An eclectic, arty interior with eye-catching props, created on a limited budget, shows real design bravery at contemporary brand YMC’s debut standalone
Contemporary brand YMC, aka You Must Create, has been around since 1995, when founders Jimmy Collins and Fraser Moss unveiled its first collection. Despite being available via wholesale stockists for close to 15 years, the first YMC standalone store has only just opened. Located halfway along Poland Street in the heart of London’s Soho, this small – about 550 sq ft – store manages to cram a huge number of design features into the space, as well as a full women’s and men’s wear offer.
And all of it has been done on a budget, according to Collins, who says the days of highly wrought store designs and fit-outs with big budgets look out of step in the present parsimonious climate. Reach-me-down chic is therefore the order of the day in this retail environment.
It’s a feeling that is captured from the moment you stand in front of the shop and admire the mannequin, formed from a suspended coat hanger, sitting in a chrome and canvas chair that looks like a cross between a restraining device from a sanatorium and an electric chair.
Venture inside and the eclectic nature of the store continues. Whether it’s the blood red hospital paint used to cover the concrete floors, the prison door that leads into the single fitting room, or the many instances of roadkill (pink rats, mice and even an armadillo) adorning the walls, this is a doggedly idiosyncratic piece of store design.
But perhaps it’s the three pendant lights at the front of the shop, formed from inserting bulbs into the bodies of dried and inflated pufferfish, that go a long way to showing the originality of thought that characterises this interior and the clothes it contains.
Key looks and merchandise mix
The store sells only YMC clothing and footwear, with a smattering of branded accessories including Brady bags for men. Collins tries to sum up the present men’s and women’s collections by calling them “depression era 1920s, combined with elements of uniform and workwear”. He has a point. The predominant colourways are grey, black, khaki, cream, some browns and chambray.
The men’s and women’s pieces use the same fabrics in order to offset the cost of limited production runs. In the mid-shop area, an antique fawn-coloured leather banquette-cum-table is used to display heavy cardigans with rever collars (£190) for both sexes. Broadly, the store is divided down the middle, with menswear – the greater part of the range – to the left and the women’s collections displayed along the right-hand perimeter wall.
A limited range of footwear is also on offer and the accessories collection comprises bags, belts and sunglasses.
The shop exterior is an important part of this offer. Soho, by its very nature, is chock-full of quirky oddities and standing out as a retailer is never easy. But YMC succeeds. With its black gloss frontage and name picked out in red neon, this is a store that is at ease with its neighbours, but which has differentiation because of its window display.
As well as the chrome and canvas chair, coat hangers have been turned into mannequins, supported by a complex system of pulleys coming down from the ceiling. This is perfectly in tune with the Heath Robinson-ish interior and, like the internal fixtures and fittings, everything appears to be second-hand.
Soho rarely wakes up much before midday, so if you want to see how this store works, best visit in the early afternoon. If you should venture in during the morning (the store opens at 11am), there will always be somebody minding the shop, due to the fact that YMC’s wholesale showroom is directly beneath the store. And, owing to the prices, which tend towards the upper end, shoppers will come to make a considered purchase in which service has to play a major part.
Collins is on hand most of the time, with two other members of staff working in the store and showroom. Service was friendly and well informed, and on a second, unscheduled visit when different staff were in the store, the same high standard was apparent.
“People are coming and looking at the store as much as the stock,” says Collins. They have good reason to do so. The shop has many ‘found’ objects that have been repurposed and looks not unlike a version of London designer indie Dover Street Market, without the cost that was involved in creating that emporium.
Although YMC is primarily a wholesale brand with 170 global accounts, 60 of which are in the UK, with the showroom for buyers in the basement, the focus is almost entirely on the ground floor, where the retail action takes place. Collins and Moss have taken the store on a five-year lease for what Collins terms a “reasonable sum” and the total fit-out took just over a month.
There is something both Victorian and medical about the decor. Victorian in the sense that what shoppers are confronted by is a collection of ephemera, among which there just happen to be some clothes. Medical for no better reason than that monochrome anatomical prints abound; there are even two plaster torsos attached to the walls that have been opened up to display the internal organs.
There is a sense, when you look at this arty collection, that it may have been low(er) cost to put together, but the prices on the merchandise betray the reality. This design is as much a style that has been consciously assembled as a top-end shopfit. Nonetheless, the shop has great appeal and is brave at a time when many independents and brands in the area are pulling down the shutters.
Would I buy?
Yes, probably, but there is always the danger with this kind of shop that you may be so dazzled by the modish environment that you spend too much time looking at it and ignore the stock directly in front of you. That said, the store has the potential to get shoppers through the door, is well merchandised and the many positives outweigh the negatives.
If you’ve got money to spare and are in central London, this store is worth seeking out, but don’t expect bargains. YMC is a repository for stylish shoppers in search of limited-run pieces. It is also an exercise in creating a differentiated retail environment on a limited budget.
Year brand was founded 1995
Store size 550 sq ft across two floors
Owners Jimmy Collins and Fraser Moss
Location 11 Poland Street, London, W1
Store opening July 31
Standout product Distressed leather flying jacket with lining taken from a blanket
Group stores editor
With a background in fashion buying, including a 10-year stint at C&A in the UK and Germany, John Ryan writes about visual merchandising, store design and the business of launching new shops. As a journalist, he has covered the sector for more than a decade.