Just don’t call it a shop: the future of luxury retail
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There’s not a raincoat nor a wellington boot in sight at Amanda Brooks’s new store in the Gloucestershire market town of Stow-on-the-Wold. That’s not to say that the former Manhattan social fixture isn’t enamoured with the English country style. Since trading her role as fashion director of the Manhattan department store Barneys for the Cotswolds back in 2012, Brooks has adopted a land-girl uniform of Paraboot shoes, sturdy skirts and tea dresses. But now she wants to get off the farm and back into the world of retail, creating an Aladdin’s cave of fashion and homewares conveniently located within 20 miles of Soho Farmhouse.
In a luxury market where everything is just a click away, Cutter Brooks & Co is one of a raft of creative ventures setting out to reinvent the retail experience. Featuring ever more exclusive pieces, set in remote locations, or making the most of modern, multi-dimensional spaces, they seek to place food, art and fashion on an equal platform. Just don’t call it a shop.
“I feel as though I’m finally sharing this great lifestyle I’ve discovered,” says Brooks. With its oak beams, flagstone floors and little courtyard garden, the former greengrocer’s has all the old-world charm of a village antiques store. But inside, the offerings are far from quaint. There are botanical sculptures by Vladimir Kanevsky and rattan furnishings from Atelier Vime in Provence alongside Loretta Caponi’s pretty Florentine nightgowns, L/Uniform bags and Le Monde Beryl slippers, all mixed in with one-off finds — from 1930s Fair Isle knits to maximalist Gucci ashtrays — that showcase Brooks’s magpie eye.
Over in Shoreditch, strolling down Redchurch Street, it’s hard to miss Blue Mountain School. The silver-wrapped, six-storey townhouse is a paean to newness. Founder James Brown, who developed the space with his partner Christie Fels, doesn’t see it as a shop, a concept store or a retailer with a restaurant. “There’s no set identity,” he says. “It’s something that will evolve over time. For now it feels like a dysfunctional house that’s full of weird and wonderful things.”
Alongside the revolving exhibition space there’s a London outpost for Tyler Hays’ elegant BDDW furnishings and handcrafted M Crow clothing line, and Mãos (meaning “hands” in Portuguese), a stripped-back, intimate dining room from Nuno Mendes (executive chef at the Chiltern Firehouse).
Down in the belly of the building is the sartorial equivalent of a library. Here, close to 600 pieces of clothing are stored in pristine, zippered white bags in towering metal units. This is the Hostem Archive, its name a nod to the site’s previous incarnation as Hostem, the boutique Brown opened in 2010. Now deliberately operating outside the fashion cycle, Brown and Fels work exclusively with small-scale, artisanal designers.
“Retail is in a really bad way,” says Brown of the pair’s decision to halt their seasonal buying trips to Paris. “It’s consumerism for the sake of consumerism. We started to think about what it means to have a £5,000 jacket that, within three months, goes on sale and is almost worthless.” Instead, you can find anything, from hand-crafted shoes and accessories by south London’s Atelier Baba to weaves from the Hampstead loom of Texan textile artist Amy Revier. It feels unlike a normal shopping environment: only a fraction of the goods are on display, and there are no rails bulging with clothes and no stockroom.
Location is key for the new breed of luxury retailer. Every year the sleepy seaside enclave of Amagansett, Long Island, transforms into a low-key summer hide-out for everyone from Paul McCartney to Hillary Clinton. Inside a former merchants’ building dating from the 1800s, Tiina Laakkonen and her husband offer an exquisite edit of handmade fashion and homewares, including bespoke cashmere by Los Angeles-based The Elder Statesman, Pippa Small jewellery and Bergfabel tailoring from South Tyrol.
Tiina the Store has been an Amagansett fixture since 2012. But this summer the space is undergoing a massive overhaul. “It’s Tiina the Store 2.0,” says the former stylist for British Vogue, who is using the process as an opportunity to rethink their retail offering. “I want people to feel that they’re entering an environment that’s cosy and welcoming and visually stimulating. We’re just here to tell the stories of all the special things we have.”
Working with the British interior designer Faye Toogood, Laakkonen has focused on creating a comforting space — complete with Toogood’s Roly Poly chairs and palatial fitting rooms — that compels customers to linger. She is just as happy for visitors to sit and read as shop. Perhaps it comes with the territory. “I wouldn’t want a store anywhere else,” Laakkonen says of the joy of operating outside the Manhattan retail bubble. “Here I get to kick back, drink tea and hang out with my cats.”
Even fashion’s digital behemoths need somewhere to call home. For MatchesFashion.com, that’s 5 Carlos Place, an experimental space in a five-storey Mayfair townhouse that, come September, intends to join the dots between online shopping, social media and old-fashioned bricks and mortar.
With its grand, panelled stairwell and polished terracotta flooring it promises to feel more like a luxurious private home than a shop. “It’s a really special building,” says Jess Christie, the project’s chief brand officer. “We want it to feel like the ultimate collector’s house. A beautiful world all of its own.” The interior is by Philip Joseph, the designer of Erdem Moralioglu’s nearby store (and the fashion designer’s partner), and there has been careful collaboration with English Heritage.
Richly decorated with rugs and soft furnishings, and with open fires in every room, the shopping salons are akin to lounges. The ever-evolving shop floor will rotate on a bi-weekly basis, with installations curated by a roster of designers that includes Grace Wales Bonner, Hillier Bartley and Richard Quinn. Those wanting one-on-one attention can call ahead and have their selection of wares available within 90 minutes in one of the swish private shopping suites. “Technology underpins everything we do, but you also need to connect with customers in a personal way,” says Christie. “That’s what much of retail is failing to do.”
In the attic space, which looks like an artist’s studio, there’s a pop-up café-cum-chef’s table. But 5 Carlos Place cleverly melds the historic with the high-tech. The attic is also home to a broadcasting hub, where podcasts and live-streamed content will be created — which will allow global customers to be in on the action too. When Skye Gyngell comes in to cook an intimate dinner at the 18-seat table, you will be able to consume her interview if not the food.
The Mayfair space is a spin-off from a series of townhouse takeovers the brand hosted in New York, Paris and Los Angeles to mark its 30th anniversary last year. “It worked so well. When you engage with people and bring them into the brand experience, both engagement — and spending — goes up,” says Christie. “But the fabulous thing about 5 Carlos Place is that it’s our house. Rather than being a pop-up for just a few months, we can put the fun back into shopping all 52 weeks of the year.”