There was a time when shops selling stuffed animals were not an uncommon sight in the UK. Taxidermists the length and breadth of the land were kept busy by the demand for small and large creatures to be dispatched and then filled, prior to gracing the parlours and drawing rooms of the well-to-do.
And if all this has a Victorian sound to it, that’s probably because the heyday of the taxidermist was when the UK had an empire on which the sun never set, workhouses were full and the monarch was still in mourning for a German prince who died young. Take a trip to Cheapside, however, and a little slice of what might pass for old – well, 19th century at any rate – London is on show in the shape of a new shop.
The store is Ted Baker & Friends and if you’re a wild animal – particularly a bird – now might be a good time to look away. This is a 4,000 sq ft (370 sq m) shop, where the art of the taxidermist is pretty much in your face from the moment you walk through the doors.
However, before you enter, there is the exterior to consider. Cheapside, the short street in the City that, if you head east, leads to the Bank of England, is in the heart of London’s financial quarter. Here, fortunes are made and lost on an almost daily basis, as armies of sharply suited, predominantly male, workers head to the glitzy offices of the large banks that fill the area.
Until very recently, there was surprisingly little retailing activity in the area – it being largely confined to a few mobile phone shops and the usual coffee bar suspects. Within the past month, however, Ted Baker has opened on Cheapside and been joined by three of Mosaic Fashions’ fascias – Coast, Principles and Warehouse – just along the street.
Together with a number of fancy shirt shops, these arrivals are the vanguard of a retail revolution that is taking place in the City, as retailers wake up to the fact that traders, brokers and analysts have to wear something and it might as well be their products. And, unlike their West End counterparts, these outlets keep City hours, opening their doors at 8am. In fact, on the day of visiting the store, Retail Week was discouraged from turning up before 9am, because the pre-work slot is deemed to be a busy trading time for the store.
Standing outside the branch, shoppers are confronted – as they are in much of Cheapside – by a fairly impersonal building. The two-windowed shopfront notwithstanding, this could be an office block almost anywhere. What makes it different are the understated displays that cause passers-by to stare, for want of much else to look at at this end of the street.
The Ted Baker & Friends logo, outlined in white on square, chocolate-brown, bus stop-style signs that protrude from the building, is about being noticed, but not shouting too loud. This is a store that seeks to be a part of the City’s fabric, as much as to signal its point of difference.
All of which is confirmed inside, where the space is carved up roughly 60:40 between the men’s offer and womenswear, with the women’s clothing at the front of the shop. This is an accessible space where shoppers can see from one end to the other, but which has in-store navigation that is designed to look like Victorian way-finding signage that might have been found on the streets in towns and cities of the time.
The floor is formed from oak planks and much of the interior has been fashioned from dark, polished wood. But it is the visual merchandising props, the centre-floor fixturing and the treatments that have been applied to the walls that really capture attention.
On the right-hand wall at the front of the shop, extending deep into the store, is a swirly, metallic mural intended to create a sense of femininity, according to a spokeswoman. On the left is a plate-glass window and, inside, a shoeshine service awaits those who are so inclined. Between the two, much of the mid-floor equipment is old; old in the sense of repurposed antiques, tables and glass-fronted wardrobes, many of which have been painted in primary colours.
Groomed to perfection
Further into the shop is a grooming area – a service provided by KMI, a London company that purports to offer the “king of shaves”. This is a traditional barber shop-within-a-shop, fashioned from dark wood and glass and with a distinctly Victorian font employed on its frontage. Inside, it is worth noting what looks like floral wallpaper but, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a pattern that has been formed from a mix of stylised cut-throat razors and combs. Two men are being shaved and enquire whether the photographs for this article will be published in Gay Times.
Opposite the barber shop is the cash desk, a glass counter with highly-coloured miniature sculptures of pigeons inside it. It is backed by a wall that has been curtained with dark bronze raw silk, from which antique carriage lights emerge. This forms the middle of this long, thin store and opposite this is the Gadget Lounge, filled with Ted Baker-branded phones and jewel-like electronic goodies that might take the fancy of an affluent City worker.
This discrete shop-in-shop is staffed and managed by Carphone Warehouse employees, although, to the uninformed eye, there is nothing to indicate that this is anything more than an extension into new product areas for Ted Baker.
Immediately overhead, there is a flock of pigeons. These are real, or “at least, they were once”, as a member of staff quips. Now, they are stuffed and immobile. Each bird has a low-voltage light attached to it, creating a feathered chandelier, set among the other pendant lights, which have been created from clear-glass decanters.
There are also old-fashioned GPO red telephone boxes. One of these provides phone access to the Ted Baker concierge service, which seeks to offer everything from theatre tickets to airport transfers. The other provides access to Ted Baker’s web site, in case an item is not available. The concierge service can be bought by the hour.
And so to menswear. This is divided into two parts, with a casual area yielding to formalwear and then an alteration service in a glass box at the rear of the shop. A lot of the offer is tabled, with the perimeter used for hanging merchandise. This is the heart of Ted Baker’s offer.
For those wishing to try things on, the fitting rooms are at the rear. These comprise a high-sided, corral-like structure surrounding a central area where two brightly upholstered chairs allow people to wait while companions see if they look good in a Ted Baker Endurance suit. Almost inevitably, there are dead birds in this part of the shop, too. In this instance, they are magpies, positioned on the wall of a freestanding fitting room and looking down at what’s going on, which is a little unnerving.
Another Ted Baker store opened last Saturday in Belfast’s Victoria Square and the retailer’s special projects team – all design is carried out in-house – is trying to source more dead animals for its forthcoming Cambridge branch. Meanwhile, the Cheapside store stands as an example of why this brand continues to be successful.
This is a store that has been designed to provide an ironic twist on the traditions and mores of the area that hosts it. Ted Baker understands the importance of being sensitive to its surroundings and every store differs from its predecessor, by dint of a new location. For the moment, at least, this is Cheapside’s most glamorous and quirky retailer.
All under one roof
Ted Baker director of special projects Matt Ashby says that the blueprint for the Cheapside store was created to cater for a particular type of customer.
“The layout was designed to attract and maintain the interest of the local cash-rich, time-poor customer. We wanted to encourage them to multitask – to browse through shirts while waiting for a shave or buy a dress after having their bag polished.”
“The aim of the inside/outside nature of the shop was to break the barriers of the typical store box and create an atmosphere that allowed Ted’s ‘friends’ to coexist comfortably.”