Dr Martens, the fashionistas’ hardy perennial, has opened a flagship on Carnaby Street that trades on the brand’s heritage.

Dr Martens, the boot that has morphed over the years from the bovver boys footwear of choice to the indie crowd’s badge of office, has opened a flagship on Carnaby Street. It is on two floors and bears many of the hallmarks that have become part of its store design over the last few years, and yet it is also different.

From the street, which currently boasts clustered disks overhead bearing the collective fizzogs of the Rolling Stones (there’s even a temporary Rolling Stones store more or less opposite), the new Dr Martens looks to be in the right place.

Whether by accident or design, the store is next door to the Ben Sherman flagship. A matter of mods or post-punks therefore and putting the two shops in such proximity encapsulates much of British popular culture (and cultish tribal behaviour) over the past three or four decades.

And the two stores are almost completely different. Ben Sherman may be about well-dressed torsos rotating behind the window with views into a white-tiled, wood and black steel interior, but the Dr Martens’ window vista is of wasted, but attractive, types shot in soft focus moodily wearing their Docs in a bath. There is something of the heroin chic about the image, vaguely reminiscent of the images that got a supermodel some adverse press a few years back when she hooked up with the lead singer of a band called The Libertines.

Yet in spite of its counter-culture antecedents, within, the Dr Martens store is a model of rock ‘n roll politeness with brown oxblood leather chesterfield sofas, a crystal chandelier, retro vintage mid-shop cabinets with multiple drawers and, of course, a jukebox. That’s the ground floor, which uses plain wood planks for the floor and which is intensively merchandised.

Centre stage

At the heart of the Dr Martens proposition are, of course, boots and shoes, and these are afforded pride of place with the left-hand perimeter walls set aside for them and flagged as such. In visual merchandising terms this is in fact a little disingenuous as the shelves set aside for ‘Boots & Shoes’ are in fact mixed in with brightly-coloured patent and plain leather school satchels, designed to complement the footwear.

It’s a pattern that is followed across the rest of the floor, where product extension, from duffel coats to T-shirts, is mixed in with the footwear. Graphics in the window, as well as in other parts of the shop, take the shape of note-boards on which pieces of street-style and music-related ephemera have been attached. And perhaps above all, the essential Britishness of what’s on offer is emphasised with Union flags in varying forms around the floor.

And so to the first floor, but not before pausing to read the notice at the foot of the stairs: ‘SHARE YOUR STYLE’ and then goes on to invite shoppers to a photo booth upstairs with the promise of a pair of ‘Docs’ if they win a competition. This is fine and neatly ticks the social media box. The photo booth in question is directly at the top of the stairs, consisting of a touchscreen that takes a picture of the onlooker and then pastes it onto the Dr Martens Facebook page. It’s simple stuff, but does add to the reasons for taking a look at the store’s upper level.

Another level

What’s on view upstairs is in fact pretty similar to the ground floor with the exception of the brick walls to which blue and yellow shoes have been attached on stalks (Dr Martens has done this in Westfield Stratford, among other locations). The environment on this floor is a little calmer than downstairs, however, owing to the combination of brick and a spotlight-studded ceiling that has been painted black.

In spite of the fact that Dr Martens has a substantial and enthusiastic female following and even allowing for the token bowl of roses next to one of the windows, this is a fairly masculine environment that apes what is done by many independent menswear retailers.

And this is the first two-floor Dr Martens store anywhere. At 1,400 sq ft, it is a large statement for a brand posited on a single, albeit instantly recognisable, boot. And fittingly, given the brand image, it has partnered with Strummerville, the charity set up by friends and family of the late Joe Strummer, to help musicians who might otherwise struggle. Worth noting too, is the store’s ‘Made in England’ area – a space devoted to products of the brand’s Northamptonshire factory.

This is a store in the heart of London’s West End, in one of the UK’s most competitive fashion arenas, but it should stand out without too much difficulty. It will do so thanks to an idiosyncratic store design, but also because it has a loyal following comprising everybody from the relatively old, who were around almost when Docs first appeared in this country in 1960, to the young and hip.

It also straddles that difficult divide between making a retail interior appeal to fashionistas without creating an environment that excludes large portions of the shopping public by dint of the way it looks. Carnaby Street these days may be rather more for tourists and curiosity seekers than die-hard fashion victims, but it does retain a rebellious streak and this new store plays to that tendency. 

Dr Martens, Carnaby Street

Design Dr Martens and Triplar from an original concept by D4R

Size 1,400 sq ft on two floors

Opening date November 21, 2012

Ambiance Counter-culture tamed

Dr Martens owner R Griggs

Dr Martens UK Founded in 1960