It was a good year for indies, for blockbusting fashion statements and pop-up shops, but not every new opening or store revamp was up to scratch.
This year, it might seem as if Pandora’s creative box has been unlocked and from it emerged a wealth of new retail design ideas, just as ominous news about the global economy surfaced once more.
And this creativity was not confined to these shores.
At the beginning of the year, anyone visiting New York’s Times Square would have been dazzled by American Eagle. Here was a store selling mid-market US fashion that knew how to make a statement. The retailer had used the floors (23 of them) above its three-floor store as a billboard. Nothing unusual in that, except that those making a purchase in-store were offered the opportunity to have their digital photo taken in a makeshift studio in the basement. The resulting image was then blasted across the external LED light-studded billboard.
This is a bit of a cheat, actually, as this store was up and running in late 2009, but the real impact was felt during the holiday period, ushering in the new year with an idea that caught the imagination of the crowds of tourists in this part of Manhattan.
Closer to home, an almost equivalent showstopper could be seen in Amsterdam, where footwear brand United Nude opened a “dark” store where only the stock was lit. This was done by installing a wall of light along the perimeter. It was dramatic and modern in a way that surprised even those who might have thought they had seen it all.
And finally, back in the UK, if a tag had to be placed on much of the activity that took place in 2010, it would be the year of the upscale denim brand.
At the lower end of the scale, Levi’s reopened its London Regent Street flagship with a flourish. Here was a brand celebrating its heritage and doing so in a manner that combined the contemporary with an understanding of what its history might mean to shoppers. But this was a distinctly entry price offer compared with the great bulk of those who opted to open new stores.
The largely denim-based offer in All Saints’ Notting Hill store was impressive and the idea of rolling, rather than hanging or laying, its jeans was certainly interesting. For a real taste of what was happening, however, smaller stores (curiously, almost all in London) were taken by brands such as True Religion, 7 For All Mankind, Acne, Denham and, in Paris, Replay.
There was a degree of hubris about the US brands such as 7 For All Mankind and True Religion that decided the UK was a good place for a retail launch, especially considering prices in excess of £150 were deemed reasonable as an entry price for their denim collections. In fairness, the majority put their best feet forward when it came to arriving in the UK via London, but it was non-US brands Acne on Dover Street and Denham in trendy Shoreditch that were among the most eye-catching.
The majority of the store designs used to house these collections were idiosyncratic and, more importantly, expensive. This does rather pose the question about the market’s appetite for merchandise at this level. It will be interesting to see whether there are any casualties during 2011 or whether, for the most part, they are viewed by the brand owners as “touch-down” points, where shoppers can get to know and love the brand rather than being there to make money.
It was a mixed bag on the core UK high street. New Look opened its London Oxford Street flagship in February and, with features such as a giant shoe that acted as a sofa and shoe tree on its top floor, it looked like a winner (see next page).
Discount retailer TK Maxx was busy too. It welcomed shoppers to a women-only clothing branch in Putney in the middle of the year, and then in the autumn it unveiled a store in the City of London, aimed at catching the attention of well-heeled financial sector workers. Practically, this meant that if you wanted a Chloé bag (yes, Chloé), it was on sale in TK Maxx, although definitely not from this season’s collection. The store was nonetheless a good example of what can be done even if you operate at the discount end of the market.
This was probably also the year in which Japanese fast-fashion chain Uniqlo really achieved UK lift-off as its HeatTech range sold out and it opened the doors to its first store outside London (just), in Bluewater shopping centre.
Even the time-worn Benetton store at London Oxford Circus benefitted from a facelift, although shoppers still seemed a little thin on the ground within.
The high street was also the favoured location for the pop-up or temporary store which, while now a familiar retail trope, continued to advance with outlets from brands as various as Boutique by Jaeger and Gucci, both of which took space in London, on Foubert’s Place and Earlham Street respectively.
At the glamorous end of things, two stood head and shoulders above the crowd: the Shoe Galleries on the second floor of Selfridges’ Oxford Street
flagship and the Louis Vuitton Maison on New Bond Street, the latter a £32m temple to luxury, spread over four floors and the only one of its kind outside Paris.
Finally, mention should be made of street, skate and lifestyle labels, with new stores from Firetrap at Meadowhall in Sheffield, Fenchurch and WeSC, both in Covent Garden, and a good-looking Fat Face store in Brighton.
There were, of course, some lowlights where it would be churlish to name names, although from Holland, The Sting, occupying the iconic site at London’s Piccadilly Circus that used to be Tower Records in days gone by, seemed perpetually short of shoppers.
A good year for Shop Watchers generally, then. Any selection of this kind is always going to be riddled with omissions. But in spite of what retailers fear may be a tricky 2011 as government cutbacks begin to bite, there is, for the moment at least, no sign of this creative outpouring being reduced to a trickle.
Highlights The Shoe Galleries at Selfridges, TK Maxx in the City, Acne on Dover Street in London
Strengths New denim brand stores Weaknesses Brands assuming that all shoppers have well-stacked wallets. This may come home to roost in 2011
Most likely format to disappear next year The pop-up store - enough already
Prognosis for 2011 No sign of a slowdown on the store opening front