Project: Harvey Nichols

Design: Virgile + Partners
Store size: 4,180 sq m
Opening date: July 2015


Harvey Nichols unveiled its new Birmingham store in July, set in the heart of The Mailbox. The object of the new store, which was fit out by Portview, was a new injection of vitality and modernity and a fresh sense of excitement and creativity. 

The aim was to create a contemporary cutting-edge environment for the next generation of stylish shoppers, an innovative and creative space, as well as sophisticated and chic.

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'The design approach has tried to break the rules and to challenge the predictable imagery and established principles that define luxury-shopping environments, replacing them by a new visual vocabulary, more experimental, unconventional and creative,' explains Carlos Virgile, director of Virgile + Partners. 'It aims to be the blueprint for the future Harvey Nichols stores, and intends to capture more of a specialised fashion boutique, taking a generic branding approach that reinforces the iconic nature of Harvey Nichols, moving away from a more predictable department store language and the concept of shops within shops.'

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Whilst Birmingham leads the way and set up the parameters for other future Harvey Nichols stores the idea is not necessarily to establish a fixed identity for all stores but to evolve the design language and adapt the new style to the individual context and requirements of each Harvey Nichols store.

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'The imagery and vocabulary of luxury is changing and the palette and finishes generally associated with the classic spirit of richness and elegance that has always characterised the idea of luxury is becoming wider and more alternative,' says Virgile. 'Our scheme was based on a great amount of research on new materials, some bespoke and specially made for the project, but always exploring the concept of contrast and juxtaposition of rough architectural finishes against smooth and elegant materials. It is in this contradiction between concrete or plywood and beautiful marbles or bronze or the introduction of polycarbonate sheets – a very basic material – in the ceiling, that the scheme found its new luxury image.'

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The Mailbox store is presented in a boutique store format, organised mainly as an 'all in one floor' retail layout, combining women's and men's fashion as well as beauty. Customers enter the store on level five or directly from the carpark via a lift. A secondary entrance at level seven offers access throught a spectacular sculptural shaped staircase to the store, as well as to the Harvey Nichols restaurant, cocktail bar and food shop in the evening, which is open after store hours.

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One of the challenges of the Birmingham site was the lack of external windows and the opportunity for featuring fashion displays, usually one of the main communication elements of the HN brand. 'From an early stage we decided to create a lobby that announces the Harvey Nichols offer and immediately make the visitors feel part of the store environment through a large and rather theatrical display area, strategically located as entering the store,' explains Virgile.

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Digital screens in the 12m-long experiential zone create an 'up and over’ experience, utilising multiple shell surfaces to create fluidity within the space and, using exciting and ever-changing moving imagery, adding an extra dimension and a wow factor from the point of arrival. It is also full of potential for communication and seasonality.  'The style concierge desk, in the format of a five-star hotel reception, adds the service element and complements the experience.'

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There are a number of other experiential retail areas throughout the store. 'There are many elements of the scheme contributing to the overall store experience. We wanted to achieve a real balance of these various components, where style and technology work together seamlessly. Obviously digital presence and interaction play a key part in the consumer expectations and the presence of touch-screens as part of the style concierge desk, help to engage customers at their first point of contact, placed immediately after experiencing the immersive digital tunnel installation. This sets the unusual tone of the store,' explains Virgile.

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Then there's the dressing room lounge area that feature a 360-degree interactive mirror, an exciting digital device that shows a delayed image of the customer when trying a garment, allowing you to see your own image when turning and even forward a photograph or a quick video image to a friend, in order to make that final decision on the purchase.

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The payment process is also transformed through the use of hand-held devices whilst customers wait in a comfortable seating area so they don’t have to queue. In fact, Virgile + Partners wanted to ensure basic things like effective Wi-Fi connection and phone recharging are present everywhere in the store.

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'The interesting thing of the new store is that whilst digital technology is very much present in all practical aspects of the store environment, the experience is driven by two timeless and ever present key retail factors: exciting design and customer service in all its forms,' concludes Virgile.

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