The biggest retail opening of 2018 was Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross. This former Victorian railway sidings for coal coming into London from the north has been transformed, thanks to Thomas Heatherwick, into a contemporary retail destination.
Left - Koibird in Marylebone
While the kissing roofs are elegant and memorable, the rest of the development is less inspiring. The brand list is the type concocted by an architect who is shopping like a design magazine rather than the realities of retail in 2019. It feels a bit 10 years ago and doesn’t acknowledge the recent Guccification of the world. We really doesn’t need anymore boring “designer” shops.
A case in point is the Paul Smith store. Housed in the former Bagley’s nightclub, you’d expect some sort of crazy ecstasy interior: testament to the many clubbers who wore Paul Smith on the dance floor. But, no. There’s even a white wall.
It’s 2019 and we’re in the “Age of Bonkers” when it comes to retail and if a shop doesn’t have you reaching for your phone to take a picture straight away then they’re clearly doing something wrong. Retail needs to wow, it needs to shock, it needs to entertain, otherwise you can get everything else online.
You need people to mouth “that’s cool” when they walk in or see something, especially when you’re trying to create a destination, as is the case here. This isn’t need: this is visitor attraction with the hope of souvenirs purchased. It’s that excitement and rush of shoppers' adrenaline that makes people glad they left the house. It’s not just about being conceptual, it’s about fun, wit and being relatable and current.
We often forget how experimental retail once was. From the Victorian pioneers of the department store to the independent boutiques of the 60s to the cool minimalism of the 90s and this was all pre-internet. Now, it’s more important than ever to give physical retail a fighting chance and bonkers it should be.
Examples include Koibird in Marylebone and Gentle Monster, the Korean eyewear brand, who opened their first UK store on Soho’s Argyll Street last year, both creating and refreshing interiors that stimulate and keep people coming back.
The Koibird store recently closed for two months while the interior was changed from their beach concept to their ski store. Founder, Belma Gaudio, established Koibird out of her frustrations of not being able to find clothes to match her holiday destinations. The new ski concept is another instagrammable interior featuring the colourfully rounded Koibird “K”. “Koibird is on a mission to inject some much needed playfulness into skiwear.” Gaudio told British Vogue when she recently unveiled it.
Right - Gentle Monster Argyll Street, Soho
Gentle Monster, a Korean sunglasses and optical glasses brand founded by Hankook Kim, was established in Seoul in 2011. “I wanted the products to look as if they were being exhibited.” said Kim in 2016. Today, they have over 40 stores worldwide and employ 6 people to design its eyewear compared to 60 people to design the store visuals. This shows the priority of their interiors within the company and the Seoul flagship is transformed every 25 days.
While these types of continual makeovers can be expensive, it can also be minimised with enough imagination. This is the traditional idea of changing windows becoming a fully immersive and experiential retail experience.
Fragrance is something physical and as such, Ostens, a new perfume brand by Laurent Delafon and Christopher Yu, has created a pop-up store in Marylebone, to showcase its debut. Open until the end of February, it is an abstract showcase of their new brand.
“We love Gentle Monster, we love spaces that drag you in , that speak to your curiosity. And this is the main idea behind Ostens: olfactive curiosity and discovery through the exploration of the ingredients.” says Delafon.
“So, we set up the space in 3 distinct areas, part of ‘journey’ taking you from the ingredient to the perfume: the Rose oil from Isparta, in the neon lit front room, magnified and presented like an objet d’art.” he says.
"All the rooms are appealing, they are fun, they are instagramable, and they are attracting people that wouldn’t necessarily been attracted by a ‘normal’ perfume shop.” says Delafon. “If you create spaces that are enjoyable, exciting and surprising places for your consumers to interact with the brand, you enhance their experience, and you make the whole purchasing act much more than simply about the product.” he says.
“The idea is to change the whole set-up of the store every two months. Like an art gallery would change its exhibitions. We intend to move Ostens to a central location, where the store will be more of a white box in which we will be able to rotate sculptures, videos installations, theatre sets, interactive displays..To parody Magritte…’this is not a perfume shop’!” says Delafon.
Left - New fragrance brand, Ostens, launching with a bonkers pop-up shop in Marylebone
Retailers are fighting for people’s time. You need something to grab people’s attention, make them stop and have a desire to enter and explore. Half the battle is getting your product in front of people, then at least you have a chance of a sale.
The home page on Koibird’s website reads “Never Boring…” and this is exactly how physical retail needs to think.
Walk into Selfridges’ new eyewear department and you’ll see a noticeable change in the eyewear market. Amongst the acres of grey terrazzo and perfectly lit vanity mirrors, you’ll discover 2,200 eyewear styles from 50 brands, some costing nearly £8000.
This is eyewear placed in equal importance to the other accessories in Selfridges’ refreshed accessory department - the largest in the world at 60,000 sq ft and costing in excess of £300m. Sitting alongside the luxury handbags and designer boutiques, it illustrates the new focus from luxury goods companies on their eyewear product. It is no longer the rather side-lined licensing cash-cow it once was and as such, is no longer taken for granted.
Left - Selfridges' new eyewear department on the ground floor
Much like the perfume business, niche players have entered the eyewear market, offering difference and quality. The designer brands are sitting up and taking notice and while Selfridges’ new eyewear department is run by the Luxottica, owner of Ray-Ban and many other designer licenses, it hasn’t completely monopolised it with its own brands.
New brands to Selfridges include Fak by Fak and Project Produkt, while others, such as Grey Ant, Retrosuperfuture and Thiery Lasry, have created exclusive styles for the space.
The eyewear market is actually experiencing the reverse of what is happening in other categories. Luxury brands are putting more focus and input into their product and increasing the quality and workmanship in order to compete. At the same time, thanks to brands like Gucci, eyewear has become an integral part of a look or outfit and it’s the bolder, the better ethos, right now, that is making eyewear sales rocket.
“The industry's certainly going through a time of flux. At one end you've got the old guard consolidating - Luxottica and Essilor being the obvious, gargantuan example. Then at the other, you've got a whole bunch of new own-branded entrants. And then in the middle, you've got the high street multiples (who still collectively control over 70% of the market in the UK).” says Tom Broughton, Founder of Cubitts.
It wasn’t long ago the branded eyewear market was a duopoly dominated by the Italian giants of Safilo and Luxottica. In 2014, the luxury conglomerate, Kering, eyeing the potential of cutting out of the middle man in their eyewear business, terminated the licenses with Safilo for brands including Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent.
Right - Gucci has really lead the way in pushing mainstream experimental styles
“To maximise the development of its brand portfolio, Kering decided to internalise the value chain for its eyewear activities, from product creation and development to supply chain management, sales and marketing.” says its press release.
“Through this project, Kering is putting in place an innovative way of managing its eyewear operations, which will lead to significant value-creation opportunities and enable the group to fully capture the sheer growth potential of its houses in this category, in a global market which is sizeable and in which the high-end segment is enjoying substantial growth.” it says.
Today, ‘Kering Eyewear’ designs, develops and distributes eyewear for Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, McQ, Boucheron, Pomellato, Brioni, Christopher Kane and Puma.
Kering understand the profits and growth to be seen in eyewear and by taking it in-house, it cuts out a cost plus adds control. The results have seen more distinctive styles imbued with the individual brands’ DNAs. It is lead by Roberto Vedovotto who was previously CEO of the Safilo Group.
“For the last couple of decades, 'designer' eyewear has really meant branded eyewear. And so those who controlled access to those brands - big players like Luxottica and Safilo - controlled much of the market. But I think there's a general change in consumer appetite for more independent brands, particularly those mono-brands who just try do thing one thing exceptionally well. Our old friend the internet has meant that it's also possible for small start up brands to sell directly to end consumers, rather than be encumbered by the traditional wholesale model.” says Broughton.
Alistair Benson, Managing Director Eyesite Opticians, says “The big fashion houses are, now, more concerned with producing distinctive eyewear with better quality that adds to the success of their other product lines. We saw Céline remodel their already best selling ‘Shadow’ piece, introducing new and improved hinges and additional colours. An example of an already proven and successful formula being upgraded just to ensure it stays at the front of the pack.
“As competition grows, fashion houses inevitably need to ensure they are producing more innovative products to stand out. Another reason for this is the rise of niche/cult brands and start-ups; take the jazz inspired Black Eyewear for example. All-in-all, it makes for a much more stimulating market that benefits today’s highly engaged consumer, who now have more choice than ever before. From our own perspective, as a retailer, we have had to adapt to this change, responding quickly to shifts in certain trends and the overnight rise of new cult brands to ensure our own customers have everything they need and more.”
Left - One of the most famous eyewear wearers - Elton John inspiring the Gucci catwalk
Gordon Ritchie, MD of Kirk Originals, says “Recent years has seen the emergence of smaller niche eyewear labels appearing that offer handmade, up to bespoke quality, eyewear collections and a number of people like ourselves are making in England.
“It is driven by smaller niche players and I think this is a reaction against the handful of huge corporations that now dominate the global eyewear business and between them actually produce pretty much everything with a "big" brand name on it.” he says.
Niche brands are offering more artisan and limited product, but the big boys have recognised this and are moving into this area. The margins on eyewear are large and there’s everything to play for. Luxottica, reported a 2 percent rise in 2017’s sales to 9.16 billion euros and Safilo had full-year sales totalling 1.05 billion euros.
Designer fashion brands have made eyewear an integral part of their fashion collections. These flamboyant styles have resonated with consumers especially with its entry price points. But, smaller, niche players are offering individuality which attracts many consumers to well designed and made eyewear.
“I think this is a result of people growing in confidence in expressing themselves, probably helped along by them being exposed to so many images on a daily basis on Instagram. Instagram can be inspiring but also allows you to feel you’re not the only one pushing the boundaries a little bit by being bold in your choices in colours and styles.” says Ritchie.
“I think people will increasing see a pair of spectacles or sunglasses as a defining piece of their wardrobe, rather than merely a medical accoutrement to help them see.” says Broughton.
People are buying many more pairs to suit different outfits and moods. Add in the recent fashion of coloured lenses and it broadens the scope of choice. “We believe that people will continue to look for more individuality in their eyewear, too. Much like other countries in Europe, we expect increasing numbers of customers to buy 3–5 sets of frames each year in order to mix it up and achieve a different look whenever they want.” says Mary-Frances Kelly, Marketing Manager at Optical Express.
“Fashion in general has become more experimental, and people are realising that they can achieve a different look with a certain style or colour of frame. And it’s not just the under-30’s who are fashion conscious – across the generations, we’re more style-aware about everything, including glasses, than ever before.” says Kelly.
This is something really positive. It reflects a thriving market. The big brands have recognised the threat and, wanting to hold onto the many hundreds of million of dollars involved, are focussing on directional styles and quality. This leads to better product and choice for everybody. They have, thankfully, realised that simply putting different names on the same glasses just isn’t enough anymore. Add the maximalist mood in fashion and everybody wanting to be an Elton John or Iris Apfel, then you have a very bold, experimental and receptive market. Let’s hope this type of thinking enters other sectors of the luxury business.
There was an American brand - Brashy Studio - who got a lot of online flak, recently, for selling safety glasses as a fashion accessory and charging $25 for the privilege. They cost £1.42 at B&Q BTW.
But, they were definitely onto something as clear frames and light lenses are the way to go this summer. I saw this pair from Korean brand Gentle Monster, who are set to open a store in London shortly, and there’s something one part chemistry teacher and one part Gucci catwalk that I love about them.
While they have that safety glasses vibe they’re far cooler than that and the lenses have full UV protection. Experiment!
Left & Below - Gentle Monster - Afix 02 - $310
More SS18 eyewear inspo? Try The Hamburglar Sunglasses here
I haven’t seen McDonald’s Hamburglar for years, maybe he’s been keeping a low profile, anyway, he’s the inspo. for this season’s shades.
Left & Below - Illesteva - Vinyl - £195
These thick, oval 'Vinyl' frames from Illesteva - the name is a take on the hip-hop expression 'Illest evuh' - are the perfect stylish disguise. Today’s sunglasses are all about making you feel like a character and orange
lenses not only brighten your day, they also add a retro, mysterious touch to your look.
Right - McDonald's Hamburglar - Where has he been?
Founded by designers Daniel Silberman and Jus Ske in 2010, Illesteva is grounded in their backgrounds of music, fashion and photography. New York-based, their eyewear is crafted in premium materials like titanium, buffalo horn and bamboo.
These are firmly on TheChicGeek's down-low SS18 Hot List.
See another character inspiring TheChicGeek this season The Beetlejuice Striped Suit
More eyewear inspo? The Chemistry Teacher Shades