For me, a consumer who has always adored terrestrial shops, whose heart can beat faster at a beautifully arranged window display and who regularly organises retail safaris around new shopping areas of interest, I think things are looking bleak for the high street store.
Internet shopping has snuck-up on my senses. Websites can now look gorgeous, selecting perfect clothes for me is often done via editorial on my favourite blogs, service on line is better than many shop assistants I bump into, I can shop on the train, home-delivery parcels are wrapped like presents -improving my day no end – and sending things back has never been easier.
In contrast, fewer and fewer shops offer me clothes (or anything, really) the way I want to buy them. The stuff is there, I get that, but it’s hard work finding things on those squished side-facing rails, too much effort to trudge up to higher floors in too-hot interiors, and all this with no time to spare. ‘Where EXACTLY are the perfect jeans!’ I want to shout in most denim departments. Why bother to interact with a willowy 23 year old sales assistant who knows less than I do about what I’m looking for? All this while experiencing Peak Stuff.
It’s not the fault of stores, I don’t think they’ve quite caught up yet and who can blame them, what with social media, website developments, click and collect, the general speed with which things are changing everywhere and everything else they are supposed to master brilliantly and immediately. I don’t think even I know what I want from a shop interior at the moment, so how can they?
So what a joy to visit the new Dover Street Market store in London’s Haymarket, where they have dinosaur art installations running around the stairwell entrance and clothes that are weird, amazing, extraordinarily beautiful and make you gasp out loud at the price sat next to a (devilishly stylish) ball of string. This isn’t a shop, it’s a cultural installation of fabulousness. I’m not there to buy (in my dreams perhaps) I’m there to absorb and be inspired. I get the same buzz wandering around an art gallery.
I don’t think many people were actually buying when I visited during opening week, although Rose’s Bakery was full of creative people stuffing themselves with lemon and poppy seed scones (do not miss these). But we were all happy browsers, soaking up the artful presentation of exquisite, often challenging design.
We stroked The Row dresses in those shockingly luxurious fabrics, marvelled at just how beautiful the Gucci range we’d all seen in magazine spreads actually is in real life (and so much better edited here than at the Gucci boutique down the road), puzzled over what exactly everyone saw in Vetements and wondered which child to sell to acquire a piece of Sacai.
It’s not just about the clothes, I’ve mentioned there are art installations, but the architectural bones of this shop -once Burberry’s HQ, hence the vintage Burberry coats on display at the entrance- have a welcoming structure, the central, circular staircase means it almost embraces you as you go around each floor. And there’s mid century furniture to lust over, cut up and pasted back together into changing rooms and clever clothes rails.
Obviously all shops can’t be like this, we can’t just have a high street full of DSMs, but the store understands that the new role of the terrestrial shop is not always to sell stuff, but to sell inspiration, creative thought, a dream of elevated dressing. Purchases -if you can afford them -can be made at home off the website or off other people’s websites, or on outlet sites a few seasons later…
It’s dangerously unsustainable, I understand that, how the heck do you survive as a retailer? But DSM certainly made my heart beat a bit faster.