The best stores enhance that stock they house

Zara, Rome

Walking around in shirtsleeves enjoying an unseasonably warm spell in Rome has got to a treat. The fact that you’ve been invited to view the inauguration of Inditex’ 5,000th store might seem, in the scheme of things, rather incidental.

Yet the multi-floor store, which opened last week, with a selling area spread over more than 2,000 sq m and the site of a former branch of Italian department store chain La Rinascente, is almost as comment-worthy as some of the Eternal City’s most famous monuments. For a start there’s the building. When La Rinascente operated a store on this site, it was a fine structure – but over the years much of what should have been on view had been covered up. Inditex has stripped the structure back, uncovering that which was there and improving it.

‘The best retail designs work with what’s already there’

This is the point. The best retail designs don’t just impose an interior, or an exterior come to that, but work instead with what’s already there. It’s fair to say, of course, that what’s on view in Rome is not a normal run-of-the-mill Zara, but it does serve to show what’s possible.

“It’s an investment in the future” was the mantra being intoned by the Inditex high-ups who were hosting the opening party. It is and as well as being the Spanish retail group’s greenest store to date, it is also the most dramatic looking shop in central Rome. On almost every level you might care to mention, this is an example of what can and should be done by retailers anxious to maintain their place in the commercial scheme of things.

But here’s the thing. As well as being a deeply impressive piece of restoration, the stock that was on display looked fantastic. In an almost alchemical manner the range that can be seen elsewhere had been transmuted into something that looked as good as the many well-known Italian brands that have shops in this part of the city. It stands perhaps as proof that the very best interiors enhance the stock and that there really is a point in providing a polished environment if you want to make sure that your merchandise is eye-catching.

Remember the first time that you saw a Zara store in the UK? It was breathtaking. Here were clothes that make you think catwalk at a fraction of the price.  In Rome that sense of wonder has been rekindled. You have to hope that the design is taken forward.