News broke last week that Debenhams, one of the UK’s biggest department store chains, is closing 50 stores. I worked as a sales girl at Debenhams in Oxford Street during my art student years and I loved it. I worked with amazing people, liked selling and would pop across the road to the Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf exhibitions at the Anthony d’Offay gallery in my lunch hour.
I haven’t really shopped there as an adult, other than occasionally for beauty or pots and pans. I’m more of a high-end heritage shopper or I go to the minimalist stores like Cos and Arket. But it’s a serious warning sign that retail really is changing. Debenhams’ competitors like John Lewis & Partners and Selfridges have been much better at creating a modern lifestyle destination, which taps into the idea that stores aren’t only for shopping.
I got a look at the newly refurbished Apple store in Covent Garden on Friday (below) and one of the points it hammered home is how bricks and mortar retail is about more than the transaction. Apple flagships are laid out around ‘town squares’ – complete with seating and real trees! – where customers are encouraged to meet, hang out or just use the Wi-Fi.
In front of the giant ‘forum’ screens you can join its brilliant #todayatapple classes and demonstrations where you can learn from and directly interact with tech experts and creatives. Apple has really nailed the idea of community and culture in retail, something that’s echoed in the streetwear scene.
Matches has also experimented with its store strategy. The latest is a townhouse in Mayfair with pop-up shoppable installations as well as offbeat events like cookery masterclasses. It’s like a flexible space that does so much more than just sell product. But while I’m a big fan of the ‘hometail’ concept, it appears it’s not always a successful strategy. Business of Fashion reports that Vanessa Traina’s The Line won’t be renewing the lease of its New York bricks-and-mortar ‘The Apartment’ store (below), which will close in February 2019. (However, happily the e-commerce operation and Los Angeles store will remain open.)
In more positive news, another US cult favourite, Tiina the Store in Amagansett has had a Studio Toogood refurb and looks like heaven (top and below). For stateside readers, you can buy Perfumer H fragrances here, alongside some of my favourite brands including Sofie D’Hoore and Casey Casey. It has a really personal vibe to it but I think the key to bringing stores like this to life is lots of human interaction. Meet and greets, themed evenings, fun workshops, they all help build a micro-community of fans who want to support your store even if they don’t walk out with a purchase there and then. Tiina the Store got the memo. It’s planning a series of designer takeovers, including a dinner series next summer hosted by Sonya Park from Arts + Science. No purchase necessary.
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Tiina The Store x 2 by Christopher Sturman for The New York Times; Apple Covent Garden; The Apartment by The Line
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