“It doesn’t feel like you’re necessarily walking around a typical department store anymore,” says Simon Rawlings, creative director of David Collins Studio. “There are places that you can pause, places that you can engage with products in ways that you wouldn’t normally engage.”
He’s talking about menswear in Harrods, now on floor two instead of the ground, and altogether in one place, under a David Collins Studio master plan: it’s the ultimate menswear destination. Superbrands, two men’s international rooms and men’s shoes are part of the biggest change in Harrods menswear for 80 years - the store boasts over 150 years of history. A three-year programme, the remastering sees the second floor’s 155,000 square feet become dedicated to menswear and sport, with 55,000 of that allotted to Superbrands, which launched in 2019, featuring the likes of Louis Vuitton, Saint Laurent and Prada.
Upon entering the floor, you’ll be struck by the finesse, elegance and an archival warmth; inspiration came from the archives of Harrods, and how the men’s department once was, combined with the prowess of the contemporary names that it would now be housing. Notably, a speciality and hallmark of David Collins Studio is its ability to create a residential feeling in retail. It’s done so here via 200 bespoke furniture pieces, a palette of red, blue and black at designated intersections, the use of artwork by Alex Innes and David Collins Studio’s Sam Wood; a mix of materiality, such as metal and timber, British and Italian marble across floors and fixtures, the use of digital displays and acute attention to lighting. It’s one part an old-school gentleman’s club to another a modern man cave.
“We work a lot with this idea of pace and the pace of the customer and understanding,” explains Rawlings of the walkways, junctions, entrances and squares that played a major role strategically in creating the navigation and experience. “Traditionally Harrods has always felt busy and fast moving, people moving about but we kind of challenged that and we looked a lot at this idea of walkways and do walkways just have to be a means to one place? What happens if we start to use those walkways?”
The answer to this question had already begun to be explored with Shoe Heaven back in 2014. Setting out to do exactly as the name might suggest (and create the most luxury of shoe-shopping experiences), the project marked the beginning of what would be a longstanding relationship between Harrods and the Studio in which, nine years later, David Collins has been further responsible for the womenswear advanced international designers room, eveningwear, fine jewellery, the dining room, as well as the food halls (the fresh market hall and the roast and bake cafe), the last of which was finished this year, the delicious chocolate hall. Beyond the incredible smell, it is a visual feast for the eyes.
“We introduced the rotunda,” explains Rawlings of Shoe Heaven’s focal point, “which are these kinds of navigation points, circles, but it’s really interesting how that really started to inform more of what we’ve been doing in Harrods and with menswear specifically.” Cue purposeful kinks, square intersections, in which that residential feeling really comes into play. Sit down, have a think, check your phone, go online and research the brand first. Take a breath. You’re allowed; you’re positively encouraged.
Rawlings points out there’s nothing more intimidating than an endless corridor, and so these walkways, with their pauses and breaks, makes the space all very much more manageable.
It also provides further commercial opportunities – a customer sitting down now able to see from a different vantage point, or have their eye caught by a small leather goods piece on display, perhaps. Everything, all the tiny details, has been taken into consideration, from experience to operations. “You can layer on the magic and details and finishes but if the plan and operations don’t work you’re dead in the water,” says Iain Watson, David Collins Studio’s founder and chief executive officer.
The point of the four-pronged spatial approach (in the junctions, walkways, entrances and squares) is that it also enables the DNA of Harrods to be woven through, guiding the customer through its commitment to luxury and quality; creating an experience and visual language to unify the external brands, all of whom have their own unique identities and attitudes. Strict brand guidelines therefore saw Harrods-designed signage and vitrines. “It was quite important to get those Harrods elements consistent to give the room some order,” explains Lewis Taylor, design director at David Collins Studio. All the while, once over the threshold from corridor to room, each brand is able to flourish, be it in their own area or shop-in-shop.
It was following the success of Shoe Heaven – which today customers still comment on how it feels like it has always been there, though in fact it used to be the staff canteen – Harrods invited the Studio to pitch for menswear. In their approach, the Studio drew on a study Harrods had conducted regarding menswear but took it one step further. Rather than just conjure up a new Superbrands space (which was the task) they did the whole floor, moving departments around. They weren’t sure how it would be received. But it was a clever move. “It made a little bit more sense in its adjacencies,” says Taylor.
Further research for the space itself involved looking in the Harrods archives, its history as a leading global department store, as well as what other department stores were currently offering. Analysis into men’s shopping patterns and visual merchandising also played a part. It turns out if you put a whole look on a mannequin with accessories, it’s a winner (and they’re prone to say ‘I’ll take it all!’), as opposed to showing just single pieces.
There is a change in tempo as you walk across the floor into the different menswear departments, as there should be. But there is always the overarching design and feel - and operations-driven mind - of David Collins Studio guiding you (usually by marble under your feet). It’s a destination that feels timeless. Next year, after nearly a decade of collaboration, there are two or three other rooms on the second floor that David Collins Studio will also be working on, making it something of a landmark moment when they are all completed.
“They [Harrods] really trust in our vision,” says Taylor. “There’s trust on both sides.” The goal? “If it feels like it belongs there [in Harrods], I think that's one of the biggest compliments," he says. In this instance, job done.