Shopping centres are morphing to survive. Opening cinemas, restaurants and other attractions to get people out of the house and their tenants happy with more footfall, they are trying to move away from being a one trick shopping pony. This is old news.
But, it’s all so chainy and sanitised; the antithesis of what is cool today. It’s basic.
Left - St George’s Market - Belfast
What’s cool today is start-ups, seasonal produce, artisans, craftspeople, farmer’s markets, Boxparks, ethnic food and passionate and motivated people seeing the whites of their customer’s eyes.
Shopping centres need to harness this energy and support it.
I’ve often been jealous of the historical, covered markets they have in many Northern towns. This isn’t poncey, Daylesford Organic type markets, but real markets for everybody, offering quality and affordability. Lots of fresh produce and home made products. I know, if I had one closer, I would use it.
I visited Belfast 18 months ago and fell upon St George’s Market. It was a mid-week wednesday in October and the whole place was buzzing. Built between 1890 and 1896, and supported by The National Lottery, the restoration preserved its Victorian heritage, from the authentic stone bricks to its Bangor Blue roof slates and replicas of original Victorian shops.
As well as restoring an important historical building, the project created a modern market place providing a space to trade and grow for over 170 small local businesses, and supports around 400 jobs each week.
Since its renovation in 1999, St George’s Market has gone from strength to strength, trebling the number of days it trades from one day a week to three. The huge variety and quality of products on offer helps to attract over 600,000 visitors each year. St George’s Market was named the UK's Best Large Indoor Market 2014 by the National Association of British Market Authorities.
There were signs on the doors saying there was a wait-list for stalls. It was a mix of food, arts and crafts, vintage artefacts and unique gifts. Of course, not everything was to the highest taste, but that’s the point of a market, it’s an excitement of discovery and unpredictablity. The opposite of a modern and bland shopping centre. It was thriving and it had an energy that I wanted to spend time in.
I recently visited Centre:MK in Milton Keynes. It’s a busy, 1970s listed shopping centre at the heart of the city. I had a walk around and noticed, huddled under a flyover type structure, was an outside market: little stalls selling vegetables and other types of street market products.
Shopping centres need to bring this inside, polish it up a bit and expand it. But not sanitise it. These types of markets were often looked down upon, much like Primark was - Read more here - but things change and we need a return to a type of frequent shopping that we’ve been doing for thousands of years.
Right - Kirkgate Market - Leeds
This is the modern version of an ancient market. Somewhere I can get great bread, home-made chocolates for presents and authentic products from all the nationalities who have made their home in the UK.
I live in Croydon. They opened a Boxpark over a year ago. It’s fantastic. It’s a large food court which feels like you’re trying something new and getting passion in every mouthful. It’s just food and you congregate on large communal tables in the centre after visiting what feels like an unlimited choice of cuisines.
People are just as tired of chain restaurants as they are of chain stores. It’s time for independents. These shopping centres could support whole armies of people itching to start their own enterprise. There are so many people wanting to follow their dreams and try something new without the prohibitive cost of opening a shop or starting a website. These brands are very active on social media and offer newness and a point of difference.
Large towns and highly populated areas could easily sustain a thriving market type concept. The shopping centre needs to be an umbrella rather than a controller. The other shops would benefit from more frequent visitors and the buzz of the shopping centre. This is also how future brands will start.
Remember Marks & Spencer started on a market stall in Leeds after all.
Fashionistos, clear your diary! As we stand on the eve of the new SS18 men’s show season be part of the excitement of London Fashion Week Men’s - LFWM - thanks to St James’s. Join TheChicGeek on Saturday, June 10th, as Jermyn Street is transformed into an al fresco catwalk.
The centre for London’s menswear for centuries, the St James’s area is steeped in history while still being one of the best contemporary men’s shopping areas in the world. Combine an afternoon of shopping with an inspirational see-now-buy-now catwalk show featuring some of the best British brands including Turnbull & Asser, John Smedley, Lock & Co and John Lobb as well as contemporary, newly arrived names including Paul & Shark, Jigsaw, Sunspel and Barbour International.
The two shows are at 1.30pm and 3.00pm and the tickets are free. You just need to register - here What are you waiting for? See you there!
Nearest Tube - Piccadilly Circus
Left & Right - Previous St James's presentations featuring the men's retailers within this prestigious area of Mayfair
If you can’t make either of the shows visitors will be able to drop into the shops of St James’s for a variety of special in-store activities such as a shirt cutting demonstration from a Master Shirt Cutter at Harvie & Hudson and complementary wet shaves at world renowned perfumery Floris. Jermyn Street will also play host to some of London’s best street food retailers all offering a bespoke St James’s menu, making sure the day will be a feast for all the senses.
I don’t often write about new retail, it’s usually pretty boring and cookie-cutter the world over, but when something’s good, it’s good, and on a recent trip to Venice with Diadora, we were taken to the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi, the first retail store in Europe by LVMH’s travel retail arm, DFS.
Left - Inside the main atrium space of the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi
Looking out onto the Rialto Bridge, across from the fish market, stands the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi. First constructed in 1228, it was once home to the German merchants - Tedeschi means German in Italian - who traded with those wealthy Venetians, taking spices and the like to Northern Europe. It became a customs house under Napoleon, and a post office under Mussolini, then lay empty. Until now.
Right - The Venetian red escalators and special Venice-inspired product graces the entrance
Thanks to LVMH’s deep pockets and Dutch architecture practise, OMA, it been transformed into a sympathetic, luxury with a small L shopping space that feels more like a cross between a boutique hotel and museum that sells things, rather than a boring collection of luxury concessions all jostling for customers and attention.
Left - On the top floor is this exhibition space with a lit floor that just needs a disco soundtrack
It’s one of the best retail spaces I’ve seen recently. The escalators are Venetian red, like moving red carpets, they take you up to the floors of men’s and women's fashion and beauty.
On the top floor is an exhibition space and on the roof is a viewing deck looking out over the glorious city that is Venice.
Right - Head to the top floor for one of the best views of Venice.
Opened in October, the Fondaco Dei Tedeschi has been updated, without losing any of its charm, by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas – who was in charge of the exterior renovation – and architect Jamie Fobert – who handled the interior design.
Everywhere there is attention to detail. Every inch has been thought about: the floors, handrails, furniture, lights and the space has been designed for brands to flow, and in our ever fickle times, be replaced.
The brands are the same old: Gucci, Bally, Bottega Veneta etc., but because it’s such a nice building and environment it makes you want to explore regardless of it being the same tired things. To be fair, the brands have done a few special pieces with the colours of the Italian flag. Also, on the ground floor, they sell wine, souvenirs and other more affordable items.
The only negative was that it was so discreet, the name ‘ Fondaco Dei Tedeschi’, which doesn't exactly slip off the tongue, was only at the front door and you wanted to know/learn the name in order to tell other people how good it was. If you’re in Venice, definitely take a look.
Dear Geek, I'm a regular on the site, finally making it over to London for a quick 24h shopping spree. Which are the go to shops I can’t miss out on? Thanks G
It does depend on what you're into, but I always think you want to buy and see things you can't get anywhere else. There's an umbrella shop called James Smith & Sons at the end of Oxford Street - New Oxford Street which hasn't changed from Victorian times. Nothing says London like a quality, British-made umbrella.
Another must stop is the Anderson & Sheppard Haberdashery, it sells everything an English gent would need – trousers, knitwear, shirts, accessories with the majority of items Made in Britain.
Hope this helps.
Knightsbridge based department store, Harvey Nichols, has been busy excavating their basement. Long the home of their menswear offering, this cavernous yet claustrophobic space is, we are told, being completely made over ready for its unveiling in spring 2016.
Left - Harvey Nichols' new store in Birmingham which gives us the direction stylistically of the Knightsbridge store's new men's basement.
So, what’s new? I recently attended a presentation of theirs describing how the new spaces are going to look. Bye, bye shop-in-shops and branded concessions: long the bastion of mega-brands, physically claiming prime spots in-store to be replaced by easily changeable spaces and the mixing of brands.
I'd like to think of it as a more democratic form of shopping: allowing labels to speak to people solely on product alone without the pre-judgement of walking over to a branded section or the muscling out of smaller brands by placing them in the parts of the store these mega-brands don’t want.
The big brands won’t like this. They will sell less. There will now be an equal playing field between them and whichever new brands Harvey Nichols decide to stock. It also allows Harvey Nichols to drop brands faster, regardless of size, to keep pace with the speed of fashion and allowing new brands to bring excitement and interest into their physical store.
People are tired of seeing the same brands everywhere regardless of how expensive they are. It also allows a form of curation rather than simply a mini-mall of the same designer names which you can find the world over.
Harvey Nichols know they can’t compete with the likes of Harrods and Selfridges on menswear floor space, so, they are making theirs more flexible and less static. This is a very clever idea.
Right - More interiors from Harvey Nichols Birmingham. Let's hope London looks this good
In order to survive shops need to become destinations. They need to offer something you can’t find anywhere else: something new, fresh and inspiring. They also have to flow, both visibly and physically, and, ultimately, part time-poor people with their cash.
One of the more interesting ideas they have is putting all the same things together. So, white T-shirts, tuxedos etc., all at different price points, selected by Harvey Nichols, are together with the sales assistants explaining the differences between them all.
Fashion’s big names have long earnt their corners of the big stores, but they sell more and remain powerful because they have the best positions and are, therefore, stuck in a positive cycle which is very hard to break, making retail spaces look the same every time and everywhere. It all becomes quite predictable and menswear buyers and the retailers want something different and exciting while still retaining the spend.
Harvey Nichols is seeing this refresh as an opportunity to try something new. No doubt they’ll be some difficult discussions with brands, but I hope they hold their ground and give these ideas a chance to prove that the customer, now, buys into good product rather than brands. Menswear just got a level playing field!
Opening April 2016