Knightsbridge based department store, Harvey Nichols, has been busy excavating their basement. Long the home of their menswear offering, this cavernous yet claustrophobic space is, we are told, being completely made over ready for its unveiling in spring 2016.
Left - Harvey Nichols' new store in Birmingham which gives us the direction stylistically of the Knightsbridge store's new men's basement.
So, what’s new? I recently attended a presentation of theirs describing how the new spaces are going to look. Bye, bye shop-in-shops and branded concessions: long the bastion of mega-brands, physically claiming prime spots in-store to be replaced by easily changeable spaces and the mixing of brands.
I'd like to think of it as a more democratic form of shopping: allowing labels to speak to people solely on product alone without the pre-judgement of walking over to a branded section or the muscling out of smaller brands by placing them in the parts of the store these mega-brands don’t want.
The big brands won’t like this. They will sell less. There will now be an equal playing field between them and whichever new brands Harvey Nichols decide to stock. It also allows Harvey Nichols to drop brands faster, regardless of size, to keep pace with the speed of fashion and allowing new brands to bring excitement and interest into their physical store.
People are tired of seeing the same brands everywhere regardless of how expensive they are. It also allows a form of curation rather than simply a mini-mall of the same designer names which you can find the world over.
Harvey Nichols know they can’t compete with the likes of Harrods and Selfridges on menswear floor space, so, they are making theirs more flexible and less static. This is a very clever idea.
Right - More interiors from Harvey Nichols Birmingham. Let's hope London looks this good
In order to survive shops need to become destinations. They need to offer something you can’t find anywhere else: something new, fresh and inspiring. They also have to flow, both visibly and physically, and, ultimately, part time-poor people with their cash.
One of the more interesting ideas they have is putting all the same things together. So, white T-shirts, tuxedos etc., all at different price points, selected by Harvey Nichols, are together with the sales assistants explaining the differences between them all.
Fashion’s big names have long earnt their corners of the big stores, but they sell more and remain powerful because they have the best positions and are, therefore, stuck in a positive cycle which is very hard to break, making retail spaces look the same every time and everywhere. It all becomes quite predictable and menswear buyers and the retailers want something different and exciting while still retaining the spend.
Harvey Nichols is seeing this refresh as an opportunity to try something new. No doubt they’ll be some difficult discussions with brands, but I hope they hold their ground and give these ideas a chance to prove that the customer, now, buys into good product rather than brands. Menswear just got a level playing field!
Opening April 2016
Here to launch their Woolmark Prize winning men’s collection at Harvey Nichols, TheChicGeek grabbed design duo, Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow of American fashion label, Public School, for a couple of minutes to talk Made in the USA, DKNY and state schools
Left - Not your average public schoolboys! Dao-Yi & Maxwell of Public School
Winners of the inaugural International Woolmark Menswear Prize, Public School has been gaining attention over the last few seasons and has been tasked with the makeover of American fashion giant DKNY. The winning Woolmark collection is in their signature black and features machine body-conscious hoodies, sweaters and leggings and is available Harvey Nichols Knightsbridge and Matchesfashion.com.
Where did the name Public School come from? “It’s from the idea of New York being a melting pot. Public School is about not being an intimidating designer name: we wanted to make it something everybody could get into it,” says Maxwell.
Do they realise that public school means something completely different in the UK? I suggested they renamed the label ‘State School’, “We need to change the labels here!” laughs Maxwell.
So, they’ve just taken over at DKNY, will they be doing the menswear and what can we expect?
“No, just women’s. As for men’s, they’re exiting the business. Maybe in a couple of years it will return,” says Dao.
Right - The new Woolmark Prize winning men's knitwear on display at Harvey Nichols London
How would they sum up Public School for those not familiar with the label?
“It’s a men’s and women’s designer collection based out of New York and also the production is done in New York City. It’s around this idea of convergence and mixing,” Dao says.
How do they find production in the USA and doesn’t it make selling in Europe prohibitively expensive?
“Production is difficult in general. But, it’s easier for a company of our size, now, which is small, to keep production in the US,” says Dao.
“We have to get creative. Give a retailer discount if they can buy more to off-set the difference,” says Maxwell.
The Public School Woolmark Collection is available at Harvey Nichols & Matchesfashion.com - Prices - £235 - £740