Category Archives: Retail

INSPIRATION : Brand name

Phine – pronounced ‘feen’.

I was just wondering about the whereabouts of an old school friend called Josephine, although she was actually called Phine most of the time. In the course of my thinking I decided Phine would make a cool name for a fashion brand, or cafe maybe?

RETAIL THOUGHT : FashionBarn suggestions for Westfield

When I wrote about the new Westfield mall I promised to follow up with some of my own ideas for how I think it could’ve been done.  What with the festive craziness I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked, but here are two examples and concepts I do find inspirational and relevant. 

The Grand Cafe and Bar, Royal Exchange

The Grand Cafe and Bar is housed in the old Stock Exchange building right by Bank tube. The building is now home to designer shops such as Paul Smith, Chanel, Tiffany & Co etc, as well as some mezzanine dining, and the cafe – which takes up most of the central courtyard.  Although you can’t compare this building and its surrounds to a brand new mall such as Westfield (history aside, the RE  building was opened by Queen Victoria in 1844 and is Grade I-listed), the concept I am focusing on – drinking/dining in a high-end environment – is the same.  

What makes the  Grand Cafe and Bar work so well?  

A beautifully designed island bar in a glistening pewter, a dramatic high-level central display of foliage/ flowers which compliments the setting and inspires admiration, staff in smart uniforms and just the right size and amount of dining / customer area which surrounds the bar from all sides (note that the dining furniture is also very chic).  The flooring – in lovely cobblestones – adds to the aesthetic appeal but I guess these are the real deal, so there was an advantage here.

 took this picture with my mobile so unfortunately the quality isn't great, neither does it capture the key points I mention above. However you might be able to get some idea!

I took this picture with my mobile so unfortunately the quality isn't great, neither does it capture the key points I mention above. However you might be able to get some idea!

These photos are courtesy of D&D. The left-hand pic is wow factor - the right-hand image is to show the awesome height and space of the building.  They did a great job in creating an inviting and luxury cafe area.

These photos are courtesy of D&D. The left-hand pic is wow factor of the bar at night. The right-hand image is to show the awesome height and space of the building. They did a great job in creating an inviting, luxury cafe and dining area.


Nice side view of the pewter bar, courtesy of D&D

I think the cafe could have risked feeling very ‘cold’ given the high ceiling, general space of the atrium, and by the fact that there are 2 doors at the opposite sides of the courtyard which could mean drafts big time.  And yet, D&D have done a superb job of creating a wonderful, stylish space which shouts ‘luxury’, ‘your special, come and enjoy”.  Doesn’t this vision beat The Village at Westfield’s underwhelming one champagne bar?  

Go to The Grand Cafe and Bar website for more pics and info. 

Promenade Plantee, Paris / High Line, Meatpacking District NYC

I already mentioned in my original piece that a living wall would have been a nice touch for Westfield – mixing nature and concrete not only would look great but it could have served in many ways as an educational tool – inspiring customers with nature etc etc.

I recently read about the High Line in NYC – an abandoned 1.45 mile section of railroad along the lower west side of Manhattan. Built in the early 1930s it has been unused since 1980- but it’s now being turned into an elevated park, with parts due to open to the public in 2009.  Hotel developer Andre Balazs , owner of the Chateau Marmont  in LA, is even building a 337-room hotel straddling the High Line at Little West 12th Street – cool!

How is this relevant?

High Line has been modeled on the Promenade Plantee in Paris – both projects add nature to an urban environment in a not-the-usual way, and by doing so, consumers are engaged and I guess it’s challenging the norm. There are other details which make High Line a bigger, more interesting picture such as the choice and positioning of the energy efficient lighting, choice of flowers/ plants etc. Ultimately it’s fun, innovative, educational, environmental and inspiring – and although there are no disused railway lines to convert, a concept like this could be visualized and realized into a mall environment. 

Here are some pictures taken from – if you want to know more I recommend checking out the website where these slides came from.





RETAIL THOUGHT : Westfield Shopping Centre, London

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 : 

General design 

* 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

* 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’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.



FOLLOW UP : Are the middle class shopping at Lidl?

I was interested to read in the Metro newspaper an article titled ‘Foodies love a Lidl bit of posh nosh’ (Sept 9th 08).  The article basically confirmed my recent observations which I blogged about – that “Food lovers are flocking to cut-price supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl as demand grows for premium products on the cheap”.  Read about their success with continental cheese and sliced meats here.

RESEARCH SWATCH : 16-17 year olds talk about their lifestyle

Sample : 10

Age : 16-17 / female 

Profile : Boarding school 

Location : York



Although top of the list are high street names such as Zara, Top Shop and H&M, I was really surprised to see how many the high end and luxury labels were also referenced such as Chloe, YSL, Balenciaga, Gucci, Vivienne Westwood and even Alexandar Wang.  Although the latter are mainly ‘desire’ brands, my trustee intern confirmed that several of her schoolfriends actually owned pieces by these brands as well.  Not only is this age group really fashion savvy, but they are also entering the designer world at an execptionally young age.


Most of those interviewed had some kind of beauty routine going – notably cleanse, tone and moisturise. There seemed to be little interest  in using products with SPF – although some did mention that their moisturisers already had SPF in them.  They are not concerned with wrinkles and aging yet.  All girls wore make-up daily.


Everyone responded with makeup as the must-have beauty product (no mention of skincare or accessories such as a hair brush or hair straighteners).  Again, I was surprised by the grown up selection of brands : Mac was the unanimous winner for this group, and for the other choices, think premium department store beauty and you get the picture.  One girl considered Elemis her beauty essential – an interesting answer given this brand is targeted at an older market, plus it doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of a beautiful fashion brand and/or aspirational ad campaigns behind it – this is possibly a brand handed down from mother to daughter?  


The girls were generally contented with their body image which was nice to discover (although how much anyone would reveal about this personal issue in a quick snapshot survey is hard to know!). 


70% would rather be size 10, 10% would like to be size 0 and 20% were kind of in the middle ie not as small as size 0, but not as big as size 10.  


Grazia is where these girls turn to to get their fix of fashion and beauty.  Other popular publications include Elle, Heat, Closer and OK; older target media such as Vogue and Tatler were read by several.


The Hills, Gossip Girl, soaps such as Home&Away, Hollyoaks and Neighbours, plus re-runs of Friends and SATC.  Clearly everyone has SKY at home.


I have never felt so out of the music loop as I have after reading the responses to this question. Chris Brown was the clear winner, and brands mentioned twice or more included Avril Lavigne, The kooks and Rihanna. Less familiar to me, but seemingly popular amongst this set are Tegan&Sarah, Danity Kane, The Long Blondes, Sean Kingston, Sarah Bareilles, City and Colour and One Night Only.


Top of the list is Facebook – it’s also the preferred social networking site amongst these girls – who’ve generally gone off MySpace.  They search using Google, but if they want to read the news they will go to MSN.  Other popular destinations include online fashion sites such as Net-a-Porter, ASOS, TopShop and Zara – these are more for browsing than purchasing, as buying online is considered risky by some, plus the fact that you can’t try before you buy is a put off.  Some are purchasing from Ebay. Hotmail is still the favourite email provider and apparently they don’t IM that much – texting and Facebook pretty much covers it.


No major surprises here but these girls can’t live without their mobile phones to keep in touch with their friends.  Functions used most are ringing, texting and sending photos.  Popular designs have been the Prada and Armani phones and new on the wish-list is the Samsung Tocco.  Apparently apple iphones were cool when they first launched but momentum hasn’t kept up and there was less interest with the new version which launched recently (the reason for this was unclear other than a general feeling that they did not live up to expectation).  Actually, when it comes to apple – the ipod is king to these teenage girls – followed by the apple macs and the iphone last.

Back to the Barn

TREND : Are the middle class shopping at Lidl?

I was having a conversation with a lady shopkeeper the other day, about how the credit crunch was affecting her business.  This led us on to discussing general changes in food and clothes shopping behaviours in the town.  She came out with the funniest and actually very insightful comment about the budget supermarket, Lidl – 

“it’s not like how it used to be you know, it’s absolutely full of ordinary middle class people like me”. She went on to explain that not so long ago, the supermarket had mainly been associated with its local demographic – one of the poorest areas in the city.  However, she also remarked that despite its associations, it had always stocked some great goods at bargain prices – and there were a whole group of friends and people in the know, who took advantage of this.

I’ve only ever shopped in Lidl a few times, but I must say I was impressed with the quality and range of produce on offer : cheap fruit and veg in good unit sizes (such as punnets of rocket), great gherkins and juices as well as a myriad of continental style goods…basically the kind of stuff you would expect to see in a typically middle class shopping basket. (OK – there are some pretty crazy things too).

Despite their slightly out of the way locations, thrifty decor and sometimes comical product offer (flippers, mask and diving kit, anyone?), will the interesting and at times cosmopolitan (and bonkers) groceries at rock bottom prices drive Lidl to become the new Sainsburys?

Back to the Barn

INSIGHT : Over 50s fashion whinge

I am constantly amazed that fashion doesn’t really cater for the over 50’s, or even the over 45’s.  I am desperately tired of trying to buy clothes that are really for teens and twenty-somethings.  I mean at 60, why on earth would I be tempted to buy an Empire line top, frilled top, or one with puff sleeves? I have to admit, it isn’t something I would have bought even at 18.  I just can’t understand it.  Surely I can’t be the only one with this problem?

The worst thing I tried recently was a blouse with gathers on the shoulders going down to a full bell type sleeve which ended in a tight rolled cotton cuff and a button, the effect was ghastly.  I am slim but not thin, and I have fairly broad shoulders and an ample bust, so none of the above looks even reasonable.

The next whinge is the shape of most t-shirts which all seem to be too fitted.  I don’t want a t-shirt that clings to my body.  I want one that sits squarely, falling straight from under the arms, and hangs nicely just below the waist.  This is flattering for the older woman and designers should prick up their ears to my complaint.  Also – I’m not in the minority with ‘not great upper arms’, so why oh why can’t sleeves fall just a little bit longer.  I have been buying men’s t-shirts that have this extra length.  

I recently had lunch with a group of women friends and we got chatting about this problem.  We ALL agreed that the square cut is brilliant not just for the older woman, but for any age who does not have a sylph-like body.  I would like to find a dress that just hangs, not clings, tops that are plain and go with everything, timeless wear- year in year out.  There area couple of designers who do this very kind of shape, one is OSKA  and the other SHIRIN GUILD, both of which are financially inaccessible to most of us.  I would please love a major chainstore such as M&S to stock these items alongside Autograph and Per Una. They would be a sell out. 

Susan Lamb

Back to the Barn