Innovative Retailer: Anya Hindmarch

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The Name: Anya Hindmarch’s The Village

The Place: Pont Street, Kensington, London. Alright global stores too but the bit we are interested in here is strictly SW1.

The Story: Anya Hindmarch. First a woman.

Absolutely: Then a brand.

Definitely: Now a village.

Umm: Oh yes, she is now also a Village. And she told Retail Insider editor Glynn Davis all about it last month.

I see. Atually I don’t: Like all proper villages this one, which launched in May 2021, has a community hall, a (temporary) watering hole, a place for concerned citizens to collaborate with each other on the things that matter, and a boutique.

And a chippie? Don’t be silly this is The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

And a church? Well, there is a temple to organisation called the Labelled Store – does that count?

Not sure: Put simply Ms Hindmarch is leading a charge back to the High Street with a battle cry of: ‘Digital is boring. Long live the physical.’ Closely followed by an army of devotees who adore her clever and very English plays with brand names and luxury fashion.

Bags from the new collection

And this is all happening on Pont Street? She has finally after several years of trying (and with the assistance of enlightened estate owners Cadogan) managed to realise a long-held dream of taking multiple units on the same road to create a little Anya-run village street, which brings us neatly to the theme du jour – namely the joy of picking up something unexpected and serendipitous which she feels is much more likely to happen on a high street than during a digital shop.

Is that actually true? As she herself told us “Digital is very powerful and efficient but it doesn’t give you enough reasons to visit”. The algorithms are much more likely to play it safe and sell you more of what you just bought or similar than suggesting completely different products that you might like. And these shops are in a very personal and full circle place for Hindmarch as it was here that she opened her first shop many years ago.

So let’s deviate a moment to go over how we have moved from fashion empire round to village stores: At one point Anya Hindmarch told us she had 65 stores spread across the world but she stepped down as chief executive nearly a decade ago and the business moved into private hands. Now she has bought back a large chunk of her shares and taken up the helm again.

Meaning? A fair bit of downsizing and store closing initially whilst leaving a tactical few in places like Tokyo and the firm’s first ever ground floor store on Pont Street.

The Labelled Store in Pont Street

And then suddenly everyone wanted to leave cities and go and live in country villages! So genius idea to bring the village concept to London (which is essentially a collection of joined up hamlets anyway). And it is that fine line between the efficiency and ennui of a 24/7 online channel and the possibility of an exciting, impulsive purchase in-store. “I can explain everything online but it’s really special in-store. I can use these units as a platform to talk about projects and causes,” she says.

I suppose you are going to tell me she’s actually serving in these shops now are you? Basically yes. She lives locally and is in her words “there all the time”.

Oh. Right. So tell me about what I will find if I pop into Anya Ville: On one side of the street there are three units comprising the bespoke store, the Anya Café and the Village Hall.

Village Hall – as in site of the local dance, cheese and wine quizzes and birthday parties? It has as many uses as the average community hall does and changes completely to be a different thing every six to eight weeks. On Retail Insider’s visit it was rather wonderfully kitted out as the kind of off-licence you might remember from the 80s. Crucial difference being that it was there to celebrate teetotal January and called The Dry Drinker.

Like it. Tell me more: Even the cheery assistants were dressed in the high-fashion brown overalls beloved of Open All Hours.

The Dry Drinker

Luminous star stickers on every bottle? Present and correct.

Neon signage? Present and correct.

Anya Hindmarch bags? Just kidding: Actually there were a few small pieces discreetly positioned around the place.

Blimey, now that would be an impulse purchase if all you went in for was a can of low-alcohol beer! But by the time you read this the Dry Drinker will be no more than a distant memory with best sellers being no- alcohol Guinness and a white sparkling concoction. And lo the Village Nail Bar will be in its place. There is even a slot for Fridays where your Mini-Me (8-years or under) can have a little mini polish manicure alongside Mama. Cute. 

Crikey. And they say digital channels are agile: I know, the same little shop has in its short life been a beauty parlour and a Christmas grotto (Hindmarch tells us that a whopping 2,500 children visited during that time).

Open All Hours: The Dry Drinker staff

But what is the point? The point my dear is to open up new audiences to the brand. Parents came into the offy to buy their teenage children drinks to join in family celebrations, members of religious communities that are teetotal came in, plenty of locals used it and the odd punter walked in and was very confused. Lots of people popped in to an off-licence and walked out knowing a lot more about Anya Hindmarch or better still wandered across the road to take a look at the other shops.

And if that sounds too expensive you can always dive into the Café Anya to fortify yourself too I suppose: Aha, the café. Proof that you can’t keep a good creative imagination down. All the items are specially designed versions of brands that we know and love: cake versions of custard creams and bourbons, wagon wheels and Tunnocks’ teacakes of course. “People really engage” says Hindmarch, “some of this stuff is fun, some is educational” and she likens her village street to a series of galleries. And everyone can afford a cup of coffee after all so there is an entry point for everyone.

I bet a lot of people suggest ideas for these concept stores though don’t you? Oh yes. But the Hindmarch team have ideas enough of their own, thank-you very much.

Talk me through the other units if you would: It wouldn’t be part of the Hindmarch portfolio if it didn’t major on circularity and sustainability. So the Plastic Shop centres around the famous ‘I Am A Plastic Bag’ collection using recycled items while the Bespoke Shop unit will give you your handed down heirloom pieces and offers customisations like embossing. ‘Luxury cannot be damaging’ is very much the mantra of the business. No harmful chemicals are used and the hides are fully traceable down to the individual animal in Denmark. And if you were to decompose your bag it would enrich the soil by 20%.

Who does that? No-one. I’m just saying.

And who is walking down the Anya village street? Walk-bys, loyalists, tourists? All of the above really.  Additionally, Hindmarch tells Retail Insider that in the summer there are lots of Arab-based vacationers in the Kensington area and “they love it, it feels very safe, and when they get back home they migrate online”.

But can you replicate this street all over the place? Even these units took a fair time to all come free at the same time and Hindmarch herself says “they are not cookie cutter stores”. Along with the level of personal involvement she has in the concept it sounds hard to do somewhere else but as we begin to emerge from the pandemic and return to our High Street stores looking for something different we think it is definitely an innovation to watch out for. So get yourself a nail bar slot right now.

The original Bespoke Store

Only if Anya Hindmarch is painting my nails: Oh behave.

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