David Collins Studio has a long-standing creative relationship with Harrods. The latest episode in the epic series being the Roastery & Bake Hall. Everything beautiful about bread and coffee contained within a gorgeous temple to life’s necessities.
A palette of the warm, the authentic and the timeless is masterfully composed in a series of spaces which are confidently opulent and imposing without being ostentatious. A simple demonstration of contemporary lifestyle. A sense of the refined necessary paired with a flourish of glamour. The modern ease of elegance. For an iconic institution which resonates with permanence there is a perpetual evolution subtly in progress. This is precisely defined in the perfect place to buy your daily bread and coffee.
A good client is a critical element in the process. A good client, in David Collins Studio’s understanding, is committed, challenging and thinks about every detail. Alex Dower defines these qualities. He headed a Harrods team for the ambitious project. A collaboration should always be an exchange. We learn from a client as they learn from us. That is how it should always work.
The David Collins Studio team for a project this complex, high profile and challenging is vast and honed to efficient perfection. It was headed by Simon Rawlings who is as passionate, to the very point of obsessive, about the ideals and values of Harrods as he is about the design process and purpose of The Studio.
The result may not relay the challenges and extraordinary collective effort of everybody involved. It does, however, demonstrate the level of aesthetic and experiential quality that comes from the combined Studio and client instinct, intellect and absolute commitment.
Being in Harrods outside of opening hours feels like a dream come true. At 08:45 it is a cinematic demonstration of fragrant industry. The ovens offer up fresh, heroic sourdoughs. The air is rich with warm crust notes. The coffee roaster is in full motion. Its gleaming cast iron and polished brass engine hypnotically turning a tide of glossy, dark and beautiful beans.
Alex instinctively tends to every detail, occasionally halting conversation when something catches his eye. I quickly learn that he has an easy comfort in front of a camera. His energy augmented by a brisk, and beautiful, walk from Marylebone to Harrods via Hyde Park passing the village pond, the Serpentine.
Good quality design is a very sound investment. Harrods has always recognized the importance of great design to be a critical element of retail allure and performance.
Graham Erickson: It all looks beautiful. It looks pristine and contemporary yet somehow looks like it was always here. What was your fundamental objective in the project?
Alex Dower: We always wanted to start with the basic every day essentials, which are coffee and bread. Our Food Halls offer a sensory experience, a buzz and an air of celebration for the ingredients combined with the grandeur of the environment. Our Master Baker, Lance Gardner, creates new products every hour which produce incredible smells throughout the Roastery & Bake Hall delivered by the sound of a chiming bell to alert our customers of the freshest creations out of the oven.
The food offering within our Roastery & Bake Hall embraces personalization, including food created by craftsman to give the ultimate finish as well as bespoke experiences allowing customers to create their own unique blends and recipes. We now offer our customers unrivalled access to speciality craftsmen including our Tea Tailor, Angelo Tantillo, who can personalise tea blends specific to your palate, Lance Gardner who can create personalised bread loafs and our Master Roaster, Bartosz Ciepaj, who can advise on how to make the perfect cup of coffee.
GE: Harrods has the privilege of heritage. That said, how important is it, to you, that Harrods keeps the energy of the absolute contemporary?
AD: The culture of food is constantly evolving at a furious pace. We don’t incorporate every trend but we do, and must, know about them. That is part of the legacy of Harrods. I see this era as one where Harrods reconnects with its pioneering spirit. So many things we take for granted in culinary culture originated in Harrods. Any brand, any organization has to keep thinking forward.
GE: Bread and coffee used to be such a simple notion. Then there was a cultural shift and suddenly a loaf of bread becomes a statement of status and coffee becomes part of a person’s identity. Obviously, these things keep moving. How does anybody, how do you, try to gauge what the future of food and retail culture looks like and how do you prepare for it?
AD: I spent a few years working in Australia at a time when they were really driving the change in coffee and bakery culture. London is an innovator but it is also critical to keep travelling and exploring what is happening at a very grass roots level. I never really see that as work but more of a fascinating interest.
GE: I guess we have an idea of what, who, a Harrods customer is. Who, in your understanding, buys bread and coffee at Harrods?
AD: We’re very fortunate at Harrods to have a wide range of customers from locals to international shoppers, but what we’re really focused on engaging with is the London foodie customer.
GE: So, a question that is both obvious and difficult to answer, what is it that brings them to Harrods?
AD: Now more than ever, our customers are coming to Harrods for experiences. The Harrods Food Halls surpass the traditional retail experience because they involve the customer with every detail behind the product. Consumers are much more interested about the provenance of the products that they are purchasing and our Food Halls engage every aspect of this by allowing them to see their product made right in front of them. A great example is our Master Baker, Lance, and Master Roaster, Bartosz, who work on the shop-floor every day producing the finest and freshest baked breads and roasted coffees available for purchase.
GE: What single thing did you learn from the collaboration with David Collins Studio?
AD: The importance of aesthetics and performance being of equal value. The instinct to develop and refine a detail to perfection is inspiring but is even more inspiring when you learn of the commercial purpose behind the detail. Of course, you are also reminded that work, projects like this, should be exciting and enjoyable.
GE: Retail is a competitive game, more so now than ever. Aside from other stores you have to contend with e-tail and the convenience this offers. Does it make the investment in store design even more critical. How does this contribute to the experiential quality of shopping as a real, active pursuit?
AD: Good quality design is a very sound investment. A beautiful environment, the experience of shopping as a delightful way to spend time and is what we owe our customers. Harrods has always recognized the importance of great design to be a critical element of retail allure and performance. It is perpetual though. You will never get to the point where a project is finished. The quest for better has no endpoint. Again, this, for me, is exciting and, obviously, is great for design studios!
This idea of nothing ever being completed is something you need to go with. I adore the space as it is but already we are in the process of refining, moving, lowering. It is not about something being designed incorrectly - it is the pursuit of perfection and it is where client and designer need to have respect and appreciation for each other. Fortunately, our dialogue, our connection, with David Collins Studio makes this a fascinating process.
Graham Erickson is a freelance editor and writer living in London.
Alexander Coggin is an American photographer living in London.
Kensington Leverne is a fashion and interiors photographer living in London.