Harrods, an institution not usually noted for taste or restraint - witness its £25 million Egyptian escalator - has recently opened phase two of its contemporary menswear department. Carved out of the basement, previously a warren of stock rooms, services and staff facilities, the 1200m2 space takes the form of a minimalist backdrop to the wares of Gucci, Prada and Armani.
The designer, Corsie Nasmith, had to work with, or against, low ceilings, cumbersome fire doors, one-metre-wide structural columns, which support the whole Harrods edifice, and a complete lack of natural light. Services now run under the floor and in the new ceiling, further reducing the ceiling height to only 8ft.
The overriding need for clarity, especially important with a low ceiling, has partly been met by the rhythm of the columns, now used for retail display, with 'brand islands' between. Around the perimeter of the more formal clothing area, completed last November in phase one, high-profile brands were tempted in, such as Jil Sander, Armani, Gucci and Prada, which then, as was the strategy, attracted other brands in the central area. The services arrangement in the centre of the space enabled the ceiling to be raised slightly, accentuated by blue neon concealed lighting, to give the impression of a floating space which ties the brand islands together.
For further simplicity, the merchandise is arranged along a galleried walkway, on plain display units enabling jackets and shirts to be displayed front-on for maximum impact. The galleried walkway also provides vistas from the escalator area, drawing customers in.
The materials in this formal area, phase one of the development, are warm limestone and light oak. In the casual area, phase two, they're similar, but given a slightly harder, sporty edge through additional materials such as grey-stained sycamore, designed to offset the brighter colours associated with casual clothes. It's a temporary misfortune that this season grey is the only colour to be seen in! Both areas use stainless steel, etched glass and display panels which clip off to enable their colour to change with the season.
There was no particular aim to design in any 'manliness', just to create a stress-free, spacious ambience as, despite the best efforts of magazines such as fhm, most men don't class shopping as a pleasurable leisure pursuit. Large modules give a feeling of space, as do false skylights providing simulated daylight (especially important when assessing the colour of your £1000 suit) and spacious changing rooms. One early idea was to display Vitra furniture, both to give customers' friends somewhere to sit down rather than hover around the changing rooms, and to add the increasingly important 'lifestyle' factor. Harrods, however, vetoed that idea.