In the lexicon of retail design, two of the words most frequently encountered are “iconic” and “landmark”. Both are employed almost interchangeably and retailers have a habit of using them whenever they open a store of any size.
The unfortunate fact, however, is that the majority of shops are not iconic any more than they are landmarks. It is far more likely that they are the sort of places that will serve as one-day wonders: something that you will notice on the day they open and maybe for a week or two after that at best.
It is a truism that shoppers are fickle and that no sooner will they have wandered round a new store than they are ready to be dazzled by somewhere else. Perhaps for this reason, there will be a certain amount of scepticism surrounding anyone who chooses to dub a store debutante an iconic landmark.
There are some exceptions, though. David Reiss, owner of the eponymous fashion chain, has just opened a 10,000 sq ft (930 sq m) London flagship on Barrett Street, off Oxford Street and behind Gap. This might be considered off-pitch, but Reiss is quick to use the landmark word, in combination with another favourite: destination.
The store is spread over three floors and Reiss owns the entire building, which also houses the retailer’s headquarters. He says: “This is a building that is bang in the middle of London. And when we looked at what we wanted to do with it, we just wanted to get back to basics with a beautiful, pure space.
“We had been working [on the design of store interiors] with the same people for the past seven or eight years. This was an opportunity for us to create a clever, more architectural space.”
Reiss chose not to use long-time partner Draw Associates for the interior of its flagship store. Instead, the job was put out to pitch and Shoreditch’s Universal Design Studio was selected, although Draw continues to work on parts of the brand’s global roll-out. Universal is predominantly an architectural practice and the flagship design reflects this.
When it won the project, the consultancy was confronted by a structure whose internal shape and external appearance had been created by another architect firm, Squire and Partners. And it is on the outside, as shoppers stroll along Barrett Street, that the first indications of why David Reiss considers this store to be a landmark appear.
SITE TO BEHOLD
There are six floors, with the basement, ground and first floors set aside for retailing. The upper levels are where Reiss and his team control the operations of this rapidly expanding chain of “affordable luxury” stores.
The whole of the frontage, from pavement to flat roof, is clad in long panels of edge-lit fluted acrylic with gaps between them. This means that, at night, the entire building comes to life in a manner that would put most contemporary art galleries to shame and certainly draws the eye. Squire and Partners claims that the effect is reminiscent of a barcode. Whatever it reminds you of, this is one of the more arresting storefronts that shoppers are likely to see in the West End. The large upper-case REISS logo, with a stark, white, minimalist appeal, stands proud at the fourth-floor level.
Once through the triple-height glass front doors, the scale of the challenge that Reiss set Universal for its design of the ground floor is obvious. While the surface area may be the same size as the basement and first floors, the space – which houses women’s fashion – is much higher and enormous raw-concrete cylindrical pillars feature at various points throughout. The ceiling is also formed from raw concrete and it is clear that Universal was tasked with creating an engaging interior from a very stark site.
It is testimony to the collaborative nature of the relationship between the very hands-on David Reiss and Universal director Jonathan Clarke that anything unfinished has been allowed to remain at all. “I’ve never been one for keeping raw elements in stores, but we kept the ceilings and pillars,” says Reiss.
However, there is little else that is unworked about the rest of this floor and the raw pillars have been made a feature of. They form the centre of four floor-to-ceiling vitrines containing bottom-lit shelves that act as museum-style displays. The pillars run up through the building, extending into the menswear department on the first floor. Clarke explains: “The vitrines play on the verticality of the columns. You always have this decision with columns – whether to wrap them up or make a feature of them.”
At the centre of the ground floor is a staircase. This takes the form of a black cross and contrasts strongly with the light, high-gloss finish of the rest of the floor. “I wanted to make a big graphic statement in the store,” says Clarke. And, for shoppers, it means there are good sight-lines up to the first floor, with a mezzanine level on the staircase that allows time for shoppers to pause and admire the panorama.
From this perspective, the herringbone pattern of the cut-stone floor jumps out at the observer. So too do the quilted walls, decorated in a tasteful shade of beige, and the overlapping off-white porcelain tiles that form the backdrop to the cash and wrap area on one side of the floor and the accessories department on the other.
The lighting scheme is also notable throughout the store. It is lit brightly, but without being overwhelming. Designed by Light Technica, long strip lights are set into the floor at intervals around the perimeter, which provide uplighting for the walls.
On the first floor, in menswear, the ceiling is much lower. Clarke says the design is intended to be slightly more formal on one side, mirroring the transition from casual to formal clothing. Again, the pillars form the backdrop to the large vitrines, but on this level the display units extend out further from the pillars, giving room to position mannequins within them.
In the best traditions of luxury retailing, the rails are not crammed with long runs of the same garment. Instead, there is the sense that you are surrounded by a series of designer one-offs, even if the prices indicate that this is not the case: this is, after-all, the top end of the mid-market. As on the ground floor, the lighting is used to good effect, with long rectangular slabs recessed into the ceiling, creating panels of light.
The basement remains unused at the moment and Reiss says he is still considering what to do with it. At this point he dips into the retail design dictionary once more. “We really want this to be a destination store, so putting catering in would be an obvious solution. Maybe it should be like Colette [a designer store] in Paris, but it has to be a showcase for the brand. It has to be innovative,” he explains.
Given what has been done on the other two floors, it seems likely that, when the basement finally opens at some point next year, it too will be worth more than a single visit.
Reiss, Barrett St, W1
Size: 10,000 sq ft (930 sq m)
Interior design: Universal Design Studio
Building fabric and external architecture: Squire and Partners
Number of floors: three
Cost of internal design and fit-out to date: about£2.5 million