Retail has undergone colossal changes in the past five years and with the digitisation of modern commerce many clothing shops have fallen by the wayside. Nonetheless, physical retail is not dead, rather those willing to adapt and differentiate their stores in a sea of monotony have sought to reshape the retail landscape with an attitude built around identity and curation.
Eschewing the traditional store format, these ‘concept’ stores act as a curated vision: pulling together clothing, zines, ceramics, books and limited edition pieces in tune with a sharpened blueprint that determines stock. Elsewhere, by placing emerging names next to heavy-hitters, these spaces act as incubators for young talent, providing opportunities and shelf-space where traditional stores aren’t willing to take a risk.
Here, we speak to the concept stores at the forefront of London’s retail scene and some of the designers they stock.
Joe Bobowicz: Would you say the physical store has always been important to LN-CC’s identity?
Reece Crisp: Definitely. One thing I spoke to the CEO about when I came on board was that the space needs to be functional. When we’ve been showing brands recently we’ve been saying the space is as much yours as it is ours. With the ease of going online you have got to give the customer a reason to come in and that’s why we’ve got this programme where we work with brands on installations and launch events.
JB: Do you feel like putting the newer designers alongside more established designers at LN-CC helps the newer names gain recognition?
RC: Definitely, I think any store or any buyer that wants to nurture talent, part of that is placing them alongside your existing brand offer and that being a compliment to it. We’re not adding new brands to acquire traffic via Google. We are adding brands that we feel can be part of our identity.
JB: Do you feel like the store goes beyond a retail space?
RC: Definitely. We have the library which has been an integral part from the off. The founding members had a big love of music and hence the vinyl has been a big part from the start, and the club space – that being functional, not just a space for people to go and and say, “Oh this is cool.” We still do store mixes. With the Paria Farzaneh event, the DJs that played that evening had the opportunity to provide a store mix for our site.
JB: Could you give me a rundown of the store identity?
Carin Nakanishi: The store is a mix of men’s, women’s and homeware. I am the buyer for the menswear side, the Garbstore. The whole store, Couverture & The Garbstore is a lifestyle boutique. Couverture has more Scandinavian brands whereas the Garbstore mostly focuses on Japanese and American brands.
JB: Is it important to you guys that you have a physical store as well as the online store?
CN: Definitely. Obviously there are people who are huge in the online market place and we’re not trying to compete with that. We’re just curating things that we think are made really well, have an interesting story and are designed by people who we think are cool. All our brands are independent. It’s important for us to have our physical store for our identity because as soon as you go online it’s harder to curate an identity.
JB: Garbstore is a brand in it’s own right. I know you do collaborations with brands like Reebok, is that part of establishing yourselves as your own entity as well as a retailer?
CN: Yeah. We have always collaborated with different brands and it’s interesting to work on products you wouldn’t produce yourself. The first collab that came out was the Inside-Out Reebok Classic CL 600. It’s necessary to give our customers something exclusive to the store.
JB: Was it important to you that DSML as a stockist understood your work beyond a merely aesthetic level?
Liam Hodges: Working with DSML was really important when we started. They were the first store to give us free reign to do a physical installation in the store, in the old one on actual Dover Street. When we have new items going into stores we make a conscious effort to try and put together a package of material and literature for the staff so they can understand the product, its references and hopefully help them understand and engage with the brand. This season we are back in the new basement with an installation, presenting our collection referencing Mr Blobby and Noel’s House Party. To have a store buy into that and let us put it on show like this is really exciting.
JB: Was it important that DSM aligned with your brand’s sentiment?
Nicholas: I feel it is always important that my stockists understand my collections and overall vision. There is definitely synergy between my ethos and DSML. This is why it is great to be part of this community and for my clothing to be stocked with other brands that I respect. It is not just the brands but also DSML staff and customers who all come from different walks of life. DSML creates a meeting point for creative and cultural cross-pollination of ideas.
JB: DSML stocks many great brands, many of which focus on technique, be this Junya Watanabe or Thom Browne. Do you feel being stocked amongst these brands helps bring new recognition to your work?
Stefan Cooke: Dover Street Market has always had a history of housing some of the greatest designers in the world and being amongst brands such a Junya Watanabe, Thom Browne, Prada and many others is incredibly affirming. Its amazing the respect you receive from people in the industry when you become a part of Dover Street Market and the way the team support your growth through installations, or collaborations. Within our work we believe technique and craft is something that will stand the test of time, just like so many of the designers in Dover Street Market.
JB: What makes 50m more than a shop?
Tracey Suen: The community. We care about the designers not just the products. To us the people behind the clothes are just as important. All of our members are doing great things and doing it their way. Their stories and struggles are individual and we want to celebrate and share them.
JB: 50m focuses a lot on nurturing talent. What actions are you taking to ensure this happens?
TS: We have a mentor network to support our members. We actually held our first members and mentors dinner the other day. It was wonderful to have everyone in one place and already see inspiring conversations and connections being made. Alongside these more informal socials, we will also have workshops and talks open to the public. Our mentors will also be offering one-to-one mentoring for our members. We also provide a monthly report to our members which includes a sales report, a changing room report which is generated from our RFID tech we created which lets designers know how many times an item has been tried on, and shop floor feedback from customers which our sales assistants collect.
JB: Your collections closely dissect gender norms highlighting preconceived ideas surrounding identity. Was it important 50m understood your work conceptually?
Danshan: It’s absolutely essential for our retail partners to understand us and to stand by our brand value. As young independent fashion designers, we believe it is important for us to deliver our brand message to customers. Since we first started Danshan we have been trying to convey our views towards gender dynamics in our society with our designs – from cutting details, to colours and fabrication. Knowing the concept behind our story will definitely help to show the true value behind each item we’ve placed in 50m.
JB: Was it important that as a stockist 50m mirrored the sentiment of your work?
Daniel Fletcher: Absolutely, it is really important for me that all of my stockists, not just 50m reflect what I am trying to say with the brand and that the collection sits within the store. One of the most appealing aspects of 50m is that I get to choose the pieces that are sold there and curate the selection myself. This allows me to tell the full story of the brand and the collection; whereas with my wholesale stockists that is down to the buyer. One of the things I often do with my stockists is offer them exclusive pieces, this means that customers are getting a slightly different experience with each store they visit, likewise in 50m I can also offer some of the more bespoke pieces which don’t always make it to wholesale.