Just the very thought of shopping on Oxford Street brings me out in a migraine, so I was very excited when I first heard about the Westfield shopping centre – a new retail wonderland located in west london and handily for me, just a stones throw away from where I live. Added to that already exciting thought was the fact that the Westfield company is Australian, and in my mind anything Australian – to do with building and architecture – equals well organized, great design and innovation (I lived in Sydney for a while a few years ago so I’ve seen it first hand).
I’ve now been there 4 times, so what’s the verdict?
If you don’t want to read the entire analysis I would summarize and say that yes, it’s a great mall with an overwhelming choice of stores all under one roof. Apart from a few missing brands (for me that means American Apparel, Primark and Miss Selfridge) there shouldn’t be much need to go into Oxford street ever again. Except, unfortunately, I disagree (for my purposes anyway) : the footage of the retail units are generally smaller than most of those found on nearby High Street Kensington and with that means there is less stock and it is less likely you will find what you are looking for. I have found my time here in terms of end result (bought/ exchanged goods)- rather than shopping experience – frustrating.
Where it really works :
* The top floor is the most impressive level where boundless light enters through an undulating glass ceiling – the effect is funky, a bit eden project-ey.
* There is a good choice of materials notably pale natural stone (floor tiles) and glass (store fronts) which looks really smart and stylish.
* Some of the retail stores have impressive unit designs (Zara, Timberland, Hollister) which stand out against the homogenous (albeit stylish) glass fascia environment. The All Saints store does a particularly good job of standing out from the rest and communicating its message as a leader not follower of fashion. Their outside wall which is in brick not glass is the first/ last thing you see from one of the exits to the centre – it has been painted and branded in that edgy, distressed All Saints way. Very cool.
* I like the faux living wall outside opposite the second section of the Southern Terrace (real would have been nicer, although that would probably be too hard to sustain and keep green all year round).
* The food court area has been well thought out in terms of design – the low-level lit environment includes nice touches such as a funky wood ceiling, marble high-eating benches and stylish lamps ; (plastic) foliage and illuminated green glass divide eating areas. The food outlets boast equally stylish details – my favourite are ‘Croque Gascon’ which has a faux tree trunk counter design, and the ‘Birley Rotisserie’, a chicken joint with the smartest marble backdrop.
* Bathrooms are 5 star – natural stone walls and super slick design. Lovely.
Eatery strip – The Southern Terrace
The first half of the Southern Terrace will most certainly look better when all the eateries have opened – currently this corridor looks a bit bare and ‘cold’. I was particularly impressed with the second half of the South Terrace – where the Real Greek restaurant is a standout in design and decor.
Aspects which are hit and miss.
Store unit sizes
The promise of Westfield is that there is everything under one roof and therefore no reason to ever go to Oxford Street again. This isn’t strictly true. Yes, there are a lot of shops but has anyone noticed how small the units are? On my personal shopping hit-list, Top Shop at Westfield is bigger and better than the nearest High Street Kensington branch – which is great, but all the other stores I want to go to (H&M, Gap, Zara) are much smaller, so every time I’ve visited I’ve had to go elsewhere to find the products that weren’t stocked there. IE. each trip to Westfield is followed by another trip to either High Street Kensington, Knightsbridge or Oxford Street (not fun).
Also – why do the homewares stores such as The White Company, Zara and Habitat have such small units too? Surely they should be capitalizing on the fact that customers can park at the centre and can easily take their goods away? (unlike say, Zara Home in Knightsbridge or Habitat on Regent Street?).
I’m sure both the above points have something to do with costs, but however nice Westfield is, if you can’t find what you are looking for, it’s a complete waste of time.
Grabbing a coffee…
* Call me old fashioned but I quite like to ‘pop’ into a coffee shop whilst I am on the shopping circuit – it’s a necessary respite from too much thinking and wanting and a break does your legs no end of good. I don’t want to have to schlep too far to get my coffee – and these days you don’t have to since there is a coffee chain on every corner. At Westfield though, as far as I can see and ignoring Benugos on the lower floor, the coffee outlets are kind of freestanding affairs in the middle of the walkways…but has anyone noticed how bare and uncozy these are? I don’t want to go to any of them. Take Caffe Concerto, a normally richly decorated patisserie which oozes euro chic even if in quite an uncool, but cool way. At Westfield it’s a soulless venture where mediocre design merges into the surrounding floor space. It desperately needs some greenery / interesting detail to separate the drinking customers away from the frenzy of the shopping channel. (Expensive) coffee is a treat – and the environment it’s sold in should make the customer feel good and special. Also I know this is a bit un-pc, but then again we are talking about a mall, but where is Starbucks and Eat (my two fave coffee chains?).
* I’ve noticed a general lack of charm with nearly all the other outposts (coffee or retail) in the freestanding middle units – a wasted opportunity I think.
* The Village was probably the most hyped-up and precious aspect of the Westfield fanfare. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but let’s just say that an exclusive and beautiful, separated-from-the-main shopping environment would have been a basic assumption. Added to that, I was secretly hopping for greenery of some kind, jaw dropping floral or artistic displays and ok, it’s a bit unrealistic, but I had dreamt about a bridge to take me from the mass to high end in elegant style.
Putting aside the fact that 70% of the stores hadn’t actually opened, the reality of The Village was a-quite-similar-to-the-rest-of-the-shopping-centre area, bar some bordering-on-trashy pink chandeliers, and a nice glass staircase joining the two levels. A bland looking champagne bar in the middle of The Village did nothing to add luxe or exclusivity to this supposedly baited-breath experience. It has felt ‘cold’ in terms of actual temperature and aesthetic impression on all the occasions that I have visited. And who on earth came up with the floral wall print design? I hate to say it, but this element of the Westfield project altogether lacks innovation and true style and I can only feel feel disappointed by The Village experience.
* There are touch-screen, space-age looking pods dotted around the complex which help customers navigate their way around. I quite like these, but I don’t like queueing to use one (there are always at least 2 or 3 couples waiting in line) and they get smeary really fast. I heard someone comment that they didn’t like to touch it after so many others had too. Good point.
Mixed thoughts about this. There is a lot of customer seating for weary shoppers and relieved men who’ve abandoned their partners to the retail frenzy. The seating by the food court looks nice and there’s quite a lot of it, but who chose the vile design and furniture for all the other seating areas? The moulded plant pots, the brown colour scheme, that furniture..it’s depressing. I can imagine someone thought they were being groovy in putting all this together but actually it’s cheap and tacky…plus it counter-benefits the otherwise light environment they have tried to create.
Other bits and bobs
For the sake of keeping this analysis brief (I had only planned on making a few points) I’ll leave out my thoughts on the outside furniture, outside seating and lower ground floor tiles. The answers being quite good, good, and horrible if you want to know in a nutshell.
And finally, I can’t leave without mentioning the logo, a terrible oversight although one I may have made myself. Since I am familiar with the Westfield brand, I am also familiar and used to their somewhat out-dated logo, and have therefore thought nothing of seeing it emblazoned across marketing literature and on the outside wall of the shopping centre. However, friends without this prior knowledge, have all commented on the old-looking and less than stylish logo and have wondered who on earth would go with such strange branding to promote the new and contemporary.
Westfield is a great, shiny-new shopping centre with a vast range of shops and a good choice of eating should you also want to come back for dinner.
However, it is marketed as a pioneering shopping (and leisure) destination, but I fail to see where it pioneers or where it breaks rules, boundaries or redefines the shopping experience any more than any other new mall I’ve been to.
It’s very easy to criticize and I’m wondering what would I have done had I been given the reigns? A defined and ‘separate’ Village area for sure – rarefied and awe-inspiring. More consideration to traffic flow with tucked away but accessible cafes and eateries – creating zones of rest, discovery, privacy and fun. A living wall inside maybe, or generally more greenery or faux greenery to add some beauty and nature…
I’ll keep you posted if I come up with any ideas or come across any inspiring imagery.