As nearly as delayed as the Elizabeth Line, well, not quite, the new Flannels on the eastern side of Oxford Street has been the most anticipated addition to London’s busiest retail thoroughfare this year.
Sandwiched between Marks & Spencer’s Pantheon store and Matalan, this four storey, 18,000 sq ft store, selling designer clothes and accessorises, has been 3 years in the making. The entire building was purchased for £108 million in 2016 by a Sports Direct subsidiary and doubles as office space for its parent group. Part of Mike Ashley’s growing empire, it is the debut of Flannels in Central London.
Left - Veja display inside the new Oxford Street Flannels
This is Flannels' 44th store in the UK, after a lightning expansion, with a further 15 stores coming this year alone. In 2012, sportswear giant Sports Direct bought a majority 51% stake in Flannels and in September 2017 they acquired the brand in full and began investing in and opening stores.
It is worth noting Sports Direct also own other premium fashion chains such as USC, Cruise and Van Mildert, but, it is Flannels which has been chosen to lead the designer crusade to “elevate” the company. Sports Direct currently has an obsession with moving from discounted sports to full price branded.
Mike Ashley said at a recent shareholder meeting regarding Flannels, “I think they are better than any other stores in the market. Now, I might have rose-tinted glasses but one of the reasons is because I have absolutely nothing to do with it. I just sign off the money. It has nothing to do with Mike Ashley.
“It’s not just a few show stores. When you have a pipeline it takes time. I’m telling you – this is for real. The reality is, I’m telling you it is real and the proof of the pudding will be when they start to roll out. It’s happening, it’s coming. It’s just not as fast as I would like it.
“I’m going to do the same with House of Fraser and get around to elevating. The modern-day consumer – that’s what they want. It could be Stone Island, it could be Nike and Adidas – it’s all about the branded world.
“Maybe I was late to the party, I accept that. Maybe my son-in-law should’ve gone out with my daughter when she was 12, but now we’re on it, nothing’s going to get us off it.”
Oxford Street is their new flagship and is a physical testament to their ambitious intentions of becoming “the biggest global luxury retailer,”. This is what Sports Direct Group’s head of elevation, Mike Murray, Mike Ashley’s daughter’s boyfriend, told Drapers in March. He went on, “We’re in the early stages, but we have a clear vision for Flannels, we have ambition and we are willing to invest,”.
Right - Art on the second floor
The £10 million new store has been designed by Italian studio P con P, and you can see the Gucci influence in the rugs, over blown William Morris type screens, 1970s brass changing rooms and waiting areas and contrasting use of materials.
The store is split into women’s accessorises on ground, womenswear in the basement, men’s designer on first and men’s accessorise and sportswear on the second, though there wasn’t much difference between the latter two. The second-floor will also house the first ever UK retail space for US footwear brand Flight Club and the store offers services such as Click & Collect and personal styling.
One notable difference was the huge amount of staff, all dressed in black. I was told 50 members of staff currently work there. I visited on a late Tuesday afternoon and the only people seriously buying were a group of Asian tourists in the Gucci men’s section. They’d probably never heard of Flannels before.
I expected to see the usual chav labels such as Off-White and Burberry, which were there, but, interestingly, there were also brands such as Barena, Brioni, Alanui and JW Anderson. There was even a diamond necklace for nearly £60,000. I did ask how many they’d sold that week?!
Cire Trudon candles, Acqua Di Parma fragrances and Ganni dresses were also spied, and while nothing particularly revolutionary, it is difficult to pick holes in.
“His whole plan for 100 Flannels stores is bonkers. Knock a nought off, mate!” says Eric Musgrave, former editor of Drapers and fashion industry consultant. “It will be a ghost town for 5 or 6 days a week. Wrong location. Too big. Offering nothing you can't get in the West End or Knightsbridge already.” he says.
“My guess is that they will leave it as it is for two or three years, then reorganise it, making the Flannels area smaller and bringing in USC and SD. But, I believe Ashley owns the building, so he can run it as a vanity project.” says Musgrave.
Left - Display in collaboration with artist, Alec Monopoly
The simile I would use is, it’s like an Essex nightclub, which, if playing the right music, you’d have a good time in. And that’s what the clothes and buy is, the music.
(The security guards do look a bit like bouncers though, and one made me delete a picture I took on my phone of the new store *eyeroll*).
There’s nothing to fault in the design and money spent, it feels premium and everything is nicely presented, but Flannels has a problem with the snobby stigma London has towards Mike Ashley. He needs to distance himself like he says above.
People will need persuading to part with their cash here, unless it is product they can’t get anywhere else. Flannels needs to change perceptions so people are happy to be seen swinging a Flannels bag when they leave. It’s just not cool right now. They need to turn into leaders rather than just flogging the same old mega brands to punters.
Right - That £60,000 necklace
They own the building here, so are here for the long haul, but it will be interesting to see how it develops and how long they stick to this initial format. Flannels recorded sales of £173.9 million in its latest financial year, up 12 per cent from 2018. It’s growing because it is rapidly expanding, it obviously wants to get to the point where is it more powerful than the brands, rather than the other way around currently. I can imagine many luxury brands, currently, being cautious about choosing them as a stockist, but watch this space as they grow.
Flannels will also struggle with some of the quality of the product, and disappointed consumers. Read Gucci Quality Is Rubbish - here - which isn’t their fault.
Left - Flannels Oxford Street exterior. Sports Direct own the entire building
Sports Direct want more elevation than the Wright brothers, but it’s going to be expensive and I can't help think that 100 stores is too many, especially when you’re trying to sell £900 Gucci hoodies. Even though this is on Oxford Street, it needs to become a destination. It feels like the kind of store going against the retail tide, but I certainly admire the ambition.
Below - Interior shot of the new Flannels Oxford Street store
The latest edition to the Blu Mediterraneo series is centred around the extremely rare chinotto fruit. Called Chinotto di Liguria - Liguria is a coastal region of north-western Italy. Its capital is Genoa - it is a small orange-type fruit which had been used by the Italians to make fizzy drinks, but had somewhat disappeared.
The top notes of the fragrance are enhanced by the bittersweet notes of the chinotto fruit and the sparkling crispness of mandarin. At its heart, jasmine and geranium bloom with the dynamic and refreshing notes of cardamom and rosemary. It is rounded off with the peace and tranquillity accorded by the base notes of musk and patchouli. A fragrance reminiscent of an early morning stroll along the rocky coastlines of western Liguria.
TheChicGeek says, “Nothing makes you want to book a Summer holiday like the launch of a new Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo scent. The blast of sunshine and the hypnotic blue of the bottle makes you want to rush down to Lunn Poly and take a one way flight to Southern Europe. ANYWHERE.
Left & Right - Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo - Chinotto di Liguria 75ml - £66
This tiny orange had somewhat - or should that be kumquat?! - fallen out of use in Italy. It has a thick skin and the fragrance is extracted by fermenting the entire fruits.
This isn’t your standard sparkling citrus fragrance. It’s more interesting than that. It has a warm spiciness - cardamom - which seems to keep the fragrance in the background, but it has a heat and intensity that keeps it resonating. It's like the heat from coastal rocks after a long day in the sun.
This is the kind of fragrance that would keep people guessing regarding the ingredients and is a welcome addition to the citrus category.”
Joining the Peacock Revolution, the explosion in colourful menswear during the late 1960s, TheChicGeek brings the look up-to-date with a mixture of things you may already have in your wardrobe and a few accessories.
TheChicGeek says, "Don't be afraid of colour. Put strong colour with more strong colour. It's all about balance. Add a few accessories and you're ready for Woodstock 2016!"
Shot by Robin Forster on Olympus PEN
Get involved #PeacockGeek
Credits - Jacket - Moss Bros, Necklace - River Island, Shirt - Moss Bros, Collarless Shirt - Scotch & Soda, Parka - Scotch & Soda, Watch - Storm London, Socks - Item m6, Sliders - adidas at ASOS, Spectacles - Salvatore Ferragamo, Bracelet - Tateossian, Pyjama Trousers - Derek Rose, Blue Fragrance - Cedro di Taormina Acqua Di Parma, Dark Fragrance - Stone Replay, Daily Defence - Zelens, Beard Wash - The Great British Grooming Co.
More images & video below
Want to join the Peacock Revolution, but on a budget? TheChicGeek shows you how here
Choosing the equestrian discipline of dressage as its focal sport, Acqua di Parma’s new Colonia Club has the signature Acqua di Parma top notes of citrus - bergamot, lemon, petitgrain and mandarin, immediately followed by an unexpected olfactory note.
The freshness of mint – combined with neroli oil – is blended with aromatic geranium and lavender notes with equally elegant freshness of galbanum.
The dry and woody accents of Haiti vetiver, combined with precious musk notes and a rich grey amber accord, make up the perfect base, stressing the masculine, dynamic, sophisticated tones of the fragrance.
There is an Eau de Cologne spray, Hair and Shower Gel, Deodorant Stick and Spray, Shampoo and Shower Gel within the Colonia Club range.
Left - Acqua di Parma Colonia Club - 100ml - £81
TheChicGeek says, “Billed as Acqua di Parma’s ‘Sports’ fragrance, Colonia Club is a classic men’s fougeré (lavender) unpinned with fresh mint. This a classic type of men’s fragrance, thus being very wearable, in a very popular men’s family of fragrances. The mint remains warm thanks to the amber.
The only negatives are - it has that initial stickiness that you get with a lot of men’s fragrances, you could put that down to the amount of green notes in the fragrance and it also doesn’t last very long. BUT, it is an Eau De Cologne which in their nature are light and should be sprayed liberally and often.
The rich racing green colour suits the classic deco flacon and visualises this green and fresh fragrance. This is the sort of fragrance that works well across a range of products, especially the types of gym products, like shower gel, in this range."
This is the third of Acqua di Parma's Colonia range of 'ingredient' fragrances - Oud, Leather and, now, Ambra.
Inspired by Marco Polo’s journey along the Silk Road, it is an exotic and rich blend of the ingredients found along the way. At the court of the Chinese emperor Kublai Khan, surrounded by millennia-old inventions and secrets, Marco Polo came to know unfamiliar essences, such as rare ambergris, which Chinese practitioners used in their pharmacopoeia. A substance that the Venetian explorer called ambrum and took back on his long journey home. Venetian master perfume-makers, charmed by the warm and intense scent of this natural essence, added it in tiny amounts – due to its high value to precious fragrances intended for Venetian aristocrats.
Here it has been blended with the typical fresh citrus notes of the classic Colonia fragrance. The woody accents of nagarmotha – a type of grass - and cedar wood are blended with the delicate, yet vibrant notes of rosewood. The heart closes on the earthy and musky notes of patchouli enhanced by sandalwood and warmed up by soft vanilla accents.
TheChicGeek says, “Ambergris is one of those strange ingredients that makes you wonder who first discovered that decaying whale vomit that has been floating in the sea for years, absorbing salt, then washed ashore, would make the perfect animalic ingredient to a fragrance?!
Anyway, if you see any big lumps washed ashore, this summer, it could be your own version of winning the lottery as this stuff goes for ridiculous amounts - here It's smell is musky and animalic, not fishy.
As for the fragrance, this is one for the rich oud fan club. It is quite overpowering and heavy, so would be for those who like a rich and deep fragrance. It doesn’t has the potency of oud, so good those who want some a bit different and the colonia base always adds a freshness. I wouldn't put too much on unless you want to be as overpowering as a whale!"
Above - Acqua di Parma Colonia Ambra - 100ml - £150