Primark’s Spanish flagship not only leads the value fashion pack but its dazzling design and futuristic features puts others in the shade.
It was a tough Christmas for Primark, in keeping with many others, but in a pre-close announcement last week the fashion giant made it clear that all is well on the good ship value.
And one of the reasons for this performance must be Spain, and Madrid in particular.
Primark has been in Spain since 2006, but at 134,900 sq ft, the new store on the capital’s Gran Vía is its biggest in the country. Indeed, in the Primark empire it ranks second only to the Manchester branch, which weighs in at 150,500 sq ft.
A broad city-centre thoroughfare flanked by tall buildings, the Gran Vía itself lives up to its name. It was designed between the latter half of the 19th and early part of the 20th century in imitation of Paris’ grands boulevards – home to department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.
This means that the Primark store is housed in a building that began life as the Madrid Paris department store and then was variously a cinema, a radio station and offices, prior to the current incumbent taking up residence.
“The ground floor the classic feel of a Hollywood epic and the space has not been over-merchandised in order to allow the staircase its full effect
And the challenge that faced Primark when it first signed on the dotted line for this outpost five years ago was how to take a structure of this size and make it work without losing the sense of the brand to the surroundings.
A word at this point on what the Primark team, headed up by Peter Franks, director of store development and consultancy Dalziel + Pow, had to deal with when working on the store.
Externally, the building’s bombastic lines do most of the work. The Patrimony of Madrid laid down stipulations about how the building should be treated meaning that the retailer was unable to add a logo to the exterior.
But turning potential adversity to advantage, Primark put large turquoise neon letters in the seven windows along the frontage demonstrating, as Franks puts it: “that we own the building”.
Inside, the Patrimony’s edicts prevailed once more, but there was sufficient wiggle room for the store to be turned into a real showstopper and to realise the brief that Franks gave to Dalziel + Pow: “I asked for the opportunity that we had to be considered and to make the best use of the octagonal atrium in order to take the Primark brand into the future.”
The atrium referred to by Franks is massive and occupies the lion’s share of the 8,000 sq ft that forms the ground floor.
It is a galleried affair, crowned by translucent windows overhead that allow daylight to flood the interior. It also has a theatrical staircase at its heart which the Patrimony ruled had to be reinstated so that it would be exactly as it was when the building was home to the Madrid Paris department store.
This gives the ground floor the classic feel of a Hollywood epic and the space has not been over-merchandised in order to allow the feature its full effect.
A vision of the future
The stats for the store are impressive. It has five floors, 131 cash desks, 15 escalators and 91 fitting rooms. And, in a first for a Primark, it has at least one seating area on each level with USBs where shoppers can recharge their phones.
It is the atrium however that eclipses almost everything and like the exterior, in spite of the building’s dominant form, the space is “owned” by Primark. This is almost entirely due to technology.
Franks relates: “We researched and discovered a new LED screen system. The idea of it was that instead of solid screens being positioned around the galleries, these were screens that would show content, but which you could still see through.”
Franks makes the point that the content displayed on these see-through screens is linked, so while there are 11 of them around the atrium, they never show the same thing and instead, images and moving content shifts from one to another.
Overall, the effect is magnetic and on the day of visiting there were moments when it was actually quite hard to get close to the balustrades on each level owing to the number of shoppers who were using their camera-phones to take pictures of the void.
The ground floor is considerably smaller than the levels above it owing to the fact that the right-hand corner of this building is occupied by H&M, which predates Primark’s arrival.
Head upstairs via the grand staircase or using one of the many escalators and in spite of the fact that the atrium carves out a large hole in the potential selling area, the floors are very much bigger – measuring in at 31,725 sq ft (including the atrium space).
In practice this means that shoppers arriving on each floor can head for the balustrades to admire the view, or they can circumnavigate it inspecting the clothing that stretches away from it.
The offer is partially divided by gender. The ground floor is home to womenswear and menswear alike with mixed fitting rooms on this level.
More women’s stock is available on the first and second floors, as well as beauty and “The Primarket” – browsable stationery and suchlike. “Hombre” is housed on third and “Home” at the top of the shop. The children’s ranges are on the top floor.
The other point that cannot be avoided and which demands consideration is the visual merchandising.
There are 300 faceless mannequins in this store in colours ranging from turquoise to grey to brown. They are almost everywhere the shopper happens to turn, but pride of place has to go to the two-tiered bevvy of mannequins set against a white wire grid just inside the entrance, which sets the fashion scene for those coming into the shop.
“This is a democratic and futuristic interior and one that makes looking round a shop a true diversion”
Note should be made too of the painted graphics – the result of commissioning seven Madrid artists to work on the interior and lending a little local colour to this vision of the Primark future.
This is probably what a 21st-century fashion store should look and feel like.
Forget the fact that it is a low-price offer, although this clearly matters, this is a democratic and futuristic interior and one that makes looking round a shop a true diversion.
For the moment at least, Madrid leads the Primark vanguard and to a considerable degree the fashion interior pack.
Primark, Gran Vía
Opened Late 2015
Size 134,900 sq ft
Number of floors Five
Design In-house and Dalziel + Pow
Ambience Low-cost futuristic