Seven must-see London bricks-and-mortar fashion concept stores
Physical retail is alive and well in London. We check out seven boutiques ahead of London Fashion Week that are reclaiming customers from the online universe
London retailers have been battered by the rise of online shopping. Customers are no longer content with going into a shop and buying something when they can do it from their sofa, so retailers are having to work harder to entice them out of the house and into the stores.
This has led to a charm offensive: stores have been spruced up, entertainment offerings added, and prime shopping destination Bond Street has had a £10 million (US$14 million) makeover and cars all but banned from using it.
Led by Dover Street Market, concept stores are popping up all over London, offering a carefully curated mix of fashion and lifestyle products in spaces that can be redesigned and evolve with the seasons.
Even stores such as Selfridges are hosting pop-ups with brands such as Fendi and Gentle Monster that offer entertainment and customisation in their Corner Shop space. The desire for newness and exclusivity is thriving and retailers are having to adapt accordingly.
“Digital is what we have become, but what we crave is physical experience,” says Nazifa Movsumova, founder of concept store Modern Society in Shoreditch, an area of immense creativity and boldness. Selling cutting-edge fashion alone doesn’t hack it for shoppers these days; they are looking for experience, and this is where concept stores are succeeding.
“Physical space is the most powerful form of media available to a brand. It offers an experience and if this experience is done correctly, it cannot be replicated online,” says Movsumova.
Browns East calls it “augmented retail”. The retailer (now part of Farfetch) has always had a pioneering spirit and its new Shoreditch outpost has been very innovative. Stores think a lot about efficiencies and data, which are important, but Browns East is going beyond that.
“These things don’t mean anything if you don’t have a soul,” says Susanne Tide-Frater, Farfetch’s chief consultant for augmented retail. Fashion is not only about new clothes; this concept store offers new experiences that are “tied to emotion and identity,” says Tide-Frater.
“The moment you walk in you will feel something – through the people, the product, the design and the events.”
Innovation and creative technology are helping retailers such as Browns East and Modern Society transform their stores into design and cultural hubs. Here are seven of London’s destination concept stores.
This is the new era of the famous Mayfair fashion shop founded in the 1970s. Browns East is Farfetch’s testing ground for its “store of the future” concept, with technology tracking the customer’s journey through the store. Access to fashion from BrownsFashion.com is almost instant, delivered from the warehouse to the store by electric scooter for customers to try on.
Cutting-edge labels are arranged in a roaming landscape of gender-fluid displays which Browns refer to as its “nomad” concept, echoing the excitement of the pop-up experience and tailored to the Shoreditch neighbourhood in east London.
“We’ve thought hard about how we can pioneer this part of town with a new view on what retail looks like,” says Holli Rogers, CEO of Browns, and the concept has proved a hit.
1 Club Row, E2 7EY
Alex Eagle Studio
Alex Eagle Studio is situated in a gritty street in Soho in the West End and has a former air raid shelter in the basement. Visitors wander in wondering if they have mistaken the place for a flat, as the Studio resembles a living room. They are not far wrong; former fashion PR Alex Eagle started by styling friends in her own creations from her Knightsbridge home and found them buying her art and furniture as well.
She moved to this dedicated space in 2016. The boutique is an expression of her personal taste – and it’s impeccable. “They want to learn something, see something new and in an interesting, clearly edited way,” explains Alex Eagle. “There’s such an overload of information and stuff in the world now that an edit is luxury.”
Wear-forever and hot-right-now fashion such as Eagle’s androgynous tailoring and easy pieces by Isa Arfen, Catherine Quinn and Rejina Pyo are carefully curated with a selection of Art Deco ceramics, Memphis Group lighting, big sofas and artworks for sale.
6-10 Lexington Street, W1F 0LB
The Shop At Bluebird
Launched 12 years ago on Chelsea’s King’s Road by John and Belle Robinson (founders of Jigsaw) and now under new ownership, the concept store has moved into a historic coach house in Covent Garden.
Light floods into this glassed-in courtyard, highlighting the latest from Victoria Beckham, Racil, Temperley London and Rixo artfully arranged across two floors, alongside tableware by Italian lifestyle brand Fornasetti and artworks from the Fashion Illustration Gallery. On the top floor a restaurant is set to open later in the year.
“Boutiques need to be experiential,” says Claire Miles, the buying director, who instigated the whimsical decor and props, creating “a playground of wonders theme,” notably a sensory, touchy-feely area on the ground floor of fragrances, ceramics, books and fashion. The store hosts fashion and beauty events, pop-ups and talks because “we are entertaining a new audience here and wanted to bring the best of King’s Road to central London”, says Miles.
Carriage Hall, 29 Floral St, WC2E 9DP
Without GPS, it is difficult to find Egg, tucked away up a dead-end street in Knightsbridge. This little jewel of a concept store was the first of its kind, established in 1994 by Maureen Doherty, long before Dover Street Market in London and Colette in Paris.
It sells timeless, simple clothes of her own design, accessories and objects, or whatever takes Doherty’s fancy, with a focus on the enjoyment of the material, colour and craft. Clothes, hung on the walls like paintings, are tied, buttoned and wrapped, but never zipped.
Doherty, who formerly worked with designer Issey Miyake, is passionate about ceramics and so Egg has featured exhibitions of potters Edmund de Waal and Keiko Hasegawa’s work.
Doherty’s art is not about what is fashionable, although she certainly knows the answer, “but is about what feels ‘right’ and what makes you happy”, she says.
38 Kinnerton St, SW1X 8ES
Nazifa Movsumova hosted pop-ups in Ibiza, Spain, and London before launching Modern Society in Shoreditch 2015; a new outpost recently opened in Los Angeles. She has a clear vision of the role of the store. “What do our customers care about?” she asks, summing it up as “inspiration with new products and ideas; to experience products, followed by entertainment and social interaction.”
The result is a multipurpose space that is more than a shop and a cafe, incorporating interior design, a seasonal rotation of artwork and photography, literature, jewellery, fragrances and hosted events such as art and ceramic workshops.
The fashion is edited weekly and includes Rejina Pyo, Harris Wharf tailoring, Le Kasha and Sandy Liang alongside Modern Society’s eponymous, sustainably sourced unisex collection of modern, wearable designs in cottons and linens in the affordable £200 to £300 price range.
33 Redchurch St, E2 7DJ
Sustainability underpins another Shoreditch concept store, Aida, which was opened by four sisters in 2012 with a deep sense of community at its core. Handcrafted furniture, brick walls and painted wood floors give the multipurpose space a cool, Scandinavian vibe.
A relaxing cafe opening onto the street serves coffee sourced from the local roastery Exmouth Market and specialist lattes – try its famous rose-flavoured one – and a range of clothes and homewares which are occasionally moved aside for live music events and photography exhibitions in the evenings.
The menswear and womenswear from indie labels are perfect for those on a budget and reflect the Scandinavian aesthetic of the store. There are gently ruffled dresses from Twist & Tango, Kings of Indigo wrap coats, Rains rainwear and lots of easy sweater and pants combos to team with Converse, while for men there are T-shirts, bombers and sweatpants.
133 Shoreditch High St, E1 6JE
Opening in 2007, just as Hoxton was earning its cool, arty reputation, Goodhood upsized to nearby Curtain Road four years ago, bringing its customers with it. Now, after a refit, the store, with its wooden fittings and log-cabin-style areas, has expanded its edit of men’s and women’s clothing, accessories, beauty and grooming products and homewares (from sound systems to pottery).
The profile is edgy street style, with Stussy and Vans sneakers, and Japanese brands Beams T and Flagstuff for the guys and MM6 Margiela and Ganni for the girls. Tightly edited, this is mixed with music business collaborations and easy, low-cost slogan T-shirts, jackets and hats. Each product has a story and a relevance to their ethos, whether it is joke message mugs and badges or some fancy grooming products.
151 Curtain Rd, EC2A 3QE