There has been much talk lately about how the luxury retail landscape is changing and one person who is well ahead of the curve is Carmen Busquets. One of the original investors in Net-a-Porter who also backs other ventures including Moda Operandi, her current baby is Couturelab. I was a big fan of the discreet Davies Street store but its new home in Belgravia is even more ravishing. Housed in an Andree Putman-designed former stables which was once the home of Connolly leathergoods, its USP is anti-trend retailing, concentrating instead on curated handmade pieces with longevity.
On my recent visit to the new store, I met with CCO Sojin Lee (ex Net-a-Porter and Fashionair) who explained, “retail has been about commodity, real estate, sell-through for so long, we’ve forgotten the tactile experience.” Hence their plans for Couturelab are for non-identikit international concept stores that focus more on lifestyle than fashion; think jewellery that’s more like wearable art (like the spectacular jewelled monkey neckpiece, below) and artisanal pieces for the home, alongside Olympia Le Tan book clutches (why not order your own bespoke title?), Charvet pocket squares and exclusive demi-couture pieces from certain luxury brands. In the future, the space – which really is a delight – can also be used “for intimate dinners and conversations”, taking the concept of a brand space much further into experiential retail.
Which brings us to the online experience. As something of an online pioneer, Carmen Busquets is keen to marry the online and offline and as such, has put much thought into Couturelab.com. The blog is a great example of online editorial done well (quality not quantity people! – I love this Charvet insider Q&A and accompanying photos), while the product selection ensures a leisurely dwell time.
Also noteworthy is Giftlab.com, a new spin-off which is a genius mix of high and low price-point accessories, books, antiques, objets and artefacts. Again, the site is lovely to browse, with all sorts of interesting, educational and entertaining sticky content, including mini product-edits by global tastemaker types (hello Michael Roberts).
Back to the store, it’s located off Hyde Park Corner (behind Milli Millu in fact) with little passing trade – an interesting emerging trend in stealth retail destinations, perhaps?
CoutureLab, 32 Grosvenor Crescent Mews, London SW1, 020 7499 7082