LONDON — It’s been quite a summer for Harrods, which is morphing from one store into four, and boldly introducing new concepts in the face of COVID-19, a crisis in retail and still shaky consumer confidence.
On Sept. 17, the retailer will tug open the curtain on its first stand-alone beauty store, H Beauty, at a shopping mall in Lakeside, Essex, England, while a second location is set to open in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England, next spring.
Although plans for H Beauty were revealed almost a year ago, months before the coronavirus burst into Europe, aspects of the 23,000-square-foot space have been tweaked with social distancing and new hygiene standards in mind.
Harrods is promising a “wonderland” of premium and luxury brands, technology such as the Light Salon, an at-home LED light therapy system, and services such as the Dior Le Salon facials suite.
There will also be bespoke fast facials from Sisley, and product personalization from Dior, Givenchy, and Atelier Cologne.
The store will offer new names, such as Iconic London, a trend-led makeup brand that sells mostly online, and those already on offer in the recently refurbished Harrods beauty halls such as Chanel, La Prairie, Creed, Huda Beauty and 111Skin. Brands including Gucci and The Ordinary will be exclusive to Lakeside.
Annalise Fard, Harrods’ director of beauty, fine jewelry, watches and home, described the space as “a destination, a beauty emporium offering experience, makeup, skin care, hair care and fragrance.”
Fard said she sees beauty as the entry point into luxury “and it’s very exciting to be able to take the excitement and engagement for beauty and really deliver it to a customer on a wider platform.”
She added that by opening the first H Beauty store in Lakeside and the second one in Milton Keynes, “we are bringing beauty to an incredibly responsive community of existing beauty lovers. Although the brand portfolio will be similar across both locations, the edit will be slightly different according to the culture of that location, city or that particular client and will allow H Beauty to be the central beauty hub in each destination.”
The newly refurbished beauty halls at Harrods were a major inspiration behind H Beauty, according to Fard. “The level of engagement with beauty went to another level,” who said that younger audiences — and men — have been particularly enthusiastic shoppers.
“It really led us to think ‘Why not speak to a wider audience with the credible and authoritative voice that we have? We knew we were in a unique and privileged position” to make that move, she said.
Harrods was prescient in choosing both locations: Both are a short drive from London and rely on wealthy, aspirational, and makeup-loving locals — rather than international tourists — for business.
Asked why Harrods chose Lakeside and Milton Keynes in particular, she said the store had been looking at the data from its rewards program, and it offered a picture of who was buying beauty. “We thought, ‘Why not bring the magic of Harrods to that local customer?'”
Asked about the challenges of luring a post-lockdown audience into a physical shopping mall, Fard said there were none so far.
She said that Harrods in Knightsbridge is starting to come alive once again with local shoppers returning from their holidays, while the Lakeside mall is busier than ever. She said she’s been visiting regularly to check on the store’s progress, and often has trouble finding a parking spot.
She added that Lakeside is also a destination: “It’s a day’s entertainment — you can hang out, eat there, spend time outside by the lake.” She added that shoppers have also been peppering her with questions about when the store will open.
Harrods’ Knightsbridge flagship reopened in June but has been suffering — like every other central London retailer — from a lack of tourism, especially from China and the Middle East. Over the summer, the store revealed plans to lay off 14 percent of its staff due to a lack of footfall in London.
Mia Collins, head of beauty at Harrods, said the H Beauty concept has “really bold ambitions, but they’re ones that are entirely befitting of this amazingly vibrant and dynamic category that is beauty. To have the opportunity to pair this with equally vibrant and dynamic communities across the U.K. is nothing short of epic.”
She said the retailer “can’t wait to debut this concept in Essex — home to some of the U.K.’s most discerning beauty consumers.”
Collins isn’t kidding: Anyone who’s ever watched the British reality TV show “The Only Way Is Essex” knows how the locals love their spray tans, nail bars, hair and eyelash extensions.
She said the store has planned “a packed calendar of exclusive brands and pre-launches and a raft of names that simply won’t be available anywhere else in Lakeside — cue Charlotte Tilbury, Byredo, Dr Barbara Sturm, IGK and Huda Beauty.”
The space features a Skincare Station that offers facials; magic mirrors allowing customers to virtually try on different makeup products and colors — and e-mail looks to themselves — and a Playtable offering access to dry hair styling and makeup demos and consultations.
It was designed by Virgile + Partners with an eye to being “playful, accessible, and interactive.” The store façade has a curvaceous, suspended canopy while inside there are changing beauty display areas and pop up areas showcasing a mix of art and beauty in a bid to keep the space fluid and dynamic.
Virgile + Partners, which specializes in retail, hotel and restaurant interiors, has long been a go-to design firm for Harrods and Harvey Nichols as well as for retailers such as Burberry, John Lewis, Harrods and Space NK.
Carlos Virgile, director at Virgile + Partners, said the interiors are meant to foster H Beauty’s dual spirit of “elegance and casual quirkiness.”
“Throughout the space, customers will feel the modernity of the H beauty concept transpire,” he said. “From simple concrete washed walls to the terrazzo tiled flooring in the central space with chips in light blush and grey, there is a peaceful ambience as well as a space for self-expression and experimentation.”
He said the coffee-to-Champagne bar is meant to act as a “social focus” and its design becomes a “beacon” through a central light installation and multiple reflective surfaces. Virgile said it would be an “Instagrammable magnet and a welcomed pause for a drink and a chat.”
H Beauty will also be offering a click-and-collect service from late September for customers who shop online at harrods.com. They can pick up and apply their purchases in the changing rooms.
There is also a Champagne Bar, with a menu of patisseries and cocktails created by the Harrods food and beverage team. Going forward, the store plans to introduce eyewear styles from the David Clulow Sunglasses boutique.
The retailer is taking its anti-COVID-19 responsibilities seriously: There will be various sanitizer stations throughout the store for both customer and employee usage, and all customers will be asked to sanitize their hands prior to touching any product or receiving the in-store beauty treatments.
Harrods said the store’s 23,000 square feet will allow for 130 customers to be present at one time. Outside the entrance, security will be present to manage social distancing for those waiting to get in.
Tester products will not be available for trial on beauty counters, although customers can request to try products themselves with a member of the team advising from a safe distance.
No makeup brushes will be used and, where sample palettes are not possible, disposable single-dip testers will be available for customers who wish to try on makeup, Harrods said.
All tester products will be thoroughly cleaned before and after use, while hygiene stations are being set up for customers’ use. They can wash their hands and faces, and clean and sanitize their makeup brushes.
There will also be temporary, high-quality Perspex screening at major till points and at the Champagne Bar.
The digital ad campaign for H Beauty broke on Thursday and even that was created in the spirit of social distancing — and diversity. Fard said that the models — a mix of men and women of various ages — were cast from the street and asked to do their own hair and makeup and create their own looks.
Called My Beauty, it looks to telegraph a sense of individuality, personality and authenticity, said Fard, adding that H Beauty wants to be led by the consumer and that the product mix will be tailored to certain locations and demographics.
Harrods is on a retail opening roll: In July, the retailer opened the doors of the first Harrods Outlet, a concept store at Westfield London that is currently selling spring 2020 stock across men’s, women’s, children’s, beauty and accessories. The store is set to remain open until the end of March 2021 and also plans to sell fall sale merchandise as the seasons evolve.
Located in the former Debenhams space at Westfield, the Harrods Outlet spans 80,000 square feet over two floors. Conceived and built in five weeks, it was designed with social distancing in mind. The space is brightly lit, spare, easy to clean and with simple display units that are spaced far apart. Some 120,000 product units from 100 fashion and accessories brands will be stocked in the new space.