LONDON — It’s just about six weeks after opening a splashy, space-age megastore in Birmingham, England, but Selfridges doesn’t want its customers to forget about its Oxford Street store here. So, it has given the site something of a new focal point.
New to the second floor women’s wear area is Superbrands, a 16,000-square-foot room dedicated to eight designer names: Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Burberry, Chloé, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Marni and Stella McCartney.
“The idea was to find a way of introducing those strong, mainline brands in a nonintimidating way,” said Monica Ross, head of buying and merchandising for women’s wear at Selfridges. “Granted, they’re luxury brands, but we hated the word ‘luxury.’ To us, it means top end and inaccessible, and we wanted to create a space that was welcoming to our customers.”
The new spot cost $2 million, converted from 1.3 million pounds at current exchange.
The eight brands — which officially bowed in the space when Superbrands opened Saturday — were chosen after protracted discussions between executives and buyers in boardroom meetings. “They’re each at the very forefront of fashion,” said Ross. “And without sounding predictable, they were the obvious choices.”
And they seem to be happy to be there. “The Superbrands area is an excellent opportunity for me to present my collection in as close to a ‘McQueen environment’ as possible, without physically being in my own store,” said Alexander McQueen.
Although the store had already stocked McQueen, Dolce & Gabbana, McCartney and Chloé, new to Selfridges are Gucci, Marni and Burberry. But it’s Balenciaga that is perhaps Selfridges’ best coup: The boutique is the label’s first U.K. location.
Designed by prominent London architect David Adjaye (see sidebar), Superbrands is entered via a vivid red, sparkling tunnel made from resin. The area is designed in a circle, with the boutiques joined side-by-side, making a ring around Momo Restaurant Familial, the centerpiece of Superbrands.
On emerging from the tunnel, the floor is black, made from resin embedded with glitter. In contrast, the ceiling is laminated glass and looks like an artificial sky, lit up in shades of blue, gradually fading into oranges and reds at the far end to evoke the look of the transition from dawn to dusk.
Most of the walls and corridors are mirrored, so the boutiques are reflected in distortions creating a confusing but visually stimulating illusion, while steel and stone columns are boxed in colored glass.
Each boutique is designed differently, with designers choosing their own concepts.
“We encouraged the brands to push the boundaries and be unique for Selfridges,” said Ross.
Burberry, for example, is dropping its trademark wood look in favor of colored glass in cream, red and black, softened with sheepskin rugs. Next to Burberry is Chloé, which imitated the look of its Sloane Street store with neutral colors, clean lines and brass fixtures.
After Chloé is McQueen, who described the space as a condensed version of his new McQueen store concept, like his Bond Street unit. “It houses the same hand-carved mannequins, curved walls and terrazzo mother-of-pearl floor,” he said. “I anticipate the space to echo the same feeling as my own boutiques.”
Then comes McCartney, who referenced her London and Los Angeles stores with a girlie bedroom-look design that features built-in wardrobes and feminine wallpaper.
Next to McCartney is Gucci in signature sleek, polished lines, and then Dolce & Gabbana, which also stuck to its trademark black carpet, dark fixtures and gold gilt, upholstered furniture. Marni, in contrast to its neighbor, is bright with a stark white floor, white leather contemporary sofa and stainless steel curved fixtures.
Next to Marni is Balenciaga, entirely decorated in powder blue from floor to ceiling, where several mini strip lights hang. The boutique joins Burberry to complete the circle.
In the center of the ring is restaurateur Mourad Mazouz’s latest venture, Momo Restaurant Familial, which offers light North African food to a capacity of 78 people. Dishes include chicken tangine with olives and preserved lemons, crab salad and tuna seared with Moroccan spices and coriander.
Those less hungry can take a toke of sweet tobacco on a hookah pipe in an adjacent glass smoking room — decorated in ornate hanging fabrics and low ottomans to re-create the feel of a Bedouin tent — or have a cocktail. There’s also a selection of teas in the tearoom.
“We approached Momo with the idea of doing something for us,” said Ross. “He said it had been an idea of his for some time to collaborate with a store but in a very contemporary way. We both loved the clash of beautiful boutiques with an Aladdin’s cave-like environment.”
Momo also offers North African artifacts and accessories in addition to world music CDs, African travel and cookbooks, clothes and jewelry bringing a touch of the bazaar to the otherwise glossy and more polished surrounding boutiques.
Selfridges hopes to make the most of Momo. Currently, it operates during the same times as the store, but Ross already has ideas to extend the restaurant’s hours. “It would be great to get a night crowd in here, but we’d have to look into getting another entrance so customers don’t have to walk through the store to get to it.”
A walk around Superbrands is far from inconvenient, as its early customer traffic is proving. Before the room’s official debut, singer Björk popped in to buy Balenciaga’s anorak dress for $2,920. (Dollar figures are converted from pounds at current exchange.)
Ross said first-year sales of Superbrands are expected to be between $24 million and $32 million.
In addition to its regulars, it’s inevitable that the site will attract new customers, too — at the very least, it’s the ultimate in window-shopping. “It’s an entirely different atmosphere from these brands’ [other] sites in London, or any other city for that matter,” she said.