A stitch in time

A stitch in time

Shed, Spencer Hart

Shed has designed a flagship store for London tailors Spencer Hart, part owned by singer Robbie Williams

Matt Smith (ex Wolf Olins, Fitch & Imagination) and Nick Stringer (ex Prada) met at university and founded Shed in London, in 2000.

A former client of theirs introduced them to Nick Hart and they were subsequently invited to work on a project for him at Spencer Hart, Savile Row HQ.

After seven years of being on Savile Row, the company decided to broaden out and open a shop in Liberty’s in London and market a sub brand at a price in line with its competitors like Paul Smith and Richard James.

The result is a flagship store within a period Neo-Georgian building, a former bank situated on the corner of Mayfair’s Brook Street. Shed has worked with many of the original features including the opening up of the fenestrated windows, impressive entrance portico and has retained the high bank ceilings.

“The store is about Savile Row and Palms Springs; it began as an out-there reference but has become physical in terms of both store-design and products. Spencer Hart Palm Springs is the casual wear, the scent – every non-suiting offering which will be at the flagship,” said Hart.

The walls are constructed from geometric blocks inspired by Palm Springs’ Parker Hotel. This tesselated, iconic shape has become a 3D object; a mini sculpture and main feature born out of geometry. It is now the backbone to the whole store.

“The birth of Spencer Hart was in Savile Row and was always about taking men on a journey into a world inhabited by these incredibly cool, well educated in the meaning of life, characters,” added Hart.

“My tale was centred around the world of Blue Note records in the late 50s and the paired down crisp understated but very disciplined approach to the aesthetics of that era and the way musicians would often take quite conservative preppy or establishment uniforms and give them an edge.

“Think Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk and the way they misappropriated white middle class dress, the Brooks Brothers wasp look, or in England, the way the Teds took Edwardian Savile Row uniform and gave it a swagger. I also injected into the mix the David Bowie Thin White duke persona but then mixed in the romance of Brides Head Revisited.

“One of the single biggest influences in terms of style, attitude and sounds was Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. The idea of men behaving outrageously and having it all,” he said.

Stringer said Shed began working with Hart by improving Savile Row and making it friendlier as it had been frightening for many people to enter.

It then invited the design firm to work on its next phase, which was to open a flagship lifestyle concept store based on the idea of Palm Springs in the 40s and 50s.

Hart wanted Shed to devise commercial spaces which worked for showcasing and selling collections of denim, underwear, luggage, shoes and scents; a floating table in the store’s entrance is an arresting centrepiece, housing ties and swatches.

The Spencer Hart ethos developed through its Savile Row origins was a useful starting place because although Shed knew there would be a more casual focus on tailored garments incorporated into the design, the origins are still very much Savile Row.

“The trick was to take the best bits from Savile Row, attention to detail sharp tailoring and the fantastic personal service and let that all breath with the new garments and accessories,” added Stringer.

“It was important for us not to forget where the brand originated. The architectural cool of Palm Springs was intrinsic to developing both the interior architecture and the brand, The Parker Hotel façade providing inspiration to anchor the interior with a strong yet delicate perforated concrete block wall.

“This presented a chance for the brand to follow architecture in that Spencer Hart adopted the block motif as an integral part of the new ‘Palm Springs’ menswear range. Shed got the chance to develop packaging too for the Floris ‘Palm Springs’ scent, again bearing the block motif.”

Stringer said in the past, interior designs usually follow the brand ‘ethos’ set by another agency but with this project, the reverse is true. The landscape of the Californian desert played a big part on the ground floor, providing a mix of chalky dry surfaces with velvety sands and worn rock.

“We tried to exploit some of that richness into our project. The layering of materials and textures was important to take the store away from minimalism, that was never the right thing to pursue,” said Stringer.

“The mid century architecture sitting (literally) within these landscapes is often perched on the rocks in a particularly sculptural fashion. We loved the work of John Luatner particularly his Reiner Residence named ‘Silvertop’. These homes were also refuges from the city, in this case Los Angeles where the movie stars and celebrities would retire to avoid the photographers. It’s always been a goal to design a store that became a domestic modern interpretation of that refuge.”

It took three years from conception; to find a site and investors (there are 15 in total including singer, Robbie Williams), to the design and finish.

“I went to Stringer and his team with very strong opinions and direction. This was a massive leap and I am a control freak as everything in the store is designed by me and we were taking a very big step,” said Hart. “It had to be comfortable for a hedge fund type chap to shop in, but at the same time a young creative or rock star could also be on the premises, and both feel welcome.”

The new store was formerly a bank, which meant it had a strong structure already in place with its façade, but, the team faced several challenges submitting the design to the City of Westminster planning department in respect to its window fenestration and signage.

“We were insistent that the windows were opened up, as goods views into the space were intrinsic to the design’s success,” said Stringer.

“The building’s history was interesting and we had to turn the challenge of an awkward basement space into the client’s advantage. That took the form of an almost clandestine VIP hideaway. Whereas the ground floor is light and bright, the basement represents a thoroughly luxurious environment in which the pop star and actor clients can have privacy and dedicated space for themselves and entourage.”

The basement at Brook Street houses the original bank vaults, which have been transformed into an exclusive area where access is by invitation only. Entering through a keypad-controlled, concealed door, the mood changes from the main retail space to become an after-hours hideaway.

The space is also lined in heavy velvet curtains and dark solid wood wall finishes, with tones of black, chocolate brown and midnight blue.

Jazz, projections and specialist lighting add to the sense of a theatre and create a backdrop to exclusive product lines (vintage watches, Swaine Adeney Brigg leather goods, custom Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses) and bespoke tailoring.

At the heart of the basement is a vault room, lined in Rosewood, with its own changing space concealed behind two large sliding doors. This is where the bespoke tailoring happens.

“In every respect, it was a great project for Shed because the client contributed meaningfully at every stage. It’s not right for everyone, but working in this collaborative way with Hart produced a result that everybody bought into along the way,” added Stringer.

The interior was centered on the different ’worlds’ of Spencer Hart. The southern elevation facing out onto Brooke Street and the Claridge’s Hotel reflects the more tailored side of the business, while the westerly façade facing Davies Street houses the diffusion ‘Palm Springs’ range. The store is dissected according to its clientele; the ‘Mayfair’ customer is one which needs to be courted and made to feel comfortable in the tailored world.

This is captured in the entrance with front facing garments to demonstrate 20 or more ‘looks’
instantaneously. The hanging table is a great talking point whilst accommodating ties, scarves and cufflinks to the adjacent suits.

The so-called ‘architect’ customer can migrate further into the store and discover his own Spencer Hart ‘world’ where changing rooms are at the back of the store with heavy velvet drapes.

“Texture was important as we headed away from minimalism and echoed the weaves of seersucker and corduroy in the garments. Some of the design was straightforward referencing to the world of show business, the theatre style lights for example and the film projections of Miles Davies and Bowie,” said Stringer.

“It’s not about old school Bond Street flagship, it’s a fresher way of retailing which the world of menswear needs.” Hart will open 10 concessions over the next three years with Shed.

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