Debenhams is set to breathe new life into its dated Oxford Street store with a £40 million makeover. Gemma Champ talks to creative head Mark Stevens about the refurbishment, which will see the opening of the store’s biggest ever lingerie department. Words by Sarah Blackman.
Since Debenhams announced a £40 million refurbishment of its flagship store on London’s Oxford Street earlier this year, designers from Marios Schwab to Reger by Janet Reger haven’t been able to hide their excitement.
Once completed, key stockists will be housed in a dazzling landmark designed to stop shoppers in their tracks, a world away from the “tired, Seventies-style concrete block” that the department store has been described as in the past.
With its kinetic facade of aluminium panels, which will move in the wind, new shop windows, a glass roof and a 25-metre skylight to illuminate a brand new atrium complete with balconies, escalators and two glass columns on each Oxford Street corner, the seven-storey building promises to reinforce the West End’s position as an international shopping destination.
“The whole thing is going to be completely revamped. It’s going to be beautiful,” says Aliza Reger, daughter of the late Janet Reger, whose glamorous lingerie range, Reger, has become a best-seller in Debenhams since its launch in 2000.
“The refurbishment is going to make it a premium shopping experience,” she adds.
While renowned artist and sculptor Ned Khan is modernising Debenhams’ exterior, inside the store, directors are working with retail agency Dalziel and Powell to reorganise the shop floor to allow easy access to all brands and visual merchandising spaces.
Debenhams head of creative Mark Stevens says: “We’re changing absolutely everything. Literally from the moment the customers enter the store they’ll have an amazing vision across the store.
“We’re coordinating brand new worlds and shops for the LG, the G, the 1st and the 2nd floors with them. And then we’re going to revisit the 3rd, 4th and 5th later,” he adds.
“Our store was quite hard to navigate before, but little techniques like a lighting grid on the ceiling will really help to draw the customers in from the high street.”
The Oxford Street store, which hasn’t been refurbished since 1987, will see all departments swapped and changed, including lingerie and shoes, which will be moved from the 1st floor to the basement, a logical step, according to Stevens.
“For shoes and lingerie you don’t need a great deal of space above the product, and it also makes for a nice intimate feeling having lingerie in a basement,” he explains.
“Number one, customers will be able to access it straight from the street, rather than it being tucked away in a dark corner, so we’re really bringing it to the front with its own entrance, in effect.”
Reger is particularly excited about the lingerie department’s new location. “There’s going to be a fabulous escalator to the lingerie department, where there’ll also a champagne bar,” she beams.
Debenhams’ biggest ever lingerie department will be part of an “oasis for women” which will allow customers to shop for lines such as Reger and B by Ted Baker that are only available at Debenhams.
In addition, shoppers will be able to use the “Bra Fit” service in a brand new suite of lingerie fitting rooms kitted out with individual order points from which women can order extra sizes or brands.
“The whole thing’s going to be beautiful, it’s going to have a great lighting area, great fitting area, because again every clothing decision, they say, is made in the fitting room,” says Reger, chief executive of Janet Reger.
Stevens agrees, and adds: “We’ve also got a beautiful finishes package for lingerie, in soft creams, cappuccinos, some pistachio velvet in the fitting rooms, which feels really luxurious without feeling
Creative directors have also contracted a lighting company called Igazini. “They’ve come up with a specific package for each of the worlds, because again we want our lingerie to feel softer and warmer,” adds Stevens, who describes the current lingerie department as a “dog leg of an area”.
Work has begun on the renovation programme, which will also see the creation of Debenhams’ biggest ever beauty hall, more ‘Designer’ departments than ever before across three floors of fashion, and three new cafes and restaurants.
The overhaul has created more than 430 jobs, including 280 in retail, and is being carried out jointly by Debenhams, which is contributing £25 million to upgrade the interior, and developer British Land.
The retailer will also relocate its headquarters, currently located on the fifth floor of the building, to a new office in Regent’s Park.
The store is not being closed during the project, which is expected to be completed in time for Christmas.
Reger believes that the opening of the lower level, including the lingerie department, of Debenhams will coincide with the launch of new premium, seductive collection, Reger Noir, from her brand this month.
She admits that the Oxford Street store was in much need of renovation and says that she and her fellow designers are looking forward to having their products housed in a building that can proudly stand alongside its neighbours, including the listed “ocean liner”, Selfridges and the smart John Lewis flagship.
“It’s very exciting for all the designers, because there have been some fantastic new Debenhams stores opening, such as Westfield. There have been great store openings in the provinces and overseas, particularly in Moscow, recently, and in Dubai, so it’s great to see that the flagship store is going to actually be the flagship,” she says.
“Everything will be displayed in a far more contemporary way. And
it did need the makeover. Your flagship store has got to be the one that goes wow.”