Chanel’s luxury flagship store trades alongside premium rivals in London’s West End. John Ryan takes a look around.
There is a corner of a foreign field that is forever France. That, or something like it, might be said of the patch of luxury stores that have taken up residence at the point in London’s West End just before New Bond Street morphs into Old Bond Street.
This is luxury central and on one side of the street there’s the Louis Vuitton Maison, a multi-floor edifice designed to give visitors a feel for an interior lifestyle that will be beyond the means of almost everybody apart from a jet-setting metro elite.
The Maison opened a little over three years ago and opposite it there has been a small(ish) Dior store for a while.
Now they have been joined by a 12,600 sq ft, two-floor, Chanel ‘boutique’.
The use of the word boutique in this context is interesting because the term is usually employed to denote a small retail space. On this reckoning, it is quite hard to reconcile a shop of this magnitude with the word’s commonly understood meaning. That said, anyone visiting the new store, which has been 15 months in the making, might be inclined to think of it as a boutique in spite of that.
In a previous life, the building used to be the flagship of Nicole Farhi and had a restaurant in the basement. Now all evidence of that has been erased and from the outside this is luxury retailing par excellence.
Like the Louis Vuitton store opposite it, Chanel has a pair of flags bearing the brand name positioned above the main door. Then there are the windows themselves. One is filled with wood and mannequins. The wooden part is a cascade of off-cuts, linked to create an arch under which three mannequins are positioned. Something of the
kind, using wood in this way, was done a couple of years ago at the Harvey Nichols stores in Knightsbridge and Edinburgh, but it still looks fresh in this context.
The theme is maintained in the other three windows along the front and the feeling is appropriately upscale. And so to the interior, following a cordial greeting from the inevitable black-suited security types manning the door, who can also be found in every room inside the shop.
Peter Marino’s stamp
The first impression as the shopper walks through the door is that this is a boutique of many rooms, which might perhaps justify the use of the term. To the left is a small space that contains a series of mid-shop, glass-topped display cases containing bling-looking watches…and a diamanté deer. The latter is, apparently, a homage to
Coco Chanel, who liked deer, and Peter Marino, the architect responsible for this interior, created it as a nod towards that interest.
It is worth noting that Marino is to luxury retailing what some of the very largest London design consultancies are to the mid-market: ubiquitous. It is a measure of the hold he has on this end of the market that Maison across the road is also his handiwork and is of a very similar size.
The Chanel store looks completely different, however, from what is on view in Louis Vuitton.
In spite of springing from the same stable, both brands have their own distinct personality in terms of the way in which the interiors have been fashioned, although it is hard not to wonder if you would know which brand’s store you were in were the name over the door to be removed.
Back to the Chanel interior, however, and beyond the watch room the ground floor is composed of further large and almost discrete rooms - one for bags, another for small accessories and yet another for boots and bags.
All of this, and the diamanté deer, can be seen to advantage from the atrium just inside the main door, where the foreground is occupied by a freestanding glass case with more boots, bags and small pieces of jewellery.
Generally, the ambience on this floor is quietly golden, thanks to a muted version of the colour being used to a greater or lesser extent around the rooms. It is noticeable because no wallpaper has been used in any of the rooms on either floor, so texture, thanks to plaster and surface detail, assumes a greater importance around the walls than might normally be the case.
The first floor is accessed by a staircase of the kind that might grace a grand house and a spokesman says that the underlying intention is that this should look and feel like “an apartment”. In this respect, it has much in common with the Louis Vuitton Maison store inasmuch as it is a lifestyle that few will enjoy. In the stairwell there is a sculpture composed of blown Venetian glass balls in silver and black - so far, so exclusive.
The first floor is about further rooms and there is indeed a posh domestic feel to it, helped by more sculptures, some of them created once more by Marino. Of these, perhaps the most engaging is a piece featuring white towers carved from crystal and placed in an antique fireplace.
On this floor there are more sofas, chairs and tables and, as a whole, it is all about women’s clothing, rather than the small but expensive accessories on the ground floor.
The bottom line
The question that might be asked about all of this is whether it is different from what has gone before. The answer is probably not entirely, as change in the luxury market tends to be incremental, rather than wholesale reinvention.
This has a lot to do with risk. Once a successful format has been arrived at in the luxury world the palette of materials is such that change is undertaken slowly. That said, if this store were to be compared with the branch
that Chanel opened on Paris’ Avenue Montaigne in March last year, it would probably be apparent that, while it is certainly luxurious, it is not flashy in the way the French store is - change does happen.
In general, it is tempting to say that Bond Street is slowly but surely becoming a thoroughfare on which only the biggest international brands can afford to operate and that the Chanel store is about having a brand presence for the London demimonde.
Yet two days after it opened, the store was packed with shoppers checking out handbags, for the most part, and it was clear it is totally focused on taking money. Luxury operates to a different code from the rest of retail and there is frequently a tendency to be somewhat dismissive about what it represents because it is so very contrary to the rest of the sector. But as this store shows, global luxury flagships are as much about making money as they are
concerned with showing off.
Chanel, New Bond Street
Opened June 10
Size 12,600 sq ft
Number of selling floors Two
Store design Peter Marino
Ambience Money but muted
Chanel Wertheimer family owned