Since 1970, the Browns flagship store has been nestled in the heart of Mayfair, commandeering a quintuplet of Georgian townhouses on South Molton Street to house an ever-changing, ever-growing roster of luxury fashion brands. As one of Britain’s longest standing boutiques – and the first to sell multiple brands in London – it has a reputation within the industry for bringing the very best new design names to London; a precedent set by owners Joan and Sidney Burstein from day one. Mrs Burstein’s unparallelled knack for talent spotting resulted in a long string of firsts for fashion in the capital, including the introduction of Calvin Klein, John Galliano and Jil Sander to London’s retail scene.
Cut to 2017, and Browns’ pioneering ethos remains undiluted. Now headed up by revolutionary CEO Holli Rogers, the boutique is not only continuing to push boundaries in fashion talent, but paving the way for a new kind of shopping experience entirely – as evidenced by the first space in its new Browns Nomad project, Browns East. “It’s our 21st-century response to the ‘pop-up store’,” Rogers explains. “It came about when I was looking for a pop-up space for another adventure. That search made me realise that all too often we celebrate the idea of luxury retail in a rather predictable way – why not make use of cool spaces for shorter periods of time and with concepts that evolve entirely around the community in which the store comes alive?”
The first community check-in, it was decided, would take place in Shoreditch. Browns East is tucked away on the corner of Club Row, in a pocket of east London long recognised as a creative hub; Redchurch Street, which the store sits just behind, once housed a shop owned by Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, and the road is currently lined with a continually rotating plethora of luxury fragrance, fashion and homeware stores. “Shoreditch is such a vibrant area – it’s a neighbourhood of immense creativity and boldness. There’s always something interesting to see, whether it’s art, fashion, street markets or food, and I felt we could really add something interesting into the mix,” said Rogers of the choice. “I also feel we have a responsibility to champion new design talent – it’s the premise of what the company has been built on. With this new store in the heart of East London, we’re really in a hotbed of design, which feels very synergistic.”
“I also feel we have a responsibility to champion new design talent – it’s the premise of what the company has been built on” – Holli Rogers
The resulting concept is one that combines fashion with art, design, technology and unique sensory elements (not least the in-store café, Fatties Bakery) to create a truly immersive shopping experience. Upon entering the store, you are met with an installation by Andy Leek of @notestostrangers Insta-fame, in which a rainbow of 300 individually hand-painted ‘notes of kindness’ are strung above the doorway – wonderfully positive and, naturally, wonderfully ‘grammable. Then there are the clothes themselves, grouped in neat little edits throughout the space; the store is gender-neutral, a nod to the Browns customer who has long been mixing menswear and womenswear to suit their personal style. The collections range from the cult to the classic in typical Browns fashion; cerulean Off-White ruffles sit alongside embroidery-laden Gucci, rigid Calvin Klein denim and new Proenza Schouler line PSWL.
The stairs to the second floor hold the ‘art’ element of the space. Frames filled with works by artists from Juno Calypso and Polly Morgan to James Joyce and Anna Bu Kliewer are among the first selection available, but these – as will all aspects of the space – will change on a regular basis. The space’s most innovative element, and Rogers’ personal favourite, is ‘The Immersive Experience’, created by BeBox – a Chris Connor-founded company specialising in bringing meditation and mindfulness to urban locales. “I’m a big believer in giving yourself some space to breathe, to think and to connect with your creativity,” she says. The room is a futuristic and meditative merging of light and sound technology, where the public is invited to attend dynamic meditation sessions or simply take a few minutes to relax.
It is ultimately the ability to tap into their customers’ needs, and an understanding about how they connect on an emotional level, that keeps Browns at the forefront of retail innovation. “It’s about resurfacing the magic that has existed in physical stores,” Rogers explains. “Today’s customers want convenience, but they also want to feel connected and inspired. They want to be able to move seamlessly between the physical and digital worlds and have a personalised retail experience.” Achieving just that, Browns East is refreshing, surprising and above all, fun. “The endorphins that are produced when you laugh and smile can change your whole demeanour, and if we can get people to feel that little bit happier after stopping by, why not?” says Rogers. Shopping that really can buy you happiness, who can argue with that?
Browns East is open now at 21 Club Row, London.