LONDON — CoutureLab.com, the luxury Web site that sells one-off designs and handmade pieces by brands and artisans from around the world, has sent a satellite from cyberspace onto the streets of Mayfair.
This story first appeared in the December 14, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The site has opened its first brick-and-mortar boutique, a 1,400-square-foot space at 37 Davies Street, between Claridge’s and Selfridges, that offers a look at the CoutureLab offer — and a forum for craftsmen to showcase their work.
“A store was always in the plan,” said Carmen Busquets, who founded CoutureLab in 2007 and is one of the investors behind Net-a-porter.com. “Sometimes on CoutureLab, you can miss the attention to detail. And consumers get frustrated when they see a one-off item on screen, and it’s already gone.”
CoutureLab is the antithesis of a fashion Web site in that the merchandise is trend-free and seasonless. Recent items on offer include reworked vintage Lanvin and Dior pieces by E2; hand-embroidered and painted Dorukha shawls from India; sterling silver bread baskets from Colombia, and dinner table decorations by Zaha Hadid.
The store, with its inky black walls and dark velvet curtains, stocks similar merchandise to the site, including glass and silver vases by Arik Levy, Charvet shirts, Cashmirino cashmere baby blankets and dresses by L’Wren Scott.
Busquets said the store aims to highlight craftsmanship and “promote the creative individual.” Next year she plans to invite Scott, the Spanish artist-jeweler Vincente Gracia and the sculptor Christian Astuguevieille to the store to discuss their work with customers. She is also mulling inviting artisans from India and Thailand to present their work at the store.
The site will continue selling merchandise, and will take a more editorial slant, focusing on the background, inspirations and vision of the designers and artisans. “It won’t be all about product, but about educating people and creating awareness about the value of the products,” she said of the site.
Busquets, who began her retail career as a college student in Miami and later opened a landmark, multibrand designer boutique in Caracas, Venezuela, said she finds brick-and-mortar retailing easy. “It’s customer service,” she said, adding she’s intrigued to watch who walks in off the street. Previously, CoutureLab had a showroom in Chelsea, but it was by appointment only.
She also has some very strong opinions about retail generally. “It’s increasingly becoming about niche markets, specialization and segmentation,” she said. “Not all rich or middle-class people behave or shop in the same way, so as a retailer you have to find your niche.”
Busquets said she hopes eventually to take the brick-and-mortar model to other cities, via pop-up shops or even more permanent stores. “The concept is fluid and easy to transport,” she said. “And right now we’re just testing the waters.”