By  on December 20, 2005

LONDON — Mexx, the fast-fashion brand owned by Liz Claiborne Inc., has lifted the veil on its first new-generation flagship, a store that wants to be an oasis for the harried shopper.

"The big, white box feel is over,'' said Ashish Sen Sarma, vice president, consumer sales at Mexx International BV, during a walk-through here. "We're warming up, and moving away from minimalism toward a boutique experience."

The store, which takes up an entire block on Oxford Street, is across from the Bond Street subway station and has 14,267 square feet over three floors. The site formerly housed Clinton Cards, a mass stationery chain.

The Mexx store is large, even by London standards. It is opening as London retail endures ups and downs. In October, the number of shoppers fell by 7.2 percent year-on-year in the city's congestion zone. Activity began to pick up in November, with a slump of 0.9 percent, according to the London-based retail traffic monitor SPSL. Last weekend, SPSL said the number of Christmas shoppers was down 4.4 percent on Saturday and 5.5 percent on Sunday, and the group speculated that shoppers may be anticipating last-minute offers and sales before Christmas.

In addition, the $14 per car central London traffic congestion charge — in effect from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays — is encouraging customers to shop out of town.

But Mexx's managers are undeterred.

"Of course, we were going to open this first flagship in London,'' Sen Sarma said. "London isn't just London. It's the world: Here you're getting customers from the U.S., Russia and the Middle East."

Although Mexx declined to release first-year sales projections, industry sources expect the brand to generate at least $1,720, or 1,000 pounds, per square foot.

"Sales have been better than expected, 20 percent up on the original target,'' Sen Sarma said. "There has been fantastic foot fall at the store."

Since the store opened Oct. 29, bestsellers have included a cotton and Lurex gold wraparound top retailing for $69, a cotton knee-length beige skirt with brown flowers retailing around $69 and a leather belt with diamante detail on the buckle for about $51.The Amsterdam-based Mexx commissioned Dutch design firm Opera to come up with the new store concept. The result is warm and welcoming. Resin floors have replaced the former cold, white stone, while display shelves are lined in suede fabric. A lenticular wall that changes color and pattern depending on the angle, runs vertically through the store alongside the central staircase.

There are no traditional window displays. Instead, the shop floor runs right to the edge of the 20-foot-high windows that face the street. "The idea is that the window and the shop are one," Sen Sarma said.

Unlike a lot of other fast-fashion shops here, there is no thumping music or packed clothing racks.

"We want our customers to breathe a sigh of relief as soon as they walk through the door," Sen Sarma added.

Tailored denim jackets for $112, or 65 pounds, hang alongside leather ones for $256, or 149 pounds, while stacks of cotton V-neck sweaters for $43, or 25 pounds, sit on a suede shelf nearby.

The lower ground floor houses the XX brand, which is Mexx's younger, edgier component. Mexx hired Hollandse Nieuwe to design that part of the store, which is loosely based on a teenager's bedroom.

And, no, it's not a mess. It's all about open spaces and inclusion. A cluster of spacious pink dressing rooms sits in the center of the room so that girls can invite their friends in to help them try on clothes.

Full-length mirrors around the store are festooned with Polaroids of staff and customers, and accessories like knitted flower appliqués and wooly hats and scarves hang in neat rows alongside one display.

"Each XX has a different layout, though," Sen Sarma said. "We don't want an ‘institutional' look."

The Oxford Street store is Mexx's third in London and its ninth in the U.K. The brand is present in 150 U.K. department stores. Worldwide, Mexx operates 290 freestanding stores and has more than 9,000 sales points in 50 countries.

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