There is probably no sweeter spot in the London retail landscape than the corner of New Bond and Bruton Streets, home to Hermès since 1975. But for the past 11 months, the shop has sat boarded up, the subject of a major re-fit masterminded by RDAI Artistic Director Denis Montel, who partnered with Hermès on the revamp. On Tuesday, we got an exclusive sneak peek at the flagship's soft launch ahead of next week's full throttle opening.
Located in the iconic -- and listed -- Time Life Building, there's an electrically charged atmosphere in the store that harkens back to retail's glory days (conjure up visions of proper old-school shopping circa 1950s, say at Bergdorfs or Saks). It's very much the antithesis of the fast fashion and surly service that rules today’s shopping experiences.
In the UK, a listed building means one which has been designated as historically important, where the aesthetic integrity and original features must be preserved by law. And the challenges in renovating a listed building are immense. Montel was tasked with preserving the character and the original features of the building while at the same time designing a space that would be equal to brand’s reputation. It was a big ask, and he came through. What he unveiled then was a sleek interior that included handmade terrazzo floors, sweeping staircases with stud details and gape-worthy paintings. The kicker was a very interesting glass elevator, cocooned gently in pink and copper mesh, which gave off a dégradé effect as it lifted and descended.
The shop has gone from 395 to 673 square meters (about 2,200 square feet) with all 16 of the brands "métiers" on display. This included the final womenswear collection from Christophe Lemaire (surely future collectible pieces), Pierre Hardy-designed jewelry and shoes, riding gear, perfumes, home and menswear. But the special surprise was the Henry Moore sculpture, “Draped Reclining Figure,” that was displayed in the courtyard, surrounded by olive trees. In fact, the Moore was always there, but pre-renovation, it was situated in a place that only the employees could see. That sculpture lent the store even more of an “important” feeling that it carried before.
To celebrate the re-launch, Hermès has a few surprises up its sleeve. First, the company re-created three editions of its iconic clutch, “Bond Street,” in variations of a deep red. Hermès also launched its fifth and reportedly final installment of “Le Jardin" perfume series, this one entitled “Le Jardin De Monsieur Li,” created by the legendary nose Jean-Claude Ellena. Finally the house premiered its latest métier, “L'écriture,” which includes stationary and a series of pens designed by the reclusive English designer Marc Newson.
If there was ever a multicultural setting, this was it; in our time there, we heard Korean, Mandarin, French, Russian, Urdu, Cantonese, Italian, Arabic and a deep Texas drawl -- and a good many of these clients were dressed in a way that induced deep outfit envy. While we waited patiently to check out, the cashier, busily ka-chinging away, remarked: “When I came into work this morning and saw the line up outside, I thought, hmm... is it Black Friday?”
She then indicated with a nod of her head to the deep line of customers behind, with their credit cards at the ready. “And these clients are not just flâneur. These are buying -- and how!” Which gets to our issue, namely that the lined moved at a snail’s pace and the staff to customer ratio was very lopsided, with shoppers massively outnumbering sales staff. We suspect that this was due to pre-opening wobbles, but the champagne on offer -- as well as the extraordinary people watching -- certainly minimized our suffering.
For more photos of the new store, click through the slideshow below.
Correction: This story was updated to reflect that the renovation took 11, not 18, months.