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From the High Street to Westfield

April 2010

By Quentin Clarke, London

The recession has hit the High Street hard, and retailers are looking at different markets and locations.

Following the demise of pretty much every other large music chain, perhaps cinema will be the savior of music retail giant HMV, which is launching a collaboration with Curzon. The new cinema franchise incorporates a cocktail bar and record store. Emulating independent, designer screening houses, the program includes art-house films, talks and live theater events. Cinemagoers can take alcoholic drinks into screenings and maybe they’ll even buy some music. takes the aesthetic of the TV talent contest to online retail. Voters determine which products make the collections and receive discounts for their trouble. Buyers can also commission one-off pieces. It aims to halve showroom prices and has a 14 day return policy - so much more civilized than hiring a car and traipsing round Ikea with the hordes. The white, minimal web-page feels like a showroom, with photos that enlarge sufficiently to give you a good visual grasp of what you’re ordering. It also supplies precise details of provenance and how long the process will take.

Meanwhile furniture website has launched the "Furnish Your Photo" iPhone app which implants its furniture into photos of your living space. You can browse mood boards and showrooms specially created with selections of their products. While the natural instinct with design is to try before buying, these websites make it increasingly hard to justify leaving the house.

The new chain, which my American friends tell me might just lure me back into tech-stores is Best Buy. Arriving in the UK in May, the premises are distinctly out-of-town, but it promises to install programs, transfer over material and tutor technophobes as well as guaranteeing it will match competitor prices and offering 24-hour support. For people like me (not to mention my parents), baffled by the lack of instruction manuals for techno products, this could be a breakthrough. Hopefully weekend appointments will be more forthcoming than at the Apple store.

Even celebrity brands are looking at new ways to sell. FrostFrench, fronted by the actress Sadie Frost (better known as Jude Law’s ex-wife and Kate Moss’s best friend) is the latest fashion label to form a "pop-up shop" in a new "pop-up community" in Bayswater. Pop-up shops have been making frequent, fleeting appearances across central London in the last two years. Vendors enjoy low rents for vacant stores, raise a buzz and a buck, then quit while they’re ahead.

This craze is not restricted to fashion. A store of specially-created Marmite products popped-up on Regent Street last Autumn (complete with Facebook page) and one of last summer’s hottest bars popped-up on the roof of a multi-story car park in edgy Peckham. A pop-up Conran shop is wending its way to the Westfield London Shopping Centre.

Europe’s largest urban shopping mall, Westfield London, opened in 2008 and faced the recession by looking up-market. London’s few malls had never achieved aspirational status, but contained dowdy stores for dowdy shoppers. With an atrium reminiscent of a Norman Foster airport, proper designer stores rub shoulders with high street brands, restaurants, bars and a multi-screen cinema. It’s been accused of soullessness, but it’s a serious rival to Oxford Street. Mall culture has finally penetrated Central London.

Fashion & Style

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