LONDON — Browns — the iconic London fashion store that first showcased John Galliano and Hussein Chalayan and launched such designers as Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Comme des Garçons, Donna Karan and Missoni in the U.K. — has had a facelift for the first time in 20 years.
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“We wanted it luxurious and beautiful — and utterly comfortable,” said Joan Burstein, who opened the South Molton Street store with her husband, Sidney, in 1970. “We simply wanted a beautiful background for beautiful clothes.”
The couple, who spent 1 million pounds, or $1.78 million at current exchange, on the refurbishment, also owns nearby stores Browns Focus, which showcases young designers; Labels for Less, and Browns on Sloane Street.
While the old Browns had a comfortable, kooky charm, with well-worn carpets and a rabbit’s warren of rooms where designers from Galliano to Marni to Alexander McQueen hung, the newly refurbished store is a low-key mix of old Hollywood glamour and homey English flavor.
The store, which has entrances on South Molton and Davies Streets, stayed open for the 18 months of refurbishment, Interior designer Martin Brudnizki said that was a good thing.
“It meant I could treat every room as a separate project,” he said during a store walk-through last week. “It also meant Mrs. Burstein and the staff could treat the changes as a work in progress, and experiment with how and where the merchandise would be sold.”
The interiors are exotic and feminine, with a pink, red, lavender and claret color scheme. Walls on the ground floor are covered in wallpaper with a lush water lily print and a subtle gold sheen. A chandelier designed by Patrice Butler made from crystal balls hangs inside the entrance.
One of the major changes Brudnizki made was to open up the overall space and let in more light. The lower ground floor, once a gray, dark space, is now awash in natural light and has a view of Davies Street. Walls are painted a watery pink and covered partly in pink sea grass wallpaper. There’s a pink tweed-covered bench at one end of the room and a red felt carpet in the center.
Alongside the staircase that leads from the ground floor to the first floor, Brudnizki built showcases into the wall so that customers can gaze at jewelry and accessories on their way up. On the first floor, walls are covered in gold silk fabric and the floor is partly covered in a lavender and maroon carpet.
In the 34 years since she opened Browns’ doors, Burstein has launched countless designers — and seen many of them leave to open their own stores, which is always a bittersweet experience.
“It happens all the time, and in the beginning I’m hurt, but then I welcome the challenge of going forward,” she said. “And we always remain friends with our ‘exes,’ although there are never any divorce settlements,” she said with a laugh. And while she declined to give sales figures, she said she can’t complain — sales at Browns have been rising every year since the store opened.
The Bursteins’ next challenge will be Browns Bridal, which is set to open in the former Comme des Garçons space on Brook Street. The couple already owns the space and, as reported, Comme des Garçons has opened a new retail concept nearby, the Dover Street Market.
The 900-square-foot bridal space, which will open in November, will feature a mix of glass and mirrors. The color scheme will be gold, silver, oyster and watery green. In addition to more traditional wedding dresses, the new bridal store will carry designs by labels she currently carries at Browns such as John Galliano, Alberta Ferretti, Ungaro, Jil Sander and Elspeth Gibson.
“We get so many requests from brides-to-be who don’t have much time to shop. They come in, see a designer dress and ask if we have it in white,” she said.