Inditex brand Massimo Dutti has refurbished its Regent Street flagship, with vintage props galore including bicycles. John Ryan walks the store with UK and Ireland managing director Dilip Patel
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The idea that a store needs to be refreshed on a regular basis is as old as, if not the hills, then certainly the middle of the last century. The notion runs that, every so often, a store’s internal decor needs a bit of a facelift and that, if this doesn’t happen, like those of a certain age who have not enjoyed cosmetic surgery, things sag a bit and the cracks begin to show.
There’s been a branch of Inditex brand Massimo Dutti on Regent Street since 2002 and the road was, in fact, the first point of UK landfall for this retail format. Close to a decade later, it had reached the point where a number of minor alterations and mini-makeovers had been effected, according to Inditex UK and Ireland managing director Dilip Patel, but there had not been a full-scale rethink. Now the store has just emerged from a four-week revamp with a new look that Patel says is more in tune with the altered reality of Regent Street during the nine years Massimo Dutti has been in this country.
“The street’s changed a lot and there are a lot of new competitors,” he says. “There are still plenty of male shoppers, but now there are many female shoppers on Regent Street as well.”
It’s a view that signals a clear understanding of the gradual evolution of the street during the period. It has gone from a thoroughfare that for much of its length was filled with grand but somewhat timeworn shops that catered predominantly for men to a fully fledged fashion destination. And as such, the appearance of every retailer from Mango to Zara by way of, say, H&M has meant the gender balance of the shopper population along the street hasalso changed.
Location Regent Street, London Number of floors Two Design In-house
Major change Complete departmental relocation
Makeover Cosmetic, with concentration on visual merchandising Essential props Bicycles
Getting off the ground
For this reason, Patel and his team decided the time was right to take menswear from the ground floor to the first floor and to bring Massimo Dutti kidswear into the mix - one of only two stores in the chain’s 10-strong UK portfolio to do so. “Men like to shop in a calmer environment,” says Patel. “We’ve tried to create a comfortable space for men to chill out in. It’s more boutique-like. We’ve tried to create something a little bit different from the way it was before.”
If you ignore the ground floor and walk up the understated staircase to the first floor, it’s easy to see what Patel means. This is an oasis of calm, with a soothing taupe-meets-beige colour scheme and a series of rooms that create semi-discrete spaces for the shopper. In the many rooms, the marble and dark wood planked floors were in fact all in place prior to the refurbishment, but what has changed is the equipment and the visual merchandising.
Multitude of mannequins
Arriving at the top of the stairs, the first thing you encounter is a trio of mannequins forming a vignette that includes parlour palms and a number of Panama hats, set on a table and dominating the view. Deeper into the casual area of the floor, the props include vintage leather packing trunks, white tables and wardrobes and retro-looking day-out-in-the-countryside bicycles.
Thus far, things hark back to a more elegant and raffish age when gentlemen rode bicycles, carried canvas holdalls and wore white trousers with braces, if the displays are anything to go by.
There are a lot of mannequins on this floor, arranged in groups - there are even some lounging in niches around the perimeter, providing a sense of what each of the rooms is about. They also probably help to ensure that shoppers do not feel alone on a quiet afternoon.
Patel is quick to deny any similarity between nearby Banana Republic (another new arrival during Massimo Dutti’s time on the street), which also makes visual merchandising a central element, but it is hard not to think that it may be targeted at the same customer. The difference is that Massimo Dutti is considerably less expensive, in spite of the fact that this is the grown-up and, presumably, more affluent Inditex shopper brand.
Playing it cool
On this point, Patel says that Massimo Dutti is intended to be a broad church. “The sports [casual] range for men starts at 25 and can go up to whatever, in terms of age,” he says. “And it’s the same for ladies.” This might, in some contexts, conjure up a picture of a somewhat conservative, middle-aged design but, with a block of square, black, studded leather chairs, glass display cabinets with curved fronts for accessories and views out over Regent Street, the ambience is contemporary cool if anything.
Walking from the casualwear introduction to the men’s floor, the deeper into it you go, the more formal the offer becomes. A main walkway that leads to the deeper recesses is filled with carefully organised tables, but it’s the perimeter wardrobes and the rooms to the right of the walkway that really capture the attention.
One of these features a table, chairs and a book of fabrics. This is a new bespoke service, where the Massimo Dutti shopper can select the cloth for a suit and then have trousers and jacket made to measure; yours for about £500 to £600, sir. Patel says it’s part of the “lifestyle” that is on offer in the store. And even if you don’t care for the fabrics, the black, open-fronted wardrobe has to be admired with its doors opened wide and festooned with shirts, ties and trousers. There are even silver-handled sock drawers. The whole feels at least as aspirational as some of the august names - think Gant or Brooks Brothers - that are found elsewhere along Regent Street.
At the back of the floor, the walkway gives way to a large rectangular space, with a patterned marble floor that is entirely concerned with providing a discreet environment for selling off-the-peg suits. As such, it is about dark wood, chrome and glass tables, black-framed mirrors and a long set of fitting rooms with monochrome graphics in the corridor that provides access to them. Where metal is used, it’s matt steel and, once more, the keyword is understatement.
Downstairs, the womenswear department is also a series of casual and formal lifestyled rooms punctuated by a large kidswear space that is almost entirely separate from the rest of the floor. The form is very much the same as on the menswear floor, with extensive use of propping, more bicycles and palms, but with a lighter tone of wood than in the men’s area.
Patel says that what is on view is a mix of recycled rails and new equipment, and that there is a showroom in the basement that will be used as an area for press.
All in all, this is certainly a change from what was here before and, while it may not have involved full liposuction, facelifting and nose-sculpturing, it is rather more than a quick shot of Botox. Completed a little under a month ago, Massimo Dutti looks the better for a visit to the design doctor.