Since its enigmatic ads introduced it to the UK public, the French retailer has spread rapidly. But does its Gallic style successfully translate?
We’ve all seen the advertising and for many, for quite a while, it was pretty cryptic. ‘Elena and Hans have been a Koople for 10 seconds’ (insert any names you care to mention and the time period can be equally variable). These words are always accompanied by a willowy, winsome-looking couple set against a neutral background. It’s tasteful stuff and you end up wishing that perhaps you looked like one half of the couple.
This is not particularly subtle marketing, but it works and has been the basis of the rise and rise of The Kooples – a chain of shops from France with a mono-brand offer that has been opening branches across the better parts of the UK capital and beyond.
This store is in Knightsbridge. It opened at the tail end of last year and is reasonably typical of what you can expect if you wander into one of The Kooples’ shops.
It is also a measure of how all-pervasive and eye-catching the ads have been that as soon as you spot a branch outpost the campaign falls into place and everything becomes clear. The slight issue, as quickly becomes apparent, is who this is all aimed at. The merchandise is not for the faint of wallet and yet the stylings are for the very slim – the two, sadly, do not always go hand-in-hand. Age and affluence tend to be related.
Key looks and merchandise mix
Whether you are male or female, you are unlikely to be overwhelmed by the colours that are on display in The Kooples in Knightsbridge. Blues, greys and manly pastel shades characterise the male offer, with peaches, buttercup yellows and taupes making up a fair proportion of the women’s range.
Nothing wrong with this perhaps, but when you look closely at the garments a nagging doubt asserts itself. Take the men’s fine-gauge linen T-shirt with a single patch pocket. It’s fine until you look at the price and suppress an inward gasp at being asked to part with £75 for this wispy piece of not very much.
Move on, therefore, and perhaps a green and white mini-check shirt might be more the ticket, complete with button-down collar. Well, maybe, but are you in the mood for paying £120 for this? And then there’s the tailoring. For those who’ve seen their 30th birthday come and go, there’s a fair chance that the nicely tailored skinny-fit jackets and trousers will prove something of a struggle to look serious in. Your correspondent was informed: “We can make things fit you with our bespoke service.” Maybe so, but when it’s close to £400 for an off-the-peg jacket there seems little point pursuing things much further.
The same price architecture informs the women’s offer and there is also a sense that the stylings are all respectable, but that there is nothing that will make you feel significantly different from others. At this price level, you’d expect a mite more individuality.
To say this is a bland-looking store might sound unkind, but there really is no other way of putting it. There are, of course, the good-looking couples (aka Kooples) staring out at you from in-store graphics and an outsize lightbox, but the rest of the shop feels a bit like visual merchandising by numbers.
There is nothing wrong with side-hung perimeter displays, but some variation might be welcome. Equally, the windows are minimalist to the point of boredom. Again, it’s hard to object, but on the other hand, if you really want to be inspired then a stroll along Brompton Road to nearby Harrods or H&M in the other direction will both, in their very different ways, be more likely to do the job. That’s it.
This is carefully managed and well-kept, but will not set pulses racing.
Very good indeed. Being approached and informed about product and how much of the tailoring has been influenced by Savile Row design certainly does well to prepare you for the shock of looking at the prices. And the staff really look as if they could be one half of a Koople couple with their disarming smiles and ability to fit into the merchandise. This is probably the best aspect of the shop, although it does hold the capacity to make you feel ever so slightly inadequate.
Sadly, this is a little like the visual merchandising – there is no reason to view this as a store that you would not visit, but equally, there are few reasons for wanting to cross the threshold. This is a long, narrow shop, as so many of the units are along this stretch of Brompton Road, and this equates to a narrow frontage (which had scaffolding above it at the time of visiting).
Inside, there are mid-shop display tables fashioned from dark wood with glass display cabinets set into their tops. These are internally lit by small LED lights and the effect is fairly upscale.
The same is true of the black upholstered fitting rooms. The interior goes a long way towards telling you about the pricing, but this is Knightsbridge so you already know how things are set to be. This is an anonymous interior only mildly redeemed by a fine-looking graphics package.
Does it work?
There is no point in beating around the bush: this is overpriced, perhaps overhyped and certainly over here. The level of expectation that has been set by an effective series of adverts is such that it was always going to be hard to live up to the billing and this store really doesn’t manage it. The rapid roll-out of the format is such that it will soon be hard to go anywhere in London without encountering a branch. However, whether you choose to enter will be something of a moot point.
Disappointing, and the fact that so little would have fitted made the visit unsettling – surely not everyone’s a waif. This store stays resolutely this side of bland.
Address 69 Brompton Road, London SW1
Opened October 2011
Key feature The graphics
Ambience Upscale impersonal