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15 March 2016

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Coco Chanel said, “A woman with good shoes is never ugly.” Marilyn Monroe maintained, “If you give a girl the right shoes she could conquer the world.” Christian Louboutin claimed, “Shoes transform your body language and attitude. They lift you physically and emotionally.”

I’ve just returned from a mini world tour that included Rome, Dubai and Singapore. The most interesting retail experience in each city included shoes.

Dubai Mall delivers almost 10,000 square metres of shoe heaven in the Level Shoe District. Created and curated by Middle Eastern luxury retailers Chalhoub Group, it showcases designer brands, limited editions and interactive experiences. Even given the scale of Dubai Mall, it’s a destination in itself and has the air of somewhere you’d happily spend the day if you were so inclined, sustained by refreshments from the centrally placed Vogue Café.

Visually it’s an exhilarating mix of free form sculpture, avant-garde fixtures and classic store within stores. The layout is almost village-like, with something new around each corner. The strategy behind the concept follows Chalhoub’s research into consumer trends among affluent Gulf nationals, namely the “quest for indulgence,” the “need for recognition” and “longing for bonds.” This customer is a high spender, wants to have the latest and seeks out known and trusted brands. They are also looking for a very service driven customer experience, hence The Sole Lounge for pedicure and foot treatments, and The Cobbler, for repairs and bespoke shoes.

One essential part of the mix is providing rest space for customers. The Vogue Café provides refreshment but there is a the right amount of lounge space among the boutiques to allow shoppers, and importantly, partners, to take the weight off their Manolo Blahniks and recover for a while before continuing the quest.

In Rome, Louis Vuitton has taken retail therapy recovery to a new level. On the second floor of their three level flagship on Via dei Condotti they have installed a mini cinema and bookstore, encompassing all things Italian. While your partner tries on every pair of shoes in the store, you can browse coffee table books of vintage Sophia Loren photos while viewing a compilation of Italian classic film clips. Conventional retail wisdom would condemn this as non-productive space. But what it does do is to occupy non-productive customers and take the pressure off their happy active shopping partners. The other thing it does is to localize the offer. You can buy Louis Vuitton anywhere in the world, and normally one luxury brand store looks pretty much the same as another. But this delivers a uniquely Roman experience. It’s an important concept in an era when international brands dominate every shopping centre in the world and homogeneity is a continuing danger.

In contrast to the classic prestige brand experience, Asian shoe merchant On Pedder creates visually progressive and innovative environments. Pedder on Scotts in Singapore has taken over 2000 square metres of Level 2 in Scotts Square with what at first glance appears to be a collection of designer shoe stores, including formal, casual and kids concepts as well as pop-ups and spaces dedicated to art and food. Separating categories into distinct shops allows Pedder to develop a sense of specialty and accentuate each category. The intention with the pop-ups is to continually showcase new labels and collaborations, and keep the overall offer fresh. In particular, the athletic category has been highlighted in response to a global trend for “Athleisure” apparel and a general Asian desire for well-known brands and limited editions.

It’s worth mentioning in conjunction with On Pedder the neighbouring café, Coffee Academics, which is listed as one of the world’s best cafés. Here the art of coffee is taken to ridiculous heights. My Blue Mountain Wallenford Estate blend was prepared using the Aeropress method by a young man who also took Hipster to a new level. It was a perfect match for the retail.  

Both On Pedder and Level Shoe District have created something new and unique by curating large collections that would otherwise be fragmented and scattered throughout shopping centres. Luxury shoes would not normally share space with athletic shoes, but these curators have recognised that shoe buyers do not make such distinctions and purchase shoes from both ends of the spectrum. By putting it all together into a well edited and curated collection, and most importantly, adapting to a local customer base and adding the right level of service, these retailers have created something that is more than the sum of its parts. 



Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design.

15 March 2016
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