Fashion retailer New Look opened its fifth standalone menswear store last week and has designs on launching several more.

A couple of weeks ago, amid a flurry of excitement about some pretty positive results, New Look’s chief executive, Anders Kristiansen, mentioned that standalone menswear shops would be a focus for the retailer in 2016.

At present there are five New Look menswear stores, the latest of which to welcome shoppers opened last Friday in Kingston.

The shop is located in the town’s Bentall Centre, the multi-level glass, steel and brick-clad edifice that, internally, has a touch of the Crystal Palace about it, and which dominates the attention of many mid-market retailers that choose to set up shop in this location.

Size matters

The menswear store has plenty of competition, ranging from Zara to H&M, Topman to River Island. All of them are in Kingston and all of them have a menswear offer.

Yet for the most part, they are not standalones, a fact that immediately makes the New Look Men shop something different from its rivals.

There has been a New Look store on the third level of the Bentall Centre since 2003 and at 10,000 sq ft, it is more than five times the size of the 1,900 sq ft men’s standalone.

“As well as buying fewer clothes and less frequently than women, the range of options for men tends to be smaller”

Craig Ash, New Look’s head of menswear retail

This does pose the obvious question why men’s fashion stores, at whatever end of the market, tend to be so much smaller than those aimed solely at women.

Craig Ash, head of menswear retail, says that the answer probably lies in the fact that as well as buying fewer clothes and less frequently than women, the range of options for men tends to be smaller.

They also shop differently, even among the fashion-conscious teens to 20s demographic which forms New Look’s core shoppers. But Ash is at pains to say that the New Look Men proposition is an ‘attitude not age’ thing.

Light and dark

Standing outside the women’s New Look in Kingston and it is light, bright and predominantly white. Move along to the men’s shop and the mood changes.

The in-house store design team, led by Andy Turnbull, has opted for a dark frontage and more masculine interior with much lower levels of ambient light.

Black and grey are the dominant colours with the New Look Men logo picked out in a bold, contrasting white.

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The front display is dominated by three mannequins, setting the tone of the store with modish but unflashy casual clothing

This is a relatively narrow shop, but standing just inside the entrance it is straightforward to see to the back of the shop, thanks to an almost entirely linear layout.

In part, this has to do with the fact that the narrowness of the unit does not permit much else, but it is also about making the store easy to read and understanding the somewhat different shopping mission of men compared to the way in which women shop.

At the front, the view is dominated by three mannequins sporting modish, but unflashy, casual clothing and positioned on a white plinth. The plinth is in fact the only element that is light in colour – the floors are covered in large slate grey tiles and overhead the ceiling is black with metal gantries being used for lines of spotlights – this is about illuminating the stock, not the shop.

To the left, the perimeter is filled with front and side-hung long-sleeve shirts with the mid-shop vista broken up by tables composed of plain wood and black metal.

To the right, it’s outerwear of the chunky jacket variety and all at low prices when compared to the local competition.

‘No-nonsense’ approach

New Look Men  Kingston 10

New Look Men Kingston 10

The denim section comprises only four leg styles but in a variety of colours and washes

Head down to the mid-shop and the left-hand perimeter wall and the tables immediately in front of it are home to denim, signalled by a white neon sign. And here the differences to the way in which a women’s fashion offer is approached become apparent.

There are just four leg-shapes for men, in a variety of colours and washes – a marked contrast from the occasionally confusing number of options offered to female shoppers.

On the other side of the floor from this T-shirts adorn the perimeter with the bulk being priced at £5.99, and after this it’s shoes.

Shoes appear to be an important commodity in the New Look man’s wardrobe if the amount of space devoted to them is anything to go by.

A long, mid-shop gondola provides the bulk of the display space, but again, it is the relatively small number of options that is eye-catching – this is a carefully edited offer and endless choice is not really the point.

The back of the shop is about accessories, the cash-taking area and fitting rooms. The latter are roomy and there is sufficient room outside for girlfriends and mothers to linger while they wait to pass judgement on the way their male loved ones look as they emerge.

New Look Men  Kingston 5

New Look Men Kingston 5

Footwear is given a generous amount of space through the centre of the store

And given that men tend to spend less time in fitting rooms and to take fewer items in with them to try on, the seating area for bored boyfriends found in women’s fashion stores, is signally absent in this men’s store.

Overall, the shopfit is no-nonsense and the density is relatively high, something that is always necessary when an offer is at the value end of the market if sales targets are to be met.

Widening appeal

Since the first New Look Men shops launched last September, in Wigan and Portsmouth, new branches have opened in Manchester’s Trafford Centre (the current men’s format flagship for New Look) and Merryhill, as well as Kingston, with Newport up next.

The current aspiration is for there to be 25 “trading stores” by the end of the next New Look financial year, in March 2017.

“Menswear accounts for between 3-4% of New Look’s turnover, but that the long-term aim is for this to be raised to 10-15%”

Craig Ash, New Look’s head of retail menswear

From the current platform, this sounds a lot, but considering that there are over 600 New Look stores in the UK and that menswear as an area within them is represented in around 180 of them, there is a lot to play for, according to Ash.

He says that menswear accounts for between 3-4% of New Look’s turnover, but that the long-term aim is for this to be raised to 10-15%.

Again, this is a massive increase and New Look will certainly have to open a lot more stores along the lines of Kingston if this is to be realised.

That said, on the day of visiting there were a lot of young accompanied and unaccompanied men in the store and they were buying.

Standalone men’s fashion shops at the lower end of the price spectrum are rare beasts on the high street in the UK and New Look would appear to be on to something. The challenge for this retailer will be to communicate that it is an emporium for men’s fashion as much as women’s.

New Look Men, Kingston

Opened February 19, 2016

Size 1,900 sq ft

Design In-house

Ambience overtly masculine

Next store to open Newport, Gwent