The opening of Westfield Stratford City has arguably been the retail highlight of 2011, but now the dust has settled and the crowds have dispersed, Emma Morgan takes a closer look at the re-branding initiatives used by some of our favourite high street names
We know that you know that Westfield Stratford City is pretty amazing, and you most certainly don’t need to be told again, but now the crowds have dispersed somewhat (note I’m writing this in October, therefore it’s now December, which means the Christmas rush is in full swing, probably making that statement a complete lie), we can delve into the re-branding and innovative designs created by some of the high street’s best loved retailers.
Westfield was always going to be one of the biggest events to happen to the industry over the last five years, and retailers large and small immediately saw it as an opportunity to revamp, re-brand and even re-launch. For some it was the perfect platform to show creativity, go beyond expectations and thrash the competition with something that could only be done in a large location. For others, it was the ideal moment to beat recession-induced struggles.
First up is the return of Base – back to its East End roots. The family-run company returned to Stratford after a 21-year absence, since closing its former Stratford store in 1990. Two stores, Base and Boys Base, are located on the lower ground floor. The units connect internally and have showcased a range of new brands, including Ralph Lauren, Converse, Firetrap and Levi’s – to name a few.
Base’s original store closed after 25 years in Stratford high street, after the retailer found trading opportunities limited. Westfield provided the chance to re-launch the store and return to where the brand was born. Marc Granditer, managing director for Base said: ‘Base returns to Stratford with a mixture of nostalgia and confidence. We look forward to renewing old acquaintances as well as making new friends.’
Topshop opened its second largest store within the UK and showcased a new design concept, containing the very best of the brand’s mainline and designer collaborations. Spread over 1,950 sq m across two floors, the store features a glass-free, double-height 70m frontage, creating maximum impact and allowing easy access.
Once inside, the space feels premium, sleek and glossy. Smoked glass walls and staircases look modern, and theatrical lighting and spotlights add drama. A 33m avenue of mannequins stretches through the middle of the store, with the space including an interactive public area for Topshop to interact with its customers and host workshops. An iPad bench area will be available for customers to access the website and blog.
Commenting on the brand’s creativity, Tanya Reynolds, creative director of Proportion London said: ‘Many of the multi retailers steered away from their usual identities, challenged with the pressures of recent retail downturns and the need to outdo their competitors.
‘Topshop, as usual made a step-change, choosing to maximise edgy concept trials experimented with in their flagship hotbed Oxford Circus store.’
Many retailers used the launch to experiment with visual merchandising. Marks & Spencer introduced a number of concepts to maximise some of its best-loved brands. In collaboration with Proportion London, which effectively propelled the visual theatre forward, the retailer selected a number of its manufactured mannequins, bust forms and lingerie presenters. The FLUID collection was used throughout the lingerie area to endorse femininity of the merchandise while fitting the product.
Reynolds said: ‘Marks & Spencer wanted to make the very best of the store layout and product adjacencies, while providing distinctly segmented areas for each brand. The visual presentation is all-important within this plan, allowing the customers to clearly identify which brands best meet their personal style. The VM equipment throughout the store was created to represent and complement sub brands, ensuring customers would be able to identify particular areas swiftly.’
It’s evident that the stores at Westfield have been clever with design, focusing on the layout while still making the effort to create visual impact. Reynolds added: ‘Many store layouts flowed seamlessly, guiding customers and highlighting particularly aspirational merchandise. The build-up to the launch as a benchmark retail centre obviously incited brands to experiment and develop, given the opportunity for large numbers of visitors in the run up to the Olympics.’
River Island is a clear example of an experimenting brand. The Westfield store embodies a completely different concept to previous stores, immediately attracting and inviting customers. Introducing a new logo and façade, it was the first store to have this treatment. Reflecting a traditional East End vibe, with cream and green brick tiling and a curved bar system, the store is distinctive architecturally, further enhanced by its individual 3D and LED illuminated letters.
In-store, a range of PoS is used, including a variety of mannequins and styles with an electric feel. The interior features a VIP department with mirrored walls, illuminated billboards, Art Deco-style jewellery section and quilted ceilings.
For the first time, the Arcadia Group located Miss Selfridge alongside Dorothy Perkins and Burtons, while Kurt Geiger is positioned with Nine West since purchasing the brand. With lucrative designs, bright lights and flawless merchandising, a stroll through Westfield highlights the fact that retailers have gone all out in a bid to beat competition. Even Primark featured a re-brand in order to match its price increases and be on par with competitors, such as H&M and New Look.
Standing out from the crowd, and a clear winner on design and concept – for me at least – is John Lewis. Opening its first store for 20 years, the most contemporary John Lewis to date features 70 per cent new shopping concepts.
Covering an area of 24,000 sq m and costing £35m, the Stratford store features a luxury shop fit and design. The home concept features room sets showcasing the latest designs and layouts to inspire customers. The electronics department has been given a radical new look too. Created by Dalziel and Pow, which also designed the womenswear section, it combines an inspirational and interactive experience with products and technology experts on hand to solve all dilemmas.
The modern, four-storey building, designed by architect Crispin Wride, boasts an uninterrupted view over the Olympic Park and beyond. Considered a landmark building, John Lewis features a glazed frontage with a ceramic, circular pattern, designed to symbolise the circle of generations in Stratford enabled by the Westfield development and partners working towards London 2012 and its legacy.
Hosting a team of experts on home interior design, fashion, fitness and childcare, John Lewis includes eateries, a Waitrose outlet and a selection of specially commissioned art with paintings and installations on display. It would appear all of lifes problems could be solved with a trip to John Lewis.
Still drawing in the crowds, the latest concepts and innovative designs at Westfield appear to be working a treat for retailers, it almost makes one think, ‘recession, what recession?’ As Christmas approaches and seasonal styles change, watch this space – or should I say, window?