Westfield London is approaching its third anniversary, but is the more mature sister of the Stratford mall standing the test of time? John Ryan reports on how brands have helped maintain its appeal.
- Displays are increasingly pared back
- Single-colour backdrops are the norm
- Themes run from autumn to high art
It has been a month since, seemingly, the whole of London decided to visit Stratford to gawp at the new Westfield shopping centre as the latest thing in retail. Had you visited on that day, it would have been hard to move and probably even harder to shop.
For those from west of Westfield Stratford City, there was of course a same-brand alternative: Westfield London, which will celebrate its third birthday on October 30. The question has to be whether the west London mall’s allure will remain undiminished or whether the standards of retailing and the stores that are in the scheme will be outpaced by its east London relative.
A quick scoot around Westfield London ahead of opening on Sunday revealed a simple fact – the centre (with the exception of the unit where Habitat traded) is pretty much fully let and retailers continue to plough money into their stores here, in terms of displays and merchandising.
That the offer is different from Westfield City is well documented, but both the doughnut shape, rather than the linear form of the Stratford mall, and the overall selection are more appealing. This is still a very good centre and the fact that 90 minutes ahead of the midday starter’s gun people were turning up in their droves to take a wander and have a coffee is testimony to its enduring pull.
Marks & Spencer
As one of the centre’s anchor stores, the M&S store has always had a high profile. It has also changed substantially since it opened with the food offer being altered and the clothing being more segmented and more heavily branded – even if it is private label.
And one of the features of the new look for the men’s and womenswear has been the use of wooden hoops as a visual merchandising prop. To an extent, and this might be denied, you can see the provenance of this if you take a walk around John Lewis at the moment. The department store’s in-store displays have featured metal circles since the Cardiff flagship opened in 2009. This does not, however, make what has been done in M&S windows any less attractive.
The linked bent wood circles are set against a single colour backdrop with mannequins posed next to each group of hoops. There is very little that is innovative about this and it is clearly a cost-effective scheme that can quickly be rolled out across a large portfolio. It is eye-catching for all that.
It is hard to imagine that three years after opening there are any real deals to be cut in terms of taking a unit at Westfield London. On this basis, you would also suppose that to make a shop pay its way, a lot of effort must go into its appearance. Odd therefore that Clinton Cards has gone not just minimal with its large window, but dull into the bargain. Most people will probably be aware that Clinton sells cards (the clue is in the name), but it may be stretching things a little to christen a new card range ‘The Clinton Collection’ and to advertise this with a couple of framed posters against a white backdrop.
Equally, balloons and party bunting being part of the Clinton proposition, scattering a few inflatables at the base of the window line with an imagined deal centred on the notion of a ‘Balloon in a box’ (£9.99) is unlikely to grab attention. All in all, this looks like something of a wasted opportunity.
The retailer responsible for clothing a fair proportion of those seeking to recapture their youth (as well as the youth themselves) has always had windows that place a premium on nostalgia. Frequently, this seems to involve 1950s US or Japanese gas station memorabilia with dented oil drums and petrol pumps.
The windows at the retailer’s Westfield London store conform largely to this brand template with one of the two printed backdrops bearing the legend ‘Tokyo City Auto’ accompanied by a faux petrol station logo. In front of this are the usual rusting hubcaps and radiator grilles.
It is all very carefully done, but it is beginning to feel that you may have seen much of this before and that some of the shine that City pundits are claiming has disappeared from the brand is reflected in its predictable window schemes. This may sound harsh when the quality and attention to detail of the displays is considered, but evolution should be an inherent part of any brand’s in-store proposal.
The grown-up side of H&M is about understatement and this is writ large in what is being done at this store. The windows are about art, first and foremost, and for this reason mannequins have been banished. In their place, one of the windows features monochrome cardboard cut-outs of a single, serious-looking model wearing the product – there is something of the Andy Warhol about this.
To the right of this there is a large grey metal box with a screen in its upper portion. This is a work by George Petrou of the Royal Academy of Art and underlines the seriousness of the cut-outs in the adjacent window. And in case you missed the point, a third, smaller, window has the word ‘Art’ in white neon and encased in a translucent box, placed on an unadorned plinth with shoes next to it. There is an argument that this takes the fun out of shopping, but it’s hard not to look.
It’s autumn and Bershka picks up on the back to basics feel that characterises many of the windows in the centre with a series of plain wood frames, a plain backdrop and a few mannequins posed in the middle of it all. The bright autumnal colours of the clothes mean the focus is on the product rather than the window scheme.
On this note, it is worth taking a look at both Thomas Pink and Ted Baker, which are next door to each other. Both have pictures of stags and autumnal settings and at first glance it’s a little hard to tell them apart. There is a sober reality about the displays that the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” seems to engender at the moment. And a look around Westfield London confirms that while the weather may have been doing odd things this year, most retailers are conforming to the seasonal stereotypes.
It is hard not to admire what’s being done by at Topman/Topshop in Westfield London at the moment, if only for the way in which the two Arcadia brands may be joined at the hip, but are nonetheless kept discrete. The Topshop part of this store has a long, high window that bears the message ‘Black is back’ with a diagonal flash across the glassline. This is, naturally, backed by a posse of mannequins on white plinths all wearing black.
This contrasts with the Topman part of the shop that also bears a glassline message. This time shoppers are informed about ‘Colour clash’ – it could hardly be more different.
Like so many other visual merchandising schemes that are about currently, this is a low-cost display where the emphasis is on what’s in the shop. In fairness, this is what Topshop/Topman has always tended to do, whether it’s in the Oxford Street flagship or a store in the provinces – it’s just that others seem to be catching up.