experience, which we think is really vital now.”

“The focus has been on the simplicity and practicality and function of everything, but not missing the beauty – beauty is important,” smiles Bernhardtz in her sleek navy Arket suit. And Arket is certainly beautiful – if you’re a fan of simple, practical, functional Scandi style.

Simplicity and impact: the Drapers take on Arket's debut store

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