Can the club ambience of Bershka’s revamped Oxford Street store help put it more firmly on the UK’s young fashion map?

By the standards of other parts of the Inditex empire in the UK, the young fashion brand Bershka has been something of a slow burn.

The brand was founded in 1998 and entered the UK in 2005, and was aimed at selling clothing to a female demographic younger than those that shopped with the company’s other retail fascias.

That was some time ago and while sister brand Zara is now found in almost every major city in the UK, with multiple iterations in some locations, there are still only six Bershka stores in this country. And yet curiously, it is in the UK that Inditex has just completed the refurbishment of a flagship store that is a world-first for the brand.

Two questions spring to mind. Is this a last gasp attempt to grapple with a market that has proved to be something of a tough nut to crack or is the store, which is 30 seconds from Oxford Circus, the first of a new breed of Bershka branches that will see the brand gain more than a toehold in the UK? Inditex UK and Ireland managing director Dilip Patel is tight-lipped about the underlying strategy, opting instead to say that Bershka is trading well.

Whatever the case, there can be little doubt that what is on show in this store is very different from what those who have visited a Bershka branch will be used to, irrespective of location.

Different strokes

For a start, there’s the external appearance. Other Bershka stores boast an easyJet-orange fascia with the brand’s name picked out in bold white letters. If you were being unkind, you might be inclined to say that it is a tad garish, but presumably there was a reason for the choice of colour.

The Oxford Circus store has a much lower-key palette. In place of orange there is a tasteful grey-black - providing a much less obvious clash with the white, which has been kept for

the brand logo. It is almost as if the brand has grown up, or been taken under the wing of a quietly sophisticated new owner.

It has not and step inside the entrance and it becomes clear that this has been a very deliberate choice. Patel is quick to point out that the aim has been to create the ambience of a nightclub.

He needn’t have bothered really as architect Jordi Castel and interior designer Jordi Veciana, both of whom have worked long-term with Inditex, have created an interior that shouts “after hours”, even if the store is about selling clothing.

Patel says: “We keep the fashion element of the offer on the ground floor, so that it hits people as they come in.”

In terms of layout and feel, this means that the floor has a lot of stock on it and lighting levels are generally low, with the merchandise under the many spotlights.

This is in stark contrast with the nearby New Look flagship that also opened in February. The UK fashion rival has bright ambient lighting throughout, giving a completely different sense to the store interior.

Back in Bershka, the club ambience is reinforced by the music, which when it is cranked up to full volume is very loud indeed. It is also integral as part of the fabric of the shop. The, inevitably, black columns have 1980s club-style speakers built into them, which are threateningly large and foster a sense of an underground warehouse event.

The rest of the interior has also been blacked out, which means that where the light does hit the silver mannequins and triple-tiered displays around the perimeter, there are no distractions. This may be like a nightclub, but it is still a shop.

The same is true of the equipment that has been used in the mid-shop. Most of it is relatively basic and modular, meaning rapid roll-out is a possibility, with black tables being used as the launch-pad for brightly coloured merchandise and foregrounding the stock. Where the stock is not tabled, it is hung on chromed four-ways, adding to the late at night glitzy nature of the interior.

Other features on this floor include a scrolling dot-matrix message in orange, of the kind seen on London Underground stations, and a back wall of denim with a backlit smoky orange graphic mixed in with mannequin torsos dressed in the high street equivalent of streetwear.

In case there were doubt about the fashion quotient, there is a smattering of point-of-sale material on the wall bearing the message “New Jeans” in red, although this does seem a little redundant when the newness of the store format is considered.

Prices are generally at the high street’s lower end and prices range from £9.99 for T-shirts and run up to £90 at the top end, putting it a notch or two below the offer from sister Inditex fashion format Pull and Bear, further along the street.

Industrial gear

At this point, for male shoppers in search of fab gear, it would be time to head upstairs to the men’s floor. This is also clubby in feel, but owing to the generally darker colours of the stock, it has an overtly masculine feel. This is reinforced by the graphic at the top of the staircase - the floor can be accessed on foot or via a high-tech looking lift - which features the head of a youth apparently shouting and set against a black background. The floor too is worth a mention - composed of bolted down metal plates and helping to impart an industrial atmosphere.

Other nice touches on this floor include a sofa that has been fashioned to look as if it has been made from air-container shipment cases - once more in black, with silver rivets, and the use of pillars to close down the space and create a series of rooms.

However, it is in the basement that the club message is writ large, for no better reason than that a series of large, black, 3D letters spell out the word “club”. These have a flat top and act as a low table in front of a turquoise iced velvet sofa behind which, in case you didn’t spot the first clue, is a black wall with a yellow graphic in 1970s trashy disco font that carries the message: “Bershka Club, Oxford Street.”

“This is where all the action will happen,” says Patel. By this, he means that there will be in-store events and that the area will be a focus for fashion seekers. And the basement is probably the best looking part of the store. On this level, there are shoes, accessories and, at the far end, a range of price-based basics.

A translucent corrugated polycarbonate, washed in coloured light, forms the setting for perimeter modules, used to display shoes and a range of shoulder bags, directly in front of the sofa. Castel says: “The materials are very dramatic. It is actually not a very complicated concept - it is very easy, but arresting, with strong impactful colours. This is important to highlight some parts of the store.” He adds: “It is a chameleonic architecture where the colours we have used change the character of the shop entirely.”

The obvious question in all of this is whether what has been done will prove sufficient to give Bershka the edge over neighbours such as Topshop, New Look and Urban Outfitters? This remains an unknown quantity, but Inditex has enough confidence in the refit to be taking the concept to Athens, Brussels, Moscow, Tel Aviv and Milan this year. And future Bershka stores in the UK, when they happen, will follow the format, according to Patel.

Meanwhile, the refurbished Oxford Circus store adds to what must be one of the strongest high street fashion offers in Europe.

Bershka refurb, Oxford Street

  • Number of floors Three
  • Additional space gained 150 sq ft
  • Architect Jordi Castel of Castel Veciana
  • Interior design Jordi Veciana of Castel Veciana
  • Major design feature Nightclub ambience
  • Future roll-out of concept in 2010 Athens, Brussels, Milan, Moscow, Tel Aviv