How London’s Concept Stores Are Taking a Creative Approach to Fashion

Comme des Garçons installation, Dover Street Market
Comme des Garçons installation, Dover Street Market | © Image courtesy of Dover Street Market
Photo of Sarah Leigh Bannerman
Fashion Editor14 November 2018

There’s no denying the negative impact that online shopping has had on the London high street in recent years, but the capital’s coolest concept stores continue to push the boundaries of innovation with their creative take on the shopping experience.

From after-hours events to art installations and cross-genre collaborations, London’s most reputable concept stores are experimenting with innovative ways to inspire fashion lovers.

5 Carlos Place showcases how MATCHESFASHION.COM is thinking outside the box to present a well-rounded ‘lifestyle’ experience to its visitors. Launched in 2018, the converted townhouse in Mayfair is a hub of activity and celebrates interests outside of the fashion world, even hosting intimate supper clubs with some of the city’s most reputable chefs as part of its calendar.

MATCHESFASHION.COM supper club event at 5 Carlos Place, Mayfair, 2018 | © Image courtesy of MATCHESFASHION.COM

Other events on the schedule include panel discussions, book signings and brand events, and there’s an ever-changing fashion installation on the ground floor. The space also boasts a personal shopping suite, offering customers an elevated take on the indulgent service, but the brand considers it secondary to the overall experience.

“Now more than ever, our customer wants everything in his/her life to feel considered,” says chief brand officer Jess Christie. “People want to be educated about new designers, about the provenance of the clothes that they buy and to understand the story behind a brand. I don’t think people want to – nor have the time to – live in a compartmentalised way, so it makes sense to connect all areas and have original conversations.”

No matter how subtle, immersive experiences and joint or cross-genre collaborations are becoming increasingly common. Dover Street Market (DSM) has been championing the approach since its inception in 2004. Considered the first London concept store, it was originally located in Mayfair before being moved by founders Adrian Joffe and Rei Kawakubo to a large, Grade II-listed building on Haymarket in 2016.

Dover Street Market installation, 2018, London | © Image courtesy of Dover Street Market

Each floor offers a different sensory experience and there’s a focus on fusing art and design with fashion. Every three months the main installation on the ground floor changes to reflect a new theme. It’s a complex process and one that’s unique to DSM. Joffe told Forbes magazine in 2016: “[DSM] endeavours to provide a wonderful selection of the best brands, carefully curated, in an atmosphere of beautiful chaos created by a mix of exciting visual experiences.”

Unlike most multibrand stores, designers stocked have the freedom to curate their own space in a way that suits their collection. Hussein Chalayan, the founder of London-based label Chalayan, is one such name on the bill and his beautifully draped men’s and women’s designs have been stocked in DSM since 2008. As a visionary and a creative, he recognises the benefit of the approach. “DSM is a great partner for us. It empowers brands to showcase their own vision and the in-store presentation is a collaborative effort,” he says.

Stella McCartney’s flagship space on Old Bond Street is equally focused on experience and communicates the designer’s longstanding message of sustainable fashion over product. Since opening its doors in 2018, the shop has hosted designer-sneaker-signing events and presented an emotive short film directed by David Lynch. Its quirky interior features, which have also garnered media attention, include a recycled wall, an in-store rockery and a clean-air ventilation system.

Stella McCartney flagship store, Old Bond Street | © Image courtesy of Stella McCartney

But it’s not just retail giants like these who are developing the idea of the concept store. Covent Garden’s The Shop at Bluebird also provides a well-rounded shopping experience. It’s home to a curated presentation by the Fashion Illustration Gallery and in 2018, it hosted health practitioner Jasmine Hemsley of Sound Sebastien – a pop-up offering sound-bath experiences – for a three-day residency. Manager Claire Miles says: “Our customer’s journey through the store is focused on sight, sound and touch, and Sound Sebastien takes the sensory experience to an unforgettable new level. We will always nurture up-and-coming talent across different genres and we believe that this is truly unique.”

In a world where fashion retail is now expected to provide something more than just a space to shop, London’s concept stores – both established and emerging – are raising the bar.

Sound Sebastien at The Shop at Bluebird, London, 2018 | © Image via In-addition PR

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