Call me old fashioned but I love a physical store. But the role of the high street is shifting from purely transactional to a multi-functional experiential space. Apple is spearheading this change with its stores; having unveiled its prototype San Francisco store in May, it has now unveiled its vision for Apple Regent Street.
In fact, don’t even call it a ‘store’, the stores are now known as their location, e.g. ‘Apple Regent Street’, not the ‘Apple Regent Street store’. I got a first look on Thursday morning before the store was unveiled to the public today.
After a hero’s welcome by the staff as I and the other members of press entered through the vast arches (so this is what it feel like to be first in line for a new iPhone!), we were given a short speech by Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s SVP retail and online. She mapped out Apple’s strategy, pointing out its commitment to the sense of community by offering a place to interact, learn, experience and get support from staff and other customers.
We then got to browse the store, sorry, space to take in the delights in detail…
As you enter through the main doors you find yourself in an ‘Avenue’ of twelve Ficus Ali trees which are designed to bring the outside in. Product is displayed on tables as of old but at the other end of the space is a huge screen and informal seating area, which gives the store a whole different feel.
The space feels bright, yet comforting and inviting. There are lightbox panels that run the entire length of the store, giving a sense of calm daylight rather than the stark effect of the previous Apple store.
Of course this is a place where you can buy Apple products (including Apple Music), but that’s just the basics. Apple is positioning the store as a multi functioning experiential space where you can learn, be entertained, get support or just hang out.
The big screen and seating area serve as a focal point for events. These can be performances and educational talks with a special focus on entrepreneurship and creativity from artists, photographers, musicians, gamers and developers. And rather than dry presentation-style events, they will expand these into workshops, so customers can get involved, interact and learn. All this is free.
There are none. The vast Regent Street windows let you see inside the store, so rather than obstruct this view with displays, the walls serve as ‘window’ displays instead. There are frequently changing visual merchandising products displays as well as creative digital displays and animations. There are also living walls with built-in seating, again to give a welcoming community ‘come and hang out’ feel.
The architecture and design
The two-storey store (designed by Foster + Partners with Jonny Ive and Angela Ahrendts) feels spacious yet intimate. I think this is to do with the daylight lighting. There’s also the most gorgeous dove grey terrazzo flooring and twin staircases with polished Castagna stone handrails that feel as smooth and tactile as your favourite iPod.
The Genius bars and workshop tables are on the upper level. The layout is slightly different so that you sit side by side next to your Genius, not opposite. It’s about removing barriers so you feel more comfortable. As well as Geniuses, you can also talk to Creative Pros about your creative tech needs.
Apple is ramping up Apple Music in the store with music performances (check the Apple Regent Street website for a calendar of events) and more prominent music related product.
My favourite moment was being taken into Apple Regent Street boardroom, a suitably minimalist-modernist room with a bowl of apples on the table and design books on the shelves. This space is where the business team will offer advice and training to entrepreneurs, developers and other small business customers away from the hubbub of the rest of the store.
Apple Regent Street is at 235 Regent St, London W1B 2EL. I’m planning to spend a lot of time checking out all the free creative workshops and talks – the schedule can be found here…
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla; Starircase detail by Nigel Young/Foster + Partners
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