Harvey Nichols Menswear and Project 109

Virgile + Partners reconceives the menswear department of a British luxury fashion retailer in London as a series of intimate boutiques combined with after-hours amenities. Photography by Ed Reeve

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British luxury fashion retailer Harvey Nichols is undergoing significant changes to both its merchandising and appearance. Since the appointment of CEO Stacey Cartwright in 2014, the chain has embarked upon an ambitious master plan that will see the entire London flagship transition from a department store arrangement to a luxury boutique setup. The design principles are now being rolled out, starting with the menswear department on the ground floor and moving upward. London-based studio Virgile + Partners is designing the revamp.

Occupying just over 28,000 square feet split across two floors, the new menswear department breaks with the traditional department store shop-within-a-shop framework and instead functions as a collection of specialized boutiques. “Customers can expect an unrivaled experience in luxury retail,” Cartwright says of the remodeled department. “This is a milestone moment for our brand as it marks the first unveiling of our four-year plan to refurbish our iconic Knightsbridge store.”

With low ceilings and restricted access, the menswear department presented the design team with some fairly immediate problems. “It was a very complicated project,” says Carlos Virgile, founder of Virgile + Partners. “There was a huge amount of structural work in order to link the different areas of the store. The whole job took about nine or 10 months.”

Providing visual cues to draw shoppers in
To increase foot traffic on the ground floor, a dedicated entrance was created near the corner of Seville Street and Knightsbridge. Here, one of the windows on the Knightsbridge side was enlarged to allow natural light in and also to permit interior views of the store from the street. In addition, large digital screens were installed near the main escalator at the center of the store to further entice customers to explore the other level.

Inside, structural obstacles and walls were removed where possible, and ceilings were partially opened to provide more generous proportions. To better connect the two levels, a new set of escalators was installed, and a staircase from the Sloane Street entrance was added to offer another access point. Where low ceilings were unavoidable, polycarbonate sheets or mirrors reflect light for the illusion of more volume. Multiple finishes across the floors, including resin and marble, delineate subtle pathways throughout the store.

The individual menswear boutiques—arranged into subdepartments, such as international designers, denim, and footwear— are linked by openings and thresholds. All of the boutiques are visually distinctive, but the sections are unified by elements that repeat across the two levels, such as the minimal clothing racks and plasterwork wall renderings. Each one, however, bears its own set of colors and finishes.

For example, in the section featuring international designers, Virgile + Partners employed curved walls and varied wall claddings, such as wooden shingles and egg boxes, as a backdrop for the clothing. “There is a continuity with curved walls that helps guide customers around the space,” says Virgile, “while the different wall textures create a subtle differentiation between each brand.”

Unexpected amenities and controlled disruption
Throughout the boutiques, Virgile + Partners implemented a concept that the firm refers to as “controlled disruption,” in which unusual and theatrical displays are carefully worked among the merchandise: Midcentury furniture, taxidermy in glass vitrines, and backlit displays of vintage comics or stamp collections are just some of the miseen- scènes adding to the context.

The upper level of the men’s department houses casualwear, formalwear, and tailoring, as well as a sizable personal shopping service accessed by a gently sloped marble ramp. Virgile + Partners strived to create a luxury residential feel. Inside the changing rooms, a closet with two-door access allows sales assistants to fetch clothing for customers without invading their privacy, a feature that Virgile picked up in Hong Kong.

“To be different these days is much more challenging,” Virgile says, reflecting on the design. “Retail in general has really progressed in terms of design, so you have to push boundaries.”

On the lower level of the two menswear floors, Virgile and Harvey Nichols pushed the boundaries with the creation of Project 109. Named after the store’s street number, Project 109 is a destination hangout, with a cafe and cocktail bar as well as a barbershop. These amenity spaces remain open long after the store closes, when a metal mesh curtain seals off the cafe and bar from the adjacent pop-ups that display a curated selection of fashion, accessories, jewelry, gadgets, and books. The double-height entrance and digital screen beckon passersby from the street at night, bringing life into the store beyond normal hours while adding a bit of fun and visual drama.

who Interior designer: Virgile + Partners. Project team: Ewald Damen; Michael Witten; Melanie Massey; Justas Zadeika; Aliki Kylika; Riannon Selcuk. Contractor: Portview; Dula. Consultant: K B Wilde. Lighting: DPA Lighting. Engineering: Thomasons. Graphics: Virgile + Partners. Other: SCP Contract; Pamono GmbH.
what Wallcoverings: Calfe Crimmings. Hard flooring: Palmalisa; Undex Timber. Resilient flooring: Sphere 8. Carpet/carpet tile: Ege. Pendants/chandeliers: Pamono. Lounge/reception seating: Pamono. Cafeteria/dining seating: Gubi; Normann Copenhagen. Other seating: Arflex. Cafeteria/dining tables: custom. Side tables: Gubi. Textile treatments/finishes: Kuadrat; Febrik.

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