How do you take a brand that’s a mass-market player and reposition it for desirability? Not an easy task really, particularly if it’s a brand that’s well known.
Address 74 Brewer Street, London W1
Total stores One
Brands Wolsey – this is a mono-brand offer
Total floor space 1,000 sq ft
How do you take a brand that’s a mass-market player and reposition it for desirability? Not an easy task really, particularly if it’s a brand that’s well known. Fortunately for menswear label Wolsey, its days as a space-filler in the aisles of Matalan were not sufficiently long for it to be tarred with the value label.
Now that it has been transformed into an aspirational menswear brand with a ‘flagship’ on London’s Brewer Street, few will recall its previous self. The new store opened a couple of weeks ago and is part of a small redevelopment at the Regent Street end of the street.
In its new incarnation, the brand is about a curated offer of the ‘rough outdoors but to be worn in the city’ variety, housed within an environment that is entirely new, but which looks old – this is all about image creation.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
Hard to find fault with a shop where every crease in the tabled merchandise has been considered and the vintage display cabinets are of the kind that would look good in a fashionable Docklands pad or a vicarage. The visual merchandising is concerned with stiff-upper-lip taste and the graphics on the wall relate how Wolsey underpants (yes, smalls) were worn by the likes of Scott and Amundsen: the tone is set! Pride of place goes to the sock cabinet with the many small drawers, each of which is filled with a different colour or design of patterned sock. This is what good VM should be about – attention to detail. Even the male busts with cream fabric coverings strike an appropriate note.
02 - CONCEPT
There is much to admire about this particular version of a rough luxe interior, whether it’s the exposed brick wall behind the counter or the ‘I’m in a barn’-like roof supports overhead. Unfortunately, this strength is also something of a mild weakness as reach-me-down chic is now such a well-worn trope. It’s not really the fault of Wolsey, but it is beginning to feel like it’s time for something new.
03 - SERVICE
It’s always hard to tell what the service would be like under pressure when the store has no shoppers (it was mid-morning at the time of visiting), but the pleasant and friendly type who approached your correspondent was eager to help. The other aspect of service that can be assessed in the absence of customers is the overall standard of housekeeping, which was exemplary, and both stock knowledge and brand understanding seemed good.
04 - PRODUCT
A fine-looking range and if you seek an updated version of the clothing you might imagine would have been worn by an Edwardian gent with a handlebar moustache, look no further. The issue is price and what you get. £10 for a pair of plain socks or £12 for Argyll patterns is fine, but polo shirts at £65 are mildly problematical, as is a canvas bag for £199. Getting a return on capital will be tricky unless prices are aspirational. The products have appeal but look ambitiously priced given the brand’s arriviste status.
05 - COMPETITION
Menswear at this level of the market is a tough arena in which to operate, with every other shop in Soho purporting to offer exclusive garments aimed at the discerning male. Whether it’s YMC on Poland Street or Jack Spade next door, Wolsey is likely to find that shoppers have plenty of choice and that they are likely to shop around before making the killer purchase. While this is a well-honed collection, there is possibly insufficient difference between what is offered here and elsewhere to ensure that things will go entirely smoothly. Things may prove a little sticky, initially.
06 - VERDICT - Getting established takes time
Wolsey’s 257-year journey from a Leicester manufacturer to a retailer on Brewer Street with a faux-vintage, semi-industrial interior is a long one and it is a credit to all involved that the brand name remains intact. This good-looking shop may find favour with the dandies who make Soho what it is. It is in a somewhat secondary position along a street rather better known for restaurants and strip joints. A great deal of thought has gone into the positioning of the brand and the store reflects this, but it is hard to escape a ‘me-too’ sense about the enterprise.