LONDON — When Officine Générale’s founder Pierre Mahéo was moving into the brand’s new shop in London’s Soho, he said concerned locals would often stop by to check on how he intended to renovate the space, a landmark location that previously belonged to the art gallery Riflemaker.
They’ll be reassured to know that Mahéo had always intended to preserve the character of the space, which spans 730 square feet and boasts an olive green-painted facade, worn wooden floors, paneled walls and cozy fireplace.
“You have to work within the constraints of the space and keep the original character as much as you can. You don’t need a fireplace in a store, but we are keeping it anyway. The floor is 180 years old and it still looks amazing, why would I take it out?” said Mahéo, who also pointed to the wooden panels on the walls, dating back to 1880.
This is the Parisian label’s first store outside its home turf. The designer said that he chose the British capital to complement the label’s robust wholesale business in the market, which includes partnerships with the likes of Mr Porter, Selfridges and Harrods, as well as to answer to the ongoing demand demonstrated by London consumers on the brand’s e-commerce site.
“The beauty of the online shop right now is that it allows you to track your customer,” said the designer. “Every month we see that London and New York are competing, but I decided to go with London because the retail atmosphere in New York is not really friendly right now. Real estate is tricky, there is a lot on the market and rents are too high.”
He said he was drawn to Soho’s Beak Street for its diverse offer of restaurants, local residences and an eclectic mix of neighboring retailers, which includes Paul Smith, Rag & Bone, Le Labo and Aesop.
“We have cool locations in Paris, and I wanted to find a cool location in London as well. It’s tremendously important to have food and beverage and people living there — you want to be in an area where people are living,” said Mahéo, adding that neighboring locations in Mayfair felt a little “too stiff” and “too clean” for the brand’s laid-back aesthetic.
He is also considering additional openings in London, given the company’s rapid growth trajectory, which he puts down to the brand’s mix of quality classics. Everything is produced using English, Japanese or Italian fabrics — at competitive price points.
“It’s much easier when you have the first store open, to then open a second and third. London is three times bigger than Paris and I already have three stores in Paris and [am] opening a fourth location, early next year. If we perform as well as we have forecast in London we will of course be opening other stores,” said Mahéo, adding that he doesn’t see the economic uncertainty fueled by Brexit as a hindrance.
“To be honest, I don’t believe in Brexit. Two weeks ago there was a no Brexit point, it was like saying it will never happen. Of course we have to think ahead when we are managing stores, but it couldn’t stop me from going ahead with the opening,” he added. “The interesting thing is that the pound went drastically down after Brexit, so the U.K. became an attractive country to come and visit. For an American with U.S. dollars or a European with euros, it is much more affordable right now. When you look at the statistics, London is also the most visited place in Europe right now.”
The new space will feature the full men’s wear assortment, while the newly launched women’s wear offer will be added later on, in an extended basement area.
Additionally, a number of exclusives will be available at the stores, which Mahéo said he sees as a testing ground for new products: “We are working on introducing exclusives on our retail spaces in every category: New shirts, new styles, new leather jackets. We are underdeveloped in terms of footwear at the moment, so there’s a big potential to grow that category.”