Welcome to the new fashion concept store—it's a way of life

Jacqueline Renfrow

Fashion and apparel concept stores are popping up everywhere, and many of the designer names behind them are pretty big—Jimmy Choo, Coach, Urban Outfitters. We're talking the kind of brands that get customer attention internationally just by the name alone. But these retailers are still pushing the envelope by reinventing the look and feel of their brick-and-mortar outlets to create a memorable experience for shoppers, so that their brand names will continue to matter.

Let's start at the drawing board: finding a location. An old Tower Records building, a historical neighborhood or well-traveled street, anything will work as long as shoppers are passing by and the location has charm. Next, get the look right: Moorish arches adorning the entryway, ornate chandeliers hanging above spiral staircases, gold-lined walls—this is the stuff of fantasy, and it should be. Finally, make sure the displays provide a sense of character that speaks to the products, the store's image and a unique customer experience—anything from guitars to vintage pottery. Thus, the concept store is born.

But these aren't just concepts, they're lifestyle experiences, and that's why the model is getting so much attention from retailers planning their futures. This year alone has seen the launch of in-store entertainment and services that range from haircuts, shaves and cappuccinos, to cocktails, record turntables and photo booths.

Many of these concept stores are flagships for retailers overhauling their store image. Emerging primarily in trendy neighborhoods in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, concept stores demonstrate retailers' ongoing efforts to capture and hold the attention of everyone from short-on-cash millennials to well-established Baby Boomers. And beyond setting up a store, these brands are enmeshing themselves in the community by featuring installations crafted by local artists and designers

These are some of the latest concepts that have popped up in the first half of the year:

Just this week, Jimmy Choo announced a new flagship store in London, Choo's largest store to date. Some of the amenities in this three-story, gold-mesh-paneled store include a fully stocked marble bar in the bridal salon and a made-to-measure area for personal service.

Around the same time in the U.S., Urban Outfitters launched a "his and hers" flagship in Los Angeles' Westwood neighborhood. The "his" half includes a music shop, complete with Gibson and Fender guitars and vinyl records, and an art-focused bookstore. The "hers" side has two floors that include an old-school photo booth and vintage pottery, along with the traditional Urban Outfitters apparel.

The East Coast is getting some of the action too. Urban Outfitters' Space Ninety 8 store in Brooklyn, New York, has five levels of shopping and entertainment and includes an event space for local designers, roof-top dining, a vintage shop, electronics and home goods. 

Men's lifestyle retailer Haberdash launched their concept earlier this month in Chicago. The brand's "convergence" concept combines e-commerce models with brick-and-mortar. Located in Chicago's South Loop, customers can purchase La Colombe cappuccinos, haircuts, shaves or facials. The store also includes an interactive photo studio.

Luxury brand Coach announced in the spring that its retail stores would be getting a makeover as the company looks to refresh retail locations and attract more shoppers. The first redesigned store will be located at the brand's Rodeo Drive flagship in Beverly Hills, slated for launch in the fall. While the company is remaining tight-lipped on how exactly the store will look, the upgrades will result in a finished product vastly different than anything the brand has ever done before.

High-end department chain Lord & Taylor also announced two new concept shops, Birdcage and Brand Assembly, which will launch this fall at its flagship location on Fifth Avenue, New York. The Birdcage collection, slated to open in October, will feature an eclectic assortment of more than 1,000 styles from 30 vendors. The merchandise will primarily include accessories, but home and food products will be featured as well, in addition to jewelry, cosmetics, tech and apparel. Brand Assembly, which will open in September, will showcase about 20 up-and-coming contemporary designers.

What are these concept stores a result of? Do retailers not think product alone will keep shoppers coming back into their stores? Or is this the new norm in a world oversaturated with technology, digital media and multi-tasking? Must a retailer create a sensual experience in order to capture the attention of busy consumers?

Whatever the reasoning behind the "concept" model, the shopper of the future is going to be on the hunt for more than just a bargain. Shoppers will also want that "wow" factor that completes the experience, and there will soon come a time when I will expect my trip to buy a new blouse to include a wardrobe consultation, a latte, a facial and a chance to scan titles on a bookshelf while listening to a DJ spin vinyl records.  

And that's not too much to ask, because concept stores are already banking on these extravagances, and I have no problem bagging my couch-bound online shopping spree and hitting the streets to buy my goods, because that's where the real shopping experience is. -Jacqueline 
 

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