Clothing brand Ben Sherman has given its Carnaby Street flagship a complete revamp and the result is one of the best-looking stores along this avenue of fashion. John Ryan visits
Ben Sherman’s been in Carnaby Street for years, well since 2002, to be precise. Prior to that the archetypal Mod brand had been around since 1963, but this was its first standalone shop. And more than half a century ago, there really was a Mr Sherman who started making shirts from a small factory in Brighton before the business moved to London to embrace the swinging 60s.
Now, as well as outlets in London, Birmingham and Lakeside, the brand is to be found across the US, South Africa, Pacific east Asia and Germany, but the flagship remains on Carnaby Street.
And this status quo is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, thanks to the makeover that has just been completed at the store. Created courtesy of design consultancy Brinkworth and now set to form the template for an international roll-out, the first thing that strikes the visitor, apart from the clothes themselves, is the tiles.
These are of the high gloss glazed variety that might have been associated with a scullery, a workroom or something that would be found ‘below stairs’ in Downton Abbey perhaps. For the most part, they are cream, but there are highlight areas on the pillars and storefront that use various shades of brown to add interest. They provide a sense of heritage and nostalgia, rather than anything overtly modern and this is reinforced by the use of dark wood on the mid-shop tables and a glass-topped counter at the rear of the ground floor.
The latter stands proud of ‘The Shirt Bar’, the back wall where checked, striped and plain shirts are piled on top of each other, seemingly at random, in a reminder of how men’s shirt retailing might once have been conducted in pre-gondola days. Next to the shirts, there are a series of small shelves bearing shirt collars of the kind an Edwardian gent might have been familiar with in the starching and pressing era.
The area provides a focal point for what is a relatively complex interior where there is much to distract the gaze on both floors. As well as featuring tabled merchandise, the ground floor also houses side-hung stock, placed on rails along the window line and the fitting rooms. Even allowing for the black Anglepoise lights that frame the entrance to each fitting room cubicle, these do appear as if an old-time photographer’s room has collided with a men’s lavatory… in a positive way.
The other touch on this level is the floor to ceiling glass display cabinet that is filled with rolls of cloth, bringing to mind a tailor’s stockroom. This is positioned to break up the space as you look across the floor and to add interest to the view for those heading down to the basement, where formalwear awaits.
The basement is not as large as the ground floor, but the ambiance is trendy Savile Row, with much attention being paid to showing off the fit of the suits and the heritage of the brand. Again, Anglepoise lights are used to break up the perimeter sightline and the same white and coloured tiles are used as upstairs. The floor is concrete throughout, with a reclaimed oak parquet floor used to provide an accent for selected areas.
All of which would be enough in its own right for most stores, but the standout feature of this shop is the windows. This features a pneumatically controlled moving rail system that turns the garments suspended from it in order that the viewer can take a look from the side, front and back. Reeded glass has been used around the display to offer a diffused view into the store.
The store sells standard Ben Sherman merchandise and Plectrum, a secondary brand that is slightly more expensive and modish than the mainline.
All in all, this is a store design that can easily be exported elsewhere – although not to the unbranded Portobello Road branch where a more boutique-like approach has been adopted. The quality of the fit-out is such that this will not be a cheap option, but it does serve to show that if novelty is sought, raiding the past can be just as effective as working to create something entirely without precedent.