Stand barefoot in the middle of Oxford Street or Fifth Avenue and if you don’t get hit by a red Routemaster or a yellow cab you’ll surely feel the ground rumble beneath you. You are smack-bang in the middle of the retail revolution and it’s gathering momentum at a spine-tingling pace. Look up from your iPhone for a minute and you can watch the tsunami crashing down the street towards you. It’s already washed away the likes of BHS, Austin Reed and Joe Fresh, and there are plenty more in its path. Watch in horror as the waves smash into the windows of Gap, Old Navy, Next, Accessorize, J Crew, Macy’s, Sears, Banana Republic, Sports Authority, American Apparel and Ben Sherman, leaving long term, if not fatal damage.
But the rumblings of change are not really out there as much as they are in here of course, inside us. We expect more than the mainstream and the mediocre now. These days we hold our money tighter and consider things more carefully. Perhaps that’s why the first wave of change came from food. We have a very personal relationship with the stuff we put in our bodies, for obvious reasons, and since we eat three times a day, food was the fastest to offer us alternatives.
Hot on the heels of food, the latest market to react, surprisingly, is not fashion but home. Put it down to cocooning, home-peacocking or simply the reaction to fifty years of polyester sofas and avocado bathrooms, we are willing to invest in our homes like never before. As The Home Depot, B&Q and Homebase struggle to cling on to a dying market, the new wave of home improvement stores has a radical idea: Instead of selling us the ingredients, they sell the whole damn meal. And what’s more, they’ll come and cook it for us too. Suddenly the sorts of bathrooms you thought were the preserve of spa resorts can be yours, assuming you have the cash. Kitchens that out-Kardashian the Kardashians can now be bought and installed by the new Lowe’s, for example, the DIY chain that realised telling busy Manhattanites to ‘do it yourself’ is impossible as well as downright rude.
There’s an audible whir of activity in the home space in New York at the moment. Earlier this year Kate Spade launched her signature cutesy home concept. Then trend-setting Restoration Hardware, which became the RH Gallery a year ago, surprised the market again recently with the launch of its RH Modern collection, and impressive it is too. Madura the French decor brand has a stylish new store on Broadway alongside Ethan Allen which is due to open an 8000 square feet flagship very soon. Italian furniture designer Poliform will also shortly open a 10,000 square feet store with design studio a few blocks north on Madison Avenue next to Roche Bobois, Minotti and Natuzzi. And Spanish kitchen and bath shop Porcelanosa recently opened a $40 million Sir Norman Foster designed showroom at the crux of Fifth Avenue and Broadway. Even the groundbreaking Samsung 837 store has a home section showcasing smart fridges and robot vacuum cleaners alongside its virtual reality playground.
But the biggest fanfare recently was reserved for the opening of the much heralded Pirch, a brand with a serious reputation to maintain, especially when landing in busy, cynical Manhattan. It does not disappoint. Three floors of home glamour that border on the pornographic. Mixer taps the size of cherry-pickers, showers and steam rooms you can actually shower in, refrigerators only slightly smaller than a terraced house, barbecue grills so beautiful you could never possibly scrunch newspaper into them, ovens seemingly hewn from from one solid lump of iron that are so sexy you feel your underwear tighten. Yes, all the rooms are ball-achingly seductive, but the focus is not the space. It’s us. Really. From the coffee bar at the entrance through to the consultation rooms and the five full-time chefs whose job is both to entertain and educate, their philosophy is to make you feel worthy of a Pirch interior. I guarantee not a single customer ever leaves this store saying ‘Yeah, it’s ok, but I’ll stick with my squeaky Melamine.’ The only obstacle between you and a Pirch life is the greenback, and in a market that has been so stale, for so long, that alone is quite some achievement.
Pirch is sure to go down a storm here in New York. Previously, if you wanted a Sub-Zero fridge you could stroke one at a showroom on 58th Street, but you’d have to buy it through PC Richards. That’s like watching your Fortnum & Mason hamper being delivered from a Tesco van.
If you think my Pirch enthusiasm is tad over excited then let me explain. By way of contrast, when I visited Sir Norm’s beautiful Porcelanosa flagship, the security guard/doorman (certainly no greeter) scowled as if to warn me not to try shoplifting a bathtub. Porcelanosa obviously considers itself terribly posh, but we Brits are more familiar with its store on The Purley Way in Croydon. Enough said.
The bar has been raised and the front door is wide open. We have given up doing it ourselves because we were crap at it and it made our houses look ordinary. Now we want our homes to reflect the way we think we should feel about ourselves. The death of mediocrity just took another step forward.