LONDON — It wasn’t William Sofield’s expertise at designing retail environments that got him hired to work on Belstaff’s new global flagship in London. Although, with feathers from Tom Ford, Gucci and Bottega Veneta in his cap, his credentials are impressive. No, it was for Studio Sofield’s residential portfolio.
This story first appeared in the September 4, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“It’s called Belstaff House because this is our home,” said Harry Slatkin, Belstaff’s chief executive officer and vice chairman. “When you visit us, I want you to feel as if you are entering our home, a place that you could actually visit as opposed to shop. I’d rather you come in to visit us first and shop as a second thought.”
For all that hospitality, there’s plenty to buy in the new store. The full men’s and women’s collections, as well as the Goodwood Sports and Racing Collection by Belstaff, is available in the 3,500 square feet of sales space on the ground floor of the entire six-floor, 26,000-square-foot property. Just the ground floor and cellar (as back of house) are in use, but Slatkin confirmed he is “working on the plans [to expand into the rest of the store]. The building needed to be gutted and it was no easy feat opening one floor.” An additional 3,500 square feet of retail space on the second floor will be added as the brand’s collections grow, and there are plans for a Belstaff museum on the third floor.
“It’s funny because the London store was the first thing I did when we bought the business,” said Slatkin, for whom this opening represents a significant milestone in the two years and three months since the purchase of the brand by Labelux was revealed. “I remember when we bought the brand, we were just closing the deal and I was walking around London. I walked where we were on Conduit Street, I walked Bond Street, I walked New Bond Street and I walked Sloane Street. I knew we had to make a big statement because the brand lost its identity before we bought it, people didn’t even know it was British anymore. Was it German? Was it Italian? We are a British brand and we needed to send that message worldwide. We relaunched the brand worldwide and don’t think you can make a bigger statement than [this Bond Street store] because it’s a pretty big commitment to the brand and our history.”
Resurrecting the brand and developing Belstaff House, the store’s official name, was not without its challenges. “Everything about the London store was somewhat of an issue,” said Slatkin. “When you’re redoing an historic building, and it’s actually a big building on the street, everything down to the window paint and the door knobs becomes something that is studied by the City of London.” Working to adhere to preservation guidelines means that the store and many of its original fittings had to be restored.
Slatkin shares an obsession for detail with Sofield, which is seen in many of the fixtures around the store: a fossil marble hearth was inspired by one at the Elizabethan Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire; as a reference to Belstaff and Goodwood’s automobile provenance, there are stools in the men’s change rooms made from repurposed racetrack barriers; a Chesterfield sofa in the men’s department is made from black rubber; the antique BMW motorbike that greets visitors at the store is from 1924, the same year the company was founded, and the reclaimed wood flooring was inspired by those at Goodwood, the family seat of Lord March, where Sofield was a guest with Slatkin.
“I am known for my well-after-midnight meanderings, with sketchbook in tow,” explained Sofield. “Wandering the halls of Goodwood, nearing 3 a.m., I was particularly taken with the nearly monastic beauty of the plank floors, adorned with age alone. It was this juxtaposition of the austere and the extravagant that resonates throughout the new vision for Belstaff.”
“The store was designed to look like it had always been here,” explained Douglas Gellenberck, Belstaff’s worldwide director of store planning. To that effect, original marble columns line the entrance, while the stately facade is a marker of tradition and gentility. New fixtures and furniture, handmade by British artisans, sit with antiques. The cash point at the back of the store looks like an aged cage elevator.
There are modern touches, too — elliptical glass screens in the shopping areas play films of the look books and have the capability to live-stream catwalk shows, while touch screens in the changing rooms allow shoppers to browse the collection from there.
It smells good, too. The slightly burnt rubbery Black Fig & Absinthe scent is pumped throughout the store but not outside it. “The scent was created for me personally by Christophe Laudamiel and IFF. It is in a candle first as we wanted our Belstaff Houses to be scented,” said Slatkin, who founded Slatkin & Co., a high-end candle maker, hinting that personal fragrances are on the agenda.
The shop, at 135-137 New Bond Street, is open to the public now but will celebrate an official opening during London Fashion Week, when Bond Street will close to allow for what Slatkin enigmatically referred to as “surprises.”