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Harrolds redesign takes in luxury women’s fashion

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Harrolds has become a landmark in Melbourne, particularly since it unveiled its Collins Street flagship store in 2005 (now with stores in Sydney’s Westfield centre and more recently at Pacific Fair in Brisbane).

At a time when retail is struggling to find a “voice”, Harrolds is leading the way in retailing luxury men’s and women’s fashion from a net of 70 global fashion brands including Balmain, Rick Owens, Stella McCartney, Neil Barrett, Thom Browne, Vetements and local designers such as Song for the Mute.

Harrolds' new Collins Street fit-out. Harrolds’ new Collins Street fit-out. Photo: Dave Wheeler

“We wanted to expand the Collins Street store to include women’s as well as men’s fashion, so it was imperative to find more space, approximately 700 square metres to be more precise,” says Mary Poulakis, director of Harrolds, who worked closely with architect Victor Isobe and interior designer Jenny Keat, director of Keat Kleeman Interior Design.

This collaborative design approach, including the architectural fit-outs to the furniture selection, wall mouldings and fixtures, can be seen in all stores.

“We spent a considerable amount of time ensuring there was ‘one voice’ across all stores,” adds Poulakis.

The only way is ‘down’

For Isobe, finding 700 additional square metres of floor area to increase the retail footprint in Collins Street was constrained by neighbouring tenancies.

“We couldn’t go upwards or into one of the adjacent stores.

The only way was down into space, accommodating what was once 20 parking bays belonging to the car parking for the 101 Collins Street tower.

“We retained four of these spaces for our valet parking service,” says Poulakis.

While the entire store has been completely reworked to accommodate women’s fashion as well as men’s, the major structural change at Harrolds has been the insertion of a glass stairwell (including balustrades and treads) to the lower level.

“We raised the lower level approximately 600 millimetres above the car park,” says Poulakis, opening up the back door to show the slightly reduced car park.

The dramatic void created by the stairwell is ‘crowned’ by a five-metre-long painting by Juan Davila, one of the few commissions by the artist for a retail store (commissioned in 2005).

“Since we’ve renovated the store, Davila’s painting has become more prominent.

It’s not an easy feat finding the right place for such a mammoth work,” she adds.

Getting the mix right

For Poulakis and her team, who have been at the forefront of luxury retailing since they opened their first store in Melbourne in 1985, finding the right mix between male and female fashion and accessories, is similar to curating an art exhibition.

“Before we start any renovation, we find out exactly how our customers use our stores, as much as creating subtle delineations between different collections,” says Poulakis.

In the Collins Street store, for example, there are standalone niches for labels such as Thom Browne at the basement level.

A new Stella McCartney “shop-within-a shop” will open shortly on the ground and intermediate levels.

“We see this place as a department store.

The only difference is that it’s the high-end of fashion,” says Poulakis, who knows exactly where and how to display each collection.

“You wouldn’t place Stefano Ricci, known for its impeccable suiting next to Fear of God, a cool LA-based street label,” she says.

Colours, textures and materials used for the menswear are also different to the tones used for the womenswear collections.

The sumptuous lounges on the third floor, for example, have a masculine feel, as does the marble bar serving coffee and drinks.

In contrast, the women’s palette features pale lilac armchairs set on cream-coloured travertine floors.

“It’s quite challenging placing women’s and men’s fashion under the one roof.

Generally, ladies respond to a more glamorous feel while men prefer a more classic feel when shopping,” says Isobe, pointing at the bespoke wall reliefs and classic wall mouldings.

“At the end of the day, both feels have to be clearly translated to suggest the one holistic image,” adds Isobe.

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