Denim, nothing but denim, could be a turnoff for some shoppers but this new space at Selfridges’ flagship store by HMKM has a feel of openness and light, plus a trick or two
Interior design: HMKM
Size: 2,400 sq m
Being asked to create the biggest - and 'the best' - denim destination in the world for Selfridges' flagship store in Oxford Street, London is all in a day's work for HMKM. After all, the consultancy has successfully made destinations out of underwear, skincare, accessories, and pretty much every other key department for this fashion-forward store.
But 11,000 pairs of jeans, 60 brands and 2,400 sq m could easily translate into a bland, warehouse experience, when what Selfridges wanted was 'a level of service not found anywhere in retail, never mind denim', says Paul Digby, HMKM associate director. 'It's all about fit and fast.'
What HMKM has done here is strip the allocated space back to its architectural essentials in a 'white box' format - though with tasteful, textured grey plaster walls - and then subtly clarify the language of the brands through colour palette and materials for furniture and shelving. There is a real sense of openness and light thanks to newly exposed windows, and raised ceilings with decorative plasterwork, bringing the space back almost to its original Edwardian architecture. In this airy space a strategically modulated landscape offers focal points, vistas and clear sightlines throughout.
The key brand concessions are placed around the perimeter of this third floor space, from J Brand's exclusive shop-in-shop (featuring its own VIP area, with sleek leather armchairs, fur rug and scented candles) to the first-ever in-store Primark jeans concession, boasting its own express check-out till.
'Form, folding and framing are key elements in the design,' says Digby. Like the hips on a supermodel, the display furniture is all lean lines and sharp angles - slanting metal perimeter shelves zigzag up the walls, with resin shelf inserts to level out the merchandise, while large pyrolave (volcanic rock) tables create a dynamic, geometric flow around the interior walkway.
The central area's shelving had to achieve a certain density while maintaining sightlines - drawing customers in rather than repelling them with a fortress of merchandise. So HMKM devised a freestanding unit that fades to transparent acrylic at the top.
The palette throughout is pretty much monochrome - shelving ranges from transparent to white through grey to black, while display tables are occasionally topped with white marble (J Brand) or timber (Primark), to denote exclusivity or accessibility, respectively. Quirky brands such as East End Thrift Store, and Denim By The Kilo - complete with vintage weighing scales - bring a note of fun and animation to the floor, as do the big, bold wall graphics and quotes, TV screens and playful visual merchandising.
A thin blue line of light picks up from the neon Denim Studio signs at the department's entrance and weaves across the ceiling towards the fitting rooms, while recessed track lighting provides atmospheric ambient light and spots. A pale oak floor alternates between end-grain parquet in the central area and fitted boards around the perimeter, delineating a shift between the central circulation area and the branded concessions.
So far, so subtle, but the service element really kicks in at the Fit Studio, where a permanent tailoring and fitting service alters or customises customers' newly bought jeans for same-day collection. Pale glazed waiting rooms line this space, framed in slim oak.
But it's the three large interactive media screens at the centre of this space that look set to become the major lure within the Fit Studio. A bespoke 'media river' designed into the interactive experience enables customers to be immersed, browsing a wealth of denim advertising and marketing clips as well as tips on trends and finding the perfect fit. Customers can hone in on one image or site by dragging and flicking it on to an integral, elevated display at the far end of the table; or they can compile their own personal wish-list and email it to themselves for reference. Built-in vending machines dispense coconut water to refresh customers while they surf.
This feature was created in collaboration with creative technology company Kin Design. Kevin Palmer, a director, has had some very positive feedback from one of the senior shop-floor sales staff. 'She said that the table had been amazing, a real crowd puller, and has had no problems at all from a functionality and stability point of view.
'They are finding that they are using it less as a playful thing and more as a serious sales tool to save people browsing round the whole store for jeans. Ironically they are finding lots of people making wish-lists but not so many people are leaving their email addresses or getting print-outs - the stock levels in the store are so good they can get their wishes granted then and there.
'Apparently the editor of Harper's Bazaar said she "hates" the table because it actually works properly. Lots of other times she has seen digital stuff in stores and it doesn't work so she's always said to retailers not to do it - but now she is having to change her tune.'
Words by Veronica Simpson