Life&style Designers have a new ploy to maintain their appeal and keep the shoppers coming: the pop-up shop.
Here today, gone tomorrow
Fashion famously has a short attention span, and in the current economic climate, can be seen as an indulgence too far. Laura Campbell investigates designers' latest ploy to maintain their appeal and keep the shoppers coming: the pop-up shop. It may not be an easy time for retailers right now. Every other week a storefront gets shuttered up as le Crunch bites yet another business on European and American streets. But rather than the shops staying empty, shrewd individuals are seizing the opportunity to fill spaces on a short-term basis. Pop-ups, as these temporary ventures are known, appear unexpectedly and vanish in a flash a few weeks later.
For the first 25 days in June, Louis Vuitton is having a pop-up exhibition in London to celebrate its Speedy bag. Limited editions will be available, and customers can personalise their purchases. The shoe designer Rupert Sanderson, winner of the British Fashion Awards' Accessory Designer of the Year, opened a pop-up shop during Paris Fashion Week to make the most of the visiting catwalk crowd. "It was an opportunity to offer, for a limited period, a much wider selection of our shoes than would normally be available," says Sanderson, who was already causing a stir with his platform stilettos for Karl Lagerfeld. "It was very good timing."
Taking the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't theme a step further, the British retail adviser and TV personality Mary Portas opened a vintage store in London for just one hour. She later teamed up with Grazia to open the Living and Giving charity store at London's Westfield shopping centre as part of her Mary Queen Of Charity Shops TV programme. With fashion's ferocious competition and short attention span, it's worth striking while the iron is hot. After the success of her show in February, the punk-rock designer Pam Hogg has taken up residence for one month only a few doors down from her famed Eighties boutique on London's Newburgh Street. It's around the corner from another pop-up boutique - 143 - and sells Hogg's cult body-con Lycra cat and kitten suits and trademark printed T-shirts. For the first issue of LOVE, Condé Nast's latest glossy, the stylist-turned-editor Katie Grand dedicated a spread to the designer and the magazine was launched in a temporary bedroom, or "LOVE-in", in a corner space in Dover Street Market.
Designed to create an instant buzz, pop-ups are a clever way of showcasing designs in a tried and tested location. The Parisian label Azzaro took over a coveted address in Mount Street, Mayfair, for a month around the time of London Fashion Week. The shop, recently vacated by an antiques dealer, is close to other big-name brands - Balenciaga, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs and Christian Louboutin. Nathalie Franson, Azzaro's CEO, calls it "the perfect enclave on an incredibly glamorous street" and the ideal spot for a permanent store.
We live in an extremely high-speed and hype-orientated culture, so it is no wonder the pop-up phenomenon is a real hit. "More than ever brands must be creative in their approach to retail," explains Franson. "Temporary shopping events and environments, pop-up stores, private sales and trunk shows are a definite trend and for us a creative approach to introduce the brand in these less prosperous times. With the pop-up boutique there is a sense of occasion that is almost lost in luxury retail today. Our aim was to build closer relationships with our London customers, as well as achieve sales."
The Azzaro venture was hugely successful and a great way to do some quick market research. Another Azzaro pop-up is planned for the south of France later this summer. The designer Alexia Hentsch decided to launch her new menswear label Hentsch Man as a pop-up over a fortnight to see how a direct sales strategy works. "We thought that two weeks would be the right amount of time to create a buzz," she says. Notting Hill-ites are lapping up her slick basics and modern tailoring. "We will definitely do it again."
Pop-up projects are a low risk approach to retail with no major investments, overheads or outlay. The store is already set up for business and in many cases, due to the rapid exit of the previous occupants, is still in a decent state. In Hentsch's case the shop was in very good condition because the former tenants had been selling maternity wear. "The lighting, for example, was nicely done. All we had to do was bring in some mobile hanging rails, which was easy to arrange. The rest was purely decorative - we painted a few walls and borrowed furniture and mannequins."
For retailers, it seems like a no-brainer, allowing them to gauge the market without making a mistake or disastrous long-term commitment. And for the trend-hungry customer, there's the thrill of shopping somewhere that's one-off, unique, ephemeral. It might disappear tomorrow. "Customers love it," says Bridget Russo, the global marketing director of EDUN, the organic clothing label founded by Bono and his wife Ali Hewson. They have done several pop-ups in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Russo believes that at launch events, there's the added bonus customers may even get to meet the owner - "a real treat".
Rather than take empty, redundant space, EDUN prefers to collaborate with a well-established company and go for a makeshift shop within an existing shop. "The key is finding the right partner/shop whose customer is right for your product," she says. Linking up with established stores works symbiotically - the pop-up gets to experiment with a new location under the umbrella of a more established company, while the host shop adds some pizzazz to shopping while boosting sales.
Anya Hindmarch has regular collaborative guest pop-ups in her London stores to give customers a different experience and inject a sense of indulgence into the store. "I like to be able to spoil our customers every now and again," she says. So far she has linked up with Primrose Bakery, Chantecaille, Cowshed and the florist Scarlet & Violet. The pop-up concept first emerged in 2003 when the airline Song opened a temporary "experience store" for three months. Then the US franchise Target showcased a short but sweet boutique for Isaac Mizrahi in the Rockefeller Centre in New York to launch the designer's new affordable clothing line before going on to house a floating store on the Hudson River.
Reinier Evers of www.trendwatching.com, who originally coined the terms "pop-up retail" and "pop-up store," says: "They started out as manifestations of consumers' ever more transient needs - the need for surprise, for uniqueness, for discovery, for change. They have become an inexpensive way for brands to have retail manifestations in sought-after locations without incurring massive costs. So buzz is forever a factor, while the cost aspect is gaining popularity due to the crisis."
In 2004 Comme des Garçons started its Guerrilla Stores, first opening in Berlin then moving on to Ljubljana, Reykjavik, Athens, Warsaw, Helsinki, Singapore and lastly Glasgow, which is still open. The aim was to be open for a year and spend a minimal amount on the interiors. Last year in a similar vein, Nike started its 1948 "energy space" in London's Shoreditch. Tucked down a narrow side street in the shell of an old railway arch, it has exposed-brick walls and minimal features. Named after the last London Olympics, it's only open from Thursday to Sunday, selling the brand's high-end ranges and limited edition trainers. It was originally planned to coincide with the duration of last year's Olympics, but due to its cult popularity, the company decided to keep it going.
Last year www.forbes.com headlined the whole pop-up concept as "small stores, big business". Often these brief encounters lead to greater things, as Monocle magazine's editor Tyler Brûlé discovered. He opened Monocle's luxury micro store in the run-up to Christmas, planning to close after a few months once supplies ran out. "People thought I was a bit mad opening a shop in the middle of the downturn, but we saw a steady stream of customers come through the door," he says.
"Customer feedback suggests people are still willing to spend as long as the product on offer is fresh and original, the service efficient and the environment home-made, intimate and inviting." A good example of how the pop-up theme can turn into a long-term formula. So will these mobile retail units continue to spring up? Evers certainly seems to think so. "Virtually all brands now have them, choosing locations where you find lots of people, from the high street to festivals," he says. Guerrilla marketing has already spread to movie theatres, galleries, restaurants and hotels.
"As our experience economy requires a never-ending stream of unique, surprising experiences, anything that is temporary, and thus unique and scarce, will do well." Take Ronnie Wood's wife Jo, who is opening her home, Holmwood House, as a restaurant to punters during Wimbledon fortnight. It's bound to cause a stampede. Who wouldn't want to see inside the house of a Rolling Stone? But blink and you might just miss it.