22 May 2017

Europe's Most Interesting Concept Stores

Whilst my time living in France has reached its inevitable end, it's been the perfect location for scouting out the concept stores of neighbouring countries. I'm sure there are a fair few that are more than worthy of a place on this list that aren't there but these are just my absolute favourites of the many I got around to visiting over the past five months. For me, concept stores serve as the perfect landscape for brands on the niche side to put into practise their adoption of specific subcultural values and test the validity of these values on a more than willing market. Most (but not all) of the concept stores on the list are pretty specified in terms of their aesthetic, so it's a platform for the smaller brands that they carry to position themselves on a level playing field with the brands who've come to dominate the high-end concept store sphere.

A high/low menswear mix has gone so far beyond commonplace that it's basically expected but Vier Antwerp's co-signs and collabs are what stands it apart. Raf Simons hailed it as his favourite store in Antwerp and in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he gave them a cheeky shoutout when he said that he can't travel without one of the shop's in-house brand hoodies. You have buzzy pieces courtesy of brands like Palace and Gosha but still, your raking through the rails leads you through everything from grim Powell Peralta skull print tees to Tim Coppens zip-ups with the odd Raf piece sandwiched in between.

Voo Store
Although last week was my first visit to Berlin, it certainly wasn't my last, in fact I wouldn't have left if I had it my way. So naturally, it was my first visit to Voo and I'm unsure whether this is consistently the case or whether it was simply coincidental that the stock aligned with my tastes at the moment but for me, both the buy of meticulously curated secondhand garments and the merchandising of them was spot on. There's variation but still a relatively consistent aesthetic, not too many "trend" pieces and friendly staff who are more than happy to help but don't ooze a desperation of chasing sales.

Hunting and Collecting
One of the things I love best about Hunting and Collecting is its dedication to consistently evolving and jazzing up their retail landscape. Something of an art gallery-clothing store hybrid, the store picks a theme every six months and completely changes everything – from the interior decor and store fittings, to the layout and the stock itself – depending on the chosen theme. Whilst one visit may have you treading between wooden crates, weaving between monstrous trees and drowning in Kenzo prints, another may have you taken aback by the whitewashed space and allow you to really give your full attention to a smaller, more subtle selection of pieces.

luxembourg city
Probably the most visually stunning, SMETS is also by far the largest concept store on the list with a huge space that encapsulates everything from clothes, shoes and accessories, to the dreamiest furniture, a cosmetics department and even a chocolate counter. The sheer volume of product is a bit alarming from the get-go but it's easy enough to navigate and sift through – until you reach the shoe wall that stretches the entire length of the huge warehouse-esque store infrastructure. There's also a huge platform running through the centre of the store that's almost a little bit like a stage, onto which mannequins are precariously prompted and regularly rotated, donning the season's key pieces and spotlighting specific brands.

Tom Greyhound
With The Marais serving as the store's first location outside of Korea, Tom Greyhound isn't comparable to many other concept stores in Paris. It's a city that I find quite frankly draining to shop in but the moment you set foot in the vast space on the Rue Saintonge, it's instantaneously more chilled than the rest of the city's retail offerings. The store's compelling design has your neck turning every which way and the specially-commissioned Brian Eno-esque soundscape sets the store a world apart from the artful, if obvious bohemian sophistication of neighbourhood.

* Honorary mention to colette, The Corner, Fish & Chips and Dover Street Market *