By Jenni Ashwood.
Being based between Soho and Mayfair definitely has its advantages – every day, as we head out to buy our lunch, we’re surrounded by some of the world’s most impressive brands, from the luxurious to the bargainous. They are the brands that refuse to keep doing what they’ve always done and from walking past their windows each day, we can learn a huge amount about what they’re offering and how they are evolving to suit a changing and increasingly digital customer base.
Here are three of our observations on the changing face of retail:
An engaging retail environment is a piece of cake
Perhaps it was Rapha that started it; some may say Burberry made it ‘a thing’; arguably department stores have been doing it for years. Visit the stores lining streets Regents, Carnaby and Oxford and one thing stands out: from Arket to Jack Wills to Sweaty Betty, coffee machines and cakes (and after-hours cocktails) compete with clothes hangers. And why shouldn’t they? In a world where experiences are proving more of a draw than things, it makes commercial sense to offer ‘more’ than a simple sale. It increases footfall and brand loyalty too… as long as the coffee’s up to scratch
Don’t just sell it, live it
If you’re looking for premium clotheswear in 2017, you’re spoilt for choice. Name us a sport and we’ll name you three outstanding marques designed to excel at that discipline. How can the dedicated yogi choose between Sweaty Betty or LuluLemon? ‘Just’ creating extraordinary products is no longer enough. It’s about the community that surrounds them and the loyalty that engenders. In fact, specialist stores that only offer sales now feel, almost, (dare we say it) lazy.
It’s a spectrum admittedly. At one end, Rapha’s Cycle Club boasts over 20 ‘chapters’ worldwide and organises rides, races, pop-ups and in-store talks; Sweaty Betty’s new flagship hosts a café, a blow-dry bar, and classes; it would be possible to spend a day in Topshop and barely even look at the clothes. Nike and Asics running clubs are now stalwarts of many cities’ running scenes.
But there’s a balancing act at play – when does so much become too much? Can the experience overshadow the product?
Brand collaborations are nothing new but whereas partnerships used to rely on similarity (e.g. Kate Moss and Topshop, Barbour and Liberty), now it seems that the opposite is taking place. The really stand out collaborations are those that seem unexpected to start with… Middle-England stalwarts L K Bennett, famous for Kate Middleton’s nude court shoes, partnering with sexy, body-con Preen, and J W Anderson, known for outsize shapes, use of colour and prints, partnering with the infinitely practical Uniqlo (that tartan puffer jacket is everywhere)
The leader of all of these partnerships, unarguably, is H&M, who proves that just because a collaboration is unexpected it doesn’t mean it’s not wanted, and who isn’t afraid to target very different audiences with each collaboration. From Karl Largerfield, to Comme des Garconnes, to Maison Martin Margiela (and many more) the company has shown that it truly understands the wide and varied demographic of its customers and that it recognises this not only in the products themselves but also in the very different types of communications and influencers who that surround each campaign too: Kendal Jenner for Balmain, contrasted with Baz Luhrmann for Erdem..