LONDON — In a frenetic two months that saw her declare independence from longtime partner Kering and dress the new Duchess of Sussex for the royal wedding reception dinner, Stella McCartney has also been rethinking luxury retail with a new store that turns many a cliché upside-down.
On Tuesday, McCartney will open 23 Old Bond Street, a 7,500-square-foot store in the former Joseph space that mixes up rocks and foam, silicone and moss, faux fur the shade of bubblegum and wood recovered from the Venetian lagoon.
The store, which McCartney and her team designed themselves, is about humility and authenticity, the antique and the high-tech. There’s also a dash of Paul McCartney rhythm on the spiral staircase; lessons from Bob Roth, the designer’s meditation teacher, piped into a dressing room — and a metaphorical bear hug awaiting all customers.
During an exclusive walk-through of the store — which carries all of the designer’s collections, including men’s wear, kids’ clothing, lingerie and the Adidas collection — McCartney described the space as a home from home and said it “carries a lot of weight,” in all senses of the word.
“You can see weight all around the store in the form of rocks from my kids, from my dad’s farm in Scotland, from around Britain,” she said, referring to the dramatic rockery on the ground floor, which is currently surrounded by reclaimed moss from the Chelsea Flower Show and thyme from McCartney’s own garden.
“The whole idea is that you’re coming a step closer to nature by being here. We’re trying to clean up the planet. That’s part of our promise as a fashion house, to be clean and create change,” she said. Shiny and rough hunks of black limestone have been dotted around the four-floor store and there’s an enclosed garden terrace on the first floor with annual and seasonal plantings, including birch trees and ferns.
“What I wanted to do was to bring people off the streets from the hustle and bustle of the city, and try and wrap my arms around them, hug them. I really want to have the experience of everything that we are at Stella McCartney, of bringing people in and having a relationship with the consumer, with a human. To have a moment of pause and reflection is the point of the experience.”
She’s spliced her ecological values with a great sense of fun, lining the walls of the building’s elevator, known as the “Stellavator,” with fuzzy pink fake fur from a past collection, while the upstairs women’s wear area is covered with handmade papier-mâché recycled from her office paper waste.
One of the dressing rooms has walls covered in the stitched handprints of the Stella McCartney staff, while a private space upstairs is adorned with clay sculptures made by staff. Other walls are covered in rippled concrete or just the pocked raw stuff that builders found when they pulled back the old shopfit. McCartney said she plans to project nature films — time lapses of flowers or dolphins — onto that concrete when the store is up and running.
The shop, which replaces McCartney’s 15-year-old store on nearby Bruton Street, is also the first indoor commercial space in London to use Airlabs technology, a filtering process that removes 95 percent of pollutants and gasses from the air.
McCartney was going for a multisensory experience, too: Her father wrote a “sound collage” that’s audible on the big raw steel staircase that winds upward through the building, and different types of music playing depending on where customers happen to be standing.
The designer said that audio is a “massive thing” for her and the last thing she wanted was an “ambient store experience,” hence the original Paul McCartney music playing on the staircase. “My dad made me three hours of music that’s just for here. He gave me rocks and then he gave me something to rock out too.”
There’s also a scratchy, “messed-with” music mix seeping through the concrete wall at the entrance, as well as speakers behind the mirrors, implanted into the furniture and into the staircase.
“Everything from the minute you walk in should be sensual, so I want you to touch everything, I don’t want you to be afraid of anything, I don’t want anyone to come here and feel like they have to be allowed to be here. You don’t have to buy when you come here, you don’t have to be interested in fashion. I don’t care who you are, what race or age or gender you are. You are welcome here and we embrace you,” said McCartney, who was buzzing with energy during the tour.
To wit, there is squishy foam furniture made from recycled materials that encourages shoppers to flop down, and a ball pool and climbing wall downstairs for kids. The furniture upstairs is sensual: big, soft vintage Italian sofas covered in rose velvet — a McCartney signature color — and a matching rug for a Seventies feel.
The store also marks the start of another new chapter for McCartney: She’s officially launching a bridal collection, although she’s been doing wedding dresses privately for customers for years. She is also offering a special “Made with Love” capsule collection based on the shoulder-less evening gown she made for the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding reception dinner.
McCartney is doing a version of the dress in onyx and lily white, both of which are made from sustainable viscose. The collection will be available by appointment only starting June 13 for one week, and will then evolve into a Made with Love wedding collection for spring 2019. Later this week, the Duchess dresses will be showcased in a separate part of the store — on the top floor overlooking Old Bond Street — known as Members and Non Members Only Club. It’s a mutable space that McCartney plans to use for personal appointments, events, performances and activations.
In the club, which is by invitation, McCartney also plans to give her guests a key to a private drawer that contains a gift. “Something personal either from me or the team. It’s just a gesture – it’s not like you’re going to get a diamond or a check in there – but it’s another reach out moment, a touch point. And that’s really what this store is: a touch point.”
Even when they’re not in the private space, guests will be able to count on special gifts from McCartney. Women changing on the first floor will be able to tap into meditation master Roth’s rhythmic, soothing words.
“For me, if you get into a changing room I feel like you deserve some little reward. You should have a more personal relationship with me because you’re having a more personal relationship with my product. So when you come into the store you should meet me and have a reflection of who I am and what really touched me. Bob Roth is a great friend of mine: He’s taught my children to meditate and I meditate with him, I’ve been doing it for 20 years or so. So it should be a meditative moment, too, when you get in the changing room.”
McCartney is setting up other customer-focused features such as a new loyalty program, personalization on certain items, styling, concierge services for London, home delivery, tailoring and alterations, and click and collect services.
“I’m not trying to say that I’m doing this better than anyone or before anyone, or in a more heartfelt way. It’s just that it’s real, and I really mean it. I think I am one of the few women who has their name on a fashion house these days, who is alive and engaged. And why shouldn’t I mean it? Why shouldn’t I pour my blood, sweat, guts and hard-earned money into this store, and it be a total reflection of how I feel and think?” asked the designer.
“This has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my career, this store, and it’s because I’ve taken it so seriously. I could’ve just opened another store, but I chose these things myself, and when I came here I said that if this store is a disaster, it all falls on me.”