By  on October 21, 2009

LONDON — Anthropologie will plant its first flag in Europe on Friday with the launch of a 10,000-square-foot clothing, accessories and homeware emporium on Regent Street, halfway between Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. The bright and airy store, with soaring ceilings, central skylights and white oak flooring, spans three levels and features a 50-foot-high wall of evergreen plants fed by rainwater that’s been collected on the roof. The centerpiece of the space, which used to house a Wedgwood store, is a 50-ton glass, textured concrete and metal staircase that’s meant to echo those of England’s grand country homes and town houses. In the spirit of Anthropologie, a division of the Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters Inc., there is a mix of locally sourced and imported merchandise — and artwork — from the U.S., South Africa and continental Europe. “London is an amazing opportunity for the brand, which we think looks at life in a slightly different way,” said James Bidwell, Anthropologie’s managing director for Europe. The store will be the first of its kind on the street, which is dominated by big international brands such as Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Brooks Brothers and Aquascutum, and fashion retail chains including Zara, Gap and French Connection. “We’re not about fast fashion, and we see ourselves as appealing to customers who are creative, artistic and well-traveled,” Bidwell added. George Wallace, head of retail strategy and commercial due diligence at MHE Retail, a London-based consultancy, said the concept is “fun, well-executed, well thought-out, with an attractive product offer.” He added, however, that the timing is not ideal. “This kind of store works a lot better when the money is free flowing. Right now, people are not in the mood to say, ‘Oh I think I’ll have that lovely jug or plate.’ And that might soften the launch. But they are in it for the long game,” so that’s only a temporary issue, he said. Bidwell said he sees the Regent Street store as “an introduction” to the brand, which will also open a 10,000-square-foot unit on London’s King’s Road in the spring. Also in the spring, Anthropologie will unveil a Web site that will service the U.K. and continental Europe. The two London units — and the site — are just the beginning for Anthropologie. In August, Glen Senk, chief executive officer of Urban Outfitters, said the company is planning to roll out a minimum of 100 Urban and Anthropologie stores in Europe.

The store, with its luxe bohemian vibe, stocks a mix of products ranging from Penguin’s cloth-bound copies of literary classics such as “Sense and Sensibility” and “Jane Eyre” to one-off, handmade quilts by Becky Oldfield, shoes fashioned from old curtain fabric by the British label Beyond Skin, coffee mugs and ceramic measuring spoons. Clothing brands are a mix of British and American labels including Ruffian, MiH jeans, and knitwear by Sparrow. The Regent Street store is also the very first Anthropologie unit to stock Urban Outfitters’ new wholesale label Leifsdottir, which has its own corner on the first floor. The London store is also forging relationships with local designers: Eley Kishimoto has designed a capsule collection known as EK Jam Factory for Anthropologie. Other British brands include Sara Berman, Pyrus, Lowie and Comfort Station. Bidwell said it was one of his priorities to build relationships with local designers. Bidwell’s team has also sourced ceramics and chandeliers from South Africa-based artists; installed decorative theater backdrops from Barcelona; and commissioned one-off pieces of pottery from the French artist Nathalie Lete. Prices range from about 6 pounds, or $9.78, for a coffee cup to 12,000 pounds, or $19,560, for a vintage wardrobe that has been reconditioned by Joe Ram. MiH jeans cost about 148 pounds, or $241.24, while a wool cardigan by Lowie is priced at 118 pounds, or $192.34. All figures have been converted at current exchange.Bidwell said retail prices were reconfigured for the London store, taking into account the local market costs and prices. He declined to give first-year sales projections. Real estate sources estimate the company is paying at least 2 million pounds, or $3.26 million, in annual rent as the location is among London’s prime commercial properties.

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