LONDON — With its raw interiors, supermarket-style layout and offbeat location, New Look’s first new generation flagship may have just raised the bar on fast-fashion retailing.
The store, which opened last Thursday, isn’t at street level, but rather is on the second floor of 500 Oxford Street. That hasn’t hindered the crowds, though, or stopped the $8 Eley Kishimoto underwear, $13 Vickers Hillier shoulder bags or $55 shiny black plastic coats from selling out within the first few hours of opening day. Dollar figures have been converted from the British pound at current exchange.
“We wanted a challenge. We wanted to try something different, to take things a step forward,” said Carl McPhail, New Look’s group development director. “After all, this is our first Oxford Street flagship.”
After securing the second-floor space on the corner of Oxford Street and Portman Street, in London’s mass shopping mecca, McPhail turned to the uber-groovy design firm Future Systems to create the concept.
The result is a futuristic warehouse spanning 15,000 square feet with a layout that can change from day to day.
New Look, the U.K.’s third-largest women’s wear retailer with annual sales of just more than $1 billion, invested $3.8 million in the Oxford Street store. The opening is part of an ongoing project to refurbish 300 of its stores across the U.K. Over the next five years, the publicly traded company, which is based in Dorset, also plans to expand its retail space to approximately 2.2 million square feet from the current 1.4 million square feet.
New Look, a vertically integrated company that can go from “sheep to shop” in as little as four weeks, currently has 500 stores, with plans to add 10 more in the fall. Unlike its competitors, Zara and H&M, it focuses mainly on U.K. — rather than European — fashion trends, and has no stores outside Britain.
McPhail said he chose the second-floor space for the new flagship for reasons of economy more than anything else. He said the price per square foot on the second floor is $63, as opposed to $440 on the ground floor. (The second floor had stood empty for a long time and was set to be converted into office space before New Look took over).One of the primary reasons McPhail picked the U.K.-based Future Systems was that it makes a grand entrance — literally.
“Because we’re on the first floor, we needed to ensure we’d be able to draw people off the high street, and Future Systems is well known for their fantastic entrances.” (Future Systems also has designed Selfridges’ new Birmingham department store, which opens next month. That store resembles a space station with a wavy exterior made from 15,000 aluminum disks.)
In the case of the New Look store, the design firm nixed the idea of an escalator and instead created a glittering, old-Hollywood-style staircase that leads up from the street. Made from a combination of highly polished stainless steel, glass and resin, it’s the sort of staircase that wanna-be divas will want to descend over and over again.
“It was very daring for New Look to choose a [second-floor] space, and a real architectural challenge for us to get that volume of people up from the street,” said Amanda Levete, the co-founder of Future Systems. “It was obvious we needed to overstate the staircase. Plus, you can put more people on the stairs than you’d ever be able to put on an escalator.”
Indeed, volume was always part of Future Systems’ approach to the project. “Before starting, we went to the New Look distribution center and were just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the clothes they produce. So the volume and dynamic of New Look was something we wanted to be reflected in the store design.”
What the company did was leave the ceilings open and unfinished with exposed wires, pipes and old graffiti, giving the space the feel of a warehouse. The more basic, high-volume collections are on sale in what resemble supermarket aisles. New Look’s new, supernarrow shopping carts have a rod-like clothing rack attached to them and glide easily over the glass and resin floor without wheels.
The cash registers also are lined up like they would be in a supermarket, with some staffers ringing up purchases and others bagging the merchandise.
In another part of the store — where the capsule collections made for New Look by designers including Eley Kishimoto, Luella Bartley and shoe designer Georgina Goodman are stocked —there is a molded-plastic, backlit, caterpillar-like sculpture intended to guide shoppers to the different merchandise areas.Most of the displays and modules can easily be shifted and slid across the floor to change the volume and design of the space.
In addition to its basic and designer collections for women, the store stocks New Look’s footwear, lingerie and accessories. Footwear is displayed on curved, Perspex modules which invite the customer to meander and explore, while the lingerie is hung on watery green quilted satin-covered walls, studded with backlit pink, Perspex rods.
The store’s facade is fashioned from yellow glass that’s been tinted with a pink film. By day, those on the street can look up and see shadows of the shoppers in the store. At night, abstract moving images are projected along the store’s facade.
New Look’s McPhair declined to give sales projections for the store. However, it’s clear from the first-day crowds, who were wheeling around piles of garments and accessories in their new carts, that the store hasn’t gone unnoticed — despite its unusual location.
“We’re happy about the warehouse feel and the fact that this store is stocked with good British workmanship,” said McPhair. “This concept was a real challenge for us — especially the part about leaving those ceilings open — but, you know, we’re not in the business of selling ceilings anyway.”
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