Massimo Dutti’s UK presence has so far been muted but the Inditex brand’s new Oxford Street store puts it in the limelight, says John Ryan
Massimo Dutti is an Italian name – the sort of tag you’d perhaps associate with a somewhat over-slick individual maybe wearing a sharp suit and dark glasses.
In spite of the fact that it’s been in this country since 2003, it’s still something of a surprise therefore to find that Massimo Dutti turns out to be another Inditex fascia, sitting alongside the likes of Bershka, Pull and Bear and, of course, Zara.
In fairness, although there are times when it might seem that Inditex has a virtual monopoly on outlandish store monikers, Massimo Dutti was not of its making, having been a company and name that the Spanish giant acquired during the 1990s.
The other reason that it might not have registered as fully on the radar as Bershka and Zara is that although it’s more than half a decade since the brand made its UK debut (its website needs a little attention – it states that a flagship will open on Regent Street in December… 2003), there are still only a handful of outlets in this country. The great bulk of these are in London and it is reasonable to say that although a flagship did indeed open on Regent Street, the focus of attention has now shifted to Oxford Street following the opening of a new store there a couple of weeks ago.
It is also worth noting that there have been Massimo Dutti stores in Birmingham and Manchester, but these appear not to have worked as they have closed. Inditex UK and Ireland managing director Dilip Patel says that the brand appeals to tourists, whether from abroad or from other parts of the UK, and that the present strategy is to continue building brand awareness via the London store portfolio – there are eight stores in the capital and two in Kent.
The Oxford Street store is located opposite John Lewis, mid-way along the street, and its exterior is startlingly white. There used to be a branch of Gap here, but all traces of that shopfront have been expunged as the site has undergone a major structural overhaul, inside and out.
The outcome is a shop that Patel says is among the best looking in the area.
“I walk up and down the street and perhaps with the exception of Selfridges, which is a listed building, I really do think that this and Pull and Bear [Massimo Dutti’s immediate neighbour and part of the same building] look great. I think, ‘There are few as good as this’,” he says.
However, in spite of this he mentions that even though the Massimo Dutti shopfront, with its beautiful, curved, 180-degree snub-nose window, is only two weeks old, modest change is on the way. “We want the store to have a black wooden panelled door, so that the front is not totally white,” he says. He adds that this may be some way off, as progress will be dependent on agreeing a suitable price to get the work done as well as obtaining the relevant permissions from Westminster.
Chic and sophisticated
Inside, however, things are rather more set in stone, and wood – with a shopfit that carries all the Massimo Dutti hallmarks of Continental sophistication. The two-level store has a fit-out that is without doubt expensive, as is evidenced by the ceramic marble floors and the seemingly endless amounts of dark wood that line the perimeter. But in this store, it’s the visual merchandising that does the bulk of the work in persuading shoppers to spend.
Patel points out that there are also several elements of store layout and ranging that are different from the other UK branches. “We’ve put menswear in the basement. Normally it would always be on the ground floor and this is the first time that we’ve included the Massimo Dutti kids’ range in a UK store,” he says.
Looking around though, the first thing that would probably strike the casual visitor is that this ought to be the kind of place where digging deep into the wallet might be required. There is much in the 8,610 sq ft shop’s internal appearance that might seem strangely familiar to shoppers who have visited the sole UK outpost of Gap brand Banana Republic, on Regent Street.
On both floors there are mid-shop life-styled vignettes, some with carefully arranged runner rails next to them that allow shoppers to select the outfits that are on display without scouting around to find where the various pieces are.
At the back of womenswear, on the ground floor, there is a lounge area complete with the skin of a dead African quadruped of some kind, acting as a carpet. Low wooden tables are used across the whole of the ground floor, each occupied by posed mannequins with the stock that they are wearing piled up next to them.
All of which gives the feeling of a louche, old-moneyed apartment, a sense reinforced by the square-looking padded velvet chairs and the extensive use of carefully selected visual merchandising props. The latter are found everywhere and form an eclectic mix in which antique-style leather cases rub shoulders with riding boots and even a brass instrument.
Now head downstairs and the large basement floor, covering about 5,380 sq ft, has several sections, with an area for more womenswear, a menswear room and around 10% of the store’s total space devoted to the kids’ collection.
The various merchandise rooms are divided by matt black pillars and the almost yellow light imparts a warmth to the dark brown wood that is used throughout. And the old-money feeling of this interior is backed up by the stock. There has long been a belief in certain Continental quarters that English tailoring equates to tweeds, hacking jackets and suchlike. This goes some way towards explaining the general ambience of this store and the merchandise that is on sale.
In the men’s area, for instance, a mannequin sporting a tweed jacket is positioned next to a chair with a Union Jack-covered cushion – it’s about selling Britishness back to the Brits. Again, it’s the merchandising of the stock that really catches the eye, with the shirts organised Jermyn Street-style in open-front wooden wardrobes around the perimeter, beneath which there are formal jackets.
Sister brand Zara employs something of the same technique, but in this shop it is slicker and the pricing reflects this. Patel says that Massimo Dutti clothes cost the consumer between 30% and 40% more than other Inditex brands, but this still means it is very much cheaper than Banana Republic, even if it looks similar.
And for shoppers who really feel like splashing out, there’s the kids’ area, which carries a range that looks, in many ways, similar to the grown-up equivalents. This means that a leather flying jacket for a small girl will set the hapless parent back close to £120. At this point the store really does make the transition from aspirational mid-market to fringe luxury.
Patel says this is the latest concept for Massimo Dutti and that it is a development from a store that opened recently in Warsaw’s Zlote Tarasy shopping centre. He explains that for the foreseeable future, Massimo Dutti is likely to be a London-cum-Southeast phenomenon. “I’d really like a couple more stores in London,” he says.
Visitors to the capital in search of a little luxury that won’t hit the wallet too heavily could do worse than to check this one out. Retailers should take note of the manner in which it manages to create an upscale interior while the prices on the tickets remain firmly mid-market.
Opened August 27
Size 8,610 sq ft on two floors
Previous site occupant Gap
Ambience Old-money English
Layout Two floors, with the first Massimo Dutti kids’ department in the UK