Sir James Dyson is ready to take on the New York retail landscape — with a sharp eye on the beauty business.
At a cocktail party lauding the new Dyson Demo store at 640 Fifth Avenue — it officially opened to the public today, Dec. 14 — the inventor and founder of the self-named technology company recalled that his foray into the New York fashion world was via designer Tara Subkoff’s spring 2003 show, in which topless models toted the company’s vacuums down the catwalk. “We’ve got knickers on one side and Nike trainers on the other, so now that we’re back in New York we’re quite respectable,” he said, citing the Victoria’s Secret and Nike outposts the Dyson Demo store is sandwiched between.
Since that one-off spectacle in 2003, Dyson has further solidified its presence in the fashion world with its Supersonic hairdryer. Launched last year, the Supersonic is now a fixture backstage at fashion shows and at salons favored by the fashion pros, such as Christophe Robin in Paris and Blackstones in New York. And at the store opening last night, Dyson himself was embraced enthusiastically by Jen Atkin, the Kardashian hairstylist and Ouai hair care founder who is now an influencer in her own right.
But what does Dyson’s technology — used to power items like air purifiers and, most recently, cars — have to do with beauty? “We solve lots of problems — we tend to look for things that don’t work very well and redesign them with new technology.”
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Dyson told WWD that he sees “quite a few opportunities” for his company in the beauty and personal-care categories — but true to his signature secretive nature, he didn’t reveal them, only hinting at further advancement into the hair category. “We do know that hair is being damaged — we’re doing more [in that area].”
The Supersonic’s engine — of which there is a life-sized model situated in the front entrance of the Fifth Avenue store — is designed to dry hair faster and with less damage than the average blow-dryer on the market. Dyson said his Demo store retail strategy was born out of his desire for a place where consumers could test the products and see the efficacy for themselves. The Fifth Avenue store has a two-chair salon area stationed in the back, where shoppers can get blowouts from stylists using the Supersonic. “The hair dryer is very expensive, but when you actually feel how light and fast it is and see what a good job it does, you might think it’s worth it,” said Dyson of the tool, which retails for $399.
Dyson has always been a fan of stand-alone retail — in Paris in the Seventies, he opened a showroom where consumers could test vacuums before buying. “This was my converse reaction to retailers having discount signs and prices — I wanted the products to be treated with respect. Going to retail is certainly counterculture — stores are closing,” Dyson acknowledged. “We need to fill their places.”
Dyson has been rolling out Demo stores since 2015 — there are locations in London, Tokyo, Moscow, Paris, Jakarta, Toronto, San Francisco and Tyson’s Corner Mall in Virginia. The Fifth Avenue stores store is also a move into experiential retail. There is a choose-your-own-debris station for testing vacuums — there are 64 variations of dust and debris one can select before taking a Dyson vacuum for a spin on four floor types — and a station where shoppers can customize the “wands” — the piece that connects the machine to the clean heads.
For all of Dyson’s technology and engineering prowess, James Dyson doesn’t have much use for it in his personal life. “I get annoyed with it,” he said of his smartphone, which he uses for “painting and newspaper apps,” and on which he reads only “six e-mails a day.” “I might receive 30, but I only do the six — that way it never turns into 300.”