We’ve all heard it, and to be honest, we’ve all seen it – the high street is dying a slow and painful death. What started with the unparalleled and transformative influence of online shopping was only catalysed during the pandemic, which seemed to put the nail in the coffin for businesses everywhere – but maybe nowhere more so than Oxford St, London.
Revered by many as the most famous shopping street in the world, we’ve seen a lot of changes over the last few years which have shifted the status of the street from shopping destination to one to avoid – what started with flagships like Harvey Nichols closing down soon spiralled into the Big Topshop shutting up shop, which was nothing short of a travesty for people trying to meet up on Ox. St everywhere.
What’s more, it’s not like their replacements are of a similar vein – whilst the gaping building that was Harvey Nichols now lies empty, Topshop is set to become an IKEA, a strange choice considering the facts that the Tottenham branch was just closed down, and that getting a bedframe back to the suburbs on the tube is a near impossible task – flatpack or not – and that’s without getting into the American Candy Stores.
However, on the other end of the street, there seems to be a beacon of light for retail in the form of Sook Space – a regular shopfront space nestled amongst the flailing flagship giants which regularly hosts pop-ups for emerging or primarily-online brands. On opening day (and the resulting days, depending on the brand), Sook Space can be spotted thanks to the snaking queue which emerges from it, effectively harnessing each brand’s powerful online following and combining it with the fleeting nature that is a pop-up.
A few hundred metres up the road, and Selfridges Corner Shop does a lot of the heavy lifting in the pop up world too. Hosting Machine-A this month, the space has previously seen brands like Casablanca, Christian Louboutin and Jacquemus take over critical floor space in the historic department store – bringing installations, art,new collections and audiences to the brand.
Scarcity + elusiveness + (good marketing x location) = desirability: and this seems to be the winning formula that pop ups have cracked. Reversing trends on the high street, they manage to pull crowds, create hype, and make an impact on an otherwise, pretty desolate space.
We can see them at work not only on Oxford Street, but also in their increasing frequency and unparalleled popularity around London. The West coast’s In-N-Out Burger pop up saw queues of 5 hours when it came to London a couple years ago, with no marketing at all. Elsewhere, luxury fashion brands such as Coach, Fiorucci, Gucci and Margiela have all used pop ups to launch new projects and products – inducting consumers into a miniature, controlled fantasy world straight from the brand’s drawing board for a few days.
However, as touched on, perhaps the best thing about pop ups is their ability to introduce audiences to emerging and (relatively) small brands and labels. Manchester-based footwear and apparel brand Clints enjoyed major success from its pop up earlier this year, as have artists such RICO using pop ups to showcase new pieces and collections. With their ever-expanding reach, winning formula and fleeting nature on the high street, pop ups just may be the future of retail.
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