Monday, 24 November 2008

Pop-up dining projects are pure collaboration in London

It's pop-up time in London and the run up to Christmas is a feast of restaurant collaborations and blink-and-they'll-be-booked-up dining experience locations. So two new destinations to make sure you visit (before the in-crowd has moved on) are The Double Club in Angel and Flash in Mayfair. One is a bar-club meets relaxed diner "installation" sponsored by the Fondazione Prada; while the other is an art-fashion crowd gallery come restaurant from the Bistroteque crew.

Flash is the latest pop-up restaurant made into a makeshift reality by Pablo Flack, David Waddington and Tom Collins, hidden away in the GSK Contemporary gallery at the back of the Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington Gardens. Flash follows on from Bistroteque's first festive pop-up restaurant Reindeer but instead of snow covered ornaments this year's effort has a "refined" air as Waddington puts it, with a California-influenced menu and an all-star collaboration team: the rising London architecture star David Kohn built the set from art-storage crates, the fashion designer Giles Deacon created a "psychedelic Death Star" chandelier, and the Wedgwood china has been customized by the illustrator Will Broome. Everything will be auctioned on eBay when Flash closes on January 19, with proceeds donated to the Royal Academy.

Meanwhile just opened in an old warehouse behind Angel tube (and in situ for six months only) is The Double Club. Conceived by experimentalist Carsten Höller and bankrolled by the philanthropic art home of Fondazione Prada it's a collaboration space showing the contrasting appeal of both Congalese and Western cultures.

With one side of the room dedicated to a Congalese wooden bar made from timber shipped from Kinshasa and colourful artworks across the walls the juxtaposition of contrasting cultures is clear with the lavish "Two Horses Riders Club" copper design bar in the Western corner. Add in the carved out segregated floor, partnered menus and twinned club areas and you get the idea for mixing it up at The Double Club.

"Instead of doing an art exhibition it's good to do something which disappears with reality - and get confused doing it. It's not an art space, it's a mix of cultures," says Germano Celant from the Fondazione Prada. He continued the idea was to produce something real in an art world where prices are sky rocketing. "It's promoting art but more the dialogue between two cultures and the questions that in itself raises in people's knowledge of these cultures."

Höller describes it as "About having a juxtaposition of two things at once and celebrating one's state of indecisiveness" he thinks it's a human condition "to be double".

It's certainly a double dose of cultural treats if the menu is anything to go by - and that's before you've hit the revolving dancefloor.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Playful windows - from fantasy Card characters to cartoon superheroes

Bruton Street in Mayfair came over all fantasy last week with set designer Gary Card taking up residence in Stella McCartney's windows while Diane Von Furstenberg hosted a party in honour of her favourite cartoon character Superwoman with comics given out in store to a lucky few.

I loved that set designer and artist Gary Card illustrated his work in a LIVE window at Stella's store - using colouring pencils to create naive and charming over-layered drawings of animals, dinosaurs, superheros and fantasy inspired characters onto children's wardrobes - his work has a playful appeal and you are naturally drawn into his workspace as window watcher. Card has previously worked with the likes of Paul Smith, Cassette Playa, Uniqlo and for Henry Holland's Fashion space at Dover Street Market and the club kid has been likened to Andy Warhol for his mop of blonde hair.

Meanwhile just next door at DVF it's all about Wonderwoman and strong cartoon characters. I love the zaney action hero stuff these images are made of - you too can have superhuman powers dressing in DVF.

And still on the playful, colouful tip Matthew Williamson doesn't disappoint with a beautiful, far-away land window display. All the drama is in the clothes and this display has so much going on it's worth taking the time to go on Williamson's eclectic journey wherever it is.

Just another day stalking windows and retail in London.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

CDG for H&M: and then there was none

Huge anticipation for the fifth annual designer collection at H&M this year from arguably one of the most conceptual and respected designers around Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons. Actually this is the cleverest collaboration yet - H&M's choice to not just throw advertising money at its two Tokyo store launches and Japan debut there this autumn, but create a natural localised promotion that talks to a wide (and new) customer base both there and globally. Japanese marketing website Mekas covered the Ginza opening back in September and called it the news of the month.

“I thought it would be an exciting event to work with H&M in order to sell Comme des Garçons clothes in places where they have never been sold and to appeal to people who may not yet understand Comme des Garçons. Marrying the commercial expertise of H&M with Comme des Garçons creation was a fascinating challenge", says Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons.

“This collection really reflects Kawakubo’s creative spirit and integrity. It is complete with the designer’s trademark, independent style and clever cuts - elaborate tailoring, shirts, knits and a series of playful jersey pieces in dramatic black and midnight blue with accents of white and rose”, says H&M’s Creative Advisor Margareta van den Bosch.

So the preview launch day in Tokyo (a full six days ahead of the rest of the world) produced the expected crowds and usual queues of Japanese fashionistas - but we weren't sure if it was because it was CDG for H&M or because it was H&M and it was new. Or even because it was Hara-juku and that's what they do there every Saturday. Some even queued days in advance to get their hands on the limited edition collection.

That was a clear signal to the rest of the world to prepare to shop the collection early. So after the lookbook went on-line a full month in advance and the preview windows went on display a few days in advance there were no excuses.

But who knew so many London based Japanese CDG fans would be there bright and early to snaffle all the top pieces. They obviously started queuing the night before! Polite but deadly!

However I got most of my wish-list: the spotty cardigan and matching scarf, frilled sleeve blouse, perfect peg-leg length jodpur trousers and the asymmetric hem jacket. I loved the panel-front and frill stitch coat but alas there weren't any to be seen.

As this H&M designer shopping frenzy is always near by birthday it's an annual ritual/ treat but this was my favourite - in some ways because there was only one merch drop so in true Rei style this is very limited edition and also because it paved a seamless and credible path for the retailer into the hallowed Japanese retail market.

We've said it before and we may say it again but how to top this one?

Monday, 10 November 2008

Victorinox looks sharp on Bond Street

Swiss army knife brand Victorinox has opened a new European flagship store on London's Bond Street - and the three floor lifestyle concept space features an in-store forest and touch-screen consumer test to make customers feel at home among the knives.

Swiss retail design specialist Retail Partners created a completely new look store design for the Swiss knife specialist, which it interpreted by creating a design with a strong product focus. There are six product categories for sale over the three floors. The ground floor is dedicated to mens sportswear, timepieces and fragrances, the first floor is for seasonal womenswear and the lower ground floor sells travel gear, chef's knives and Swiss army knives.

The prize for store highlight is a toss up between the 10m-high case containing pen knives running through the stairwell, and stretching through three floors of the building, which occupies 4,500 sq ft of retail space. Or alternatively we loved the second floor forest chill out area. Very mountain like. And adding some fun and customer interaction are the touch-screen 'lifestyle identity' games which serve to bring web activity - such as choosing the right product for the right customer - to life, on-screen. Enjoy deciding which knife goes with which jacket while sampling fresh fruit cocktails served from the ice-bar!

Retail Partners commented: "We wanted to create a much more authentic brand identity through three dimensional forms and work with a smaller colour palette." Victorinox plans to roll out the new design to the Tokyo and New York stores.

Last week saw the opening launch party with vertical "runway" in the glass stairwell and Swiss chef knife displays plus various Swiss DJ sets to rock the fashionable crowd.

Monday, 3 November 2008

West is best: Westfield mall is a retail dream

London's brand new Westfield shopping mall opened last week in Shepherds Bush /White City and is the largest urban mall in Europe with over 150,000 sq m of retail space at a cost of £1.7m. This is a retail planner's dream with the ability to start from scratch in terms of ideal brand adjacencies coupled with a premium courtship of retailers from around the world with a key location and must-visit mall of the future. A win-win situation for consumers and retailers alike that ensures shoppers stay all day - just like I did.

The first of three major mall developments from international mall operator Westfield (the next is in Stratford in time for the Olympics), the west London location is all set to become a destination shopping hotspot to rival other south of England malls such as Bluewater or Lakeside - which look dated in comparison now. And the best thing about the new Westfield London is that its full to the brim with new retail concepts - after Westfield developers gave retailers the challenge to push boundaries when it came to store design innovation.

A host of retailers launched new store concepts at the mall that is anchored by Marks & Spencer, Next, House of Fraser and Debenhams with Waitrose as key supermarket anchor for food.

Fashion brands lead the way for launching new store concepts. House of Fraser was the major anchor retail tenant to pass on the challenge to its vendors to focus on innovation - with Whistles a clear leader in the new formats launch game. New CEO of Whistles, Jane Shepherdson was there on opening day to check out the brand new calmer, cleaner, pale store design that allows customers to browse the collections with focus.

Elsewhere M&S looked to have placed new importance on its visual merchandising with a runway running through the middle of the ground floor full of mannequins. A focus on each of its sub-brands with clear concession areas can only work in the retailers favour - from Autograph to Limited Collection and the best-selling Per Una. The new Patricia Field for M&S celebrity collection is merchandised centre stage and is full of the New York City super stylist's character.

A walk through Next's giant corner site leaves no lifestyle dressing option unturned with all the retailer's merchandise categories catered for - known for kidswear and homewear the retailer and mail-order giant dedicated its ground floor areas to these best selling products.

Meanwhile many retailers debuted brand new retail formats including New Look, Ted Baker, Oasis and Topshop from the high-street sector. Topshop's new store layout - featuring giant neon framed boxes for mannequins and a clubby atmosphere - will be the same as the New York flagship now slated to open in February. Ted Baker's latest store was based on greyhound racing according to founder Ray Kelvin who said the store would do well as part of the west London location. Barratts and Aldo also put new footwear concepts to the test while Terra-Plana and Timberland both unveiled new sustainable retail designs using reclaimed wood. Some retailers even had fun with their new shop fits - I loved Camper's "X marks the spot meet me here" store. Plus it was first time around for a handful of overseas retailers including Ugg, Pull & Bear, Hollister and Matchka.

Meanwhile the hoards of half-term shoppers praised the new site as catering to their every whim - from high-street to department store to luxury designer brands in the dedicated "Designer Village" area that saw many vendors missing the opening deadline day. Reports suggested the luxury brands involved blamed "complicated and luxury shop fits" for the delay. Only a handful opened on time including Christian Dior, Tiffany, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Hackett, Myla, Twenty Eight Twelve and Donna Ida boutiques. Prada, Miu Miu, Mulberry and Gucci are all scheduled to open by December with Louis Vuitton finally opening by March.

There were over 160,000 visitors on opening day according to Westfield executives who said consumers were defying the credit crunch by voting with their feet and supporting London's new shopping centre.

Here's looking forward to the East End version coming soon to Stratford.

For a mall tour in pictures see below selection plus my Picasa album:
Westfield London mall tour inside