London Jewelers unveils a concept meant to promote young talent
When London Jewelers signed a lease for its first Manhattan store in the World Trade Center mall, landlord Westfield gave it a strict mandate: This store can’t be like your others. It has to be different.
“You had to come up with an entirely new concept,” says Tim Claire, London’s chief operating officer. “They didn’t want stores presenting themselves like they had in the past.”
But the new store, the chain’s sixth, was never destined to be your typical London location. Like many new Manhattanites, London Jewelers was confronted with a sudden lack of space. The store, set to open Aug. 16, will be its smallest: 2,400 square feet.
“It’s a new approach for us,” says Claire. “Our next smallest location is 3,000 square feet. We really needed to get creative with the available space.”
The layout included a small, open area in the middle—too small to fit a brand into, but a shame to waste. “It was perfect for introducing new concepts,” says Claire.
The new concept London decided upon was an incubator for new talent. From there, the idea came to spotlight emerging members of the Women’s Jewelry Association.
“[Co-owner] Candy [Udell] has received the WJA Hall of Fame award,” says Claire. “We have always had discussions with them. So we said to them, ‘Have you guys ever done anything for emerging members, where you put them in a broad public space that gives them exposure?’ ”
WJA never had, but it was certainly intrigued.
“We were really honored they asked us,” says president Brandee Dallow. “The idea is to give opportunities to people who are passionate and talented but don’t have the wherewithal to get into a retailer yet.”
WJA eventually produced a list of names that might work. London looked at their lines, called them in, and narrowed the list down to three.
“It will be a fertile testing ground,” adds Dallow. “It’s very difficult for a new designer to get retail exposure. This is a wonderful opportunity for them. The designers will learn a lot. London will learn a lot, too.
“In a very difficult retail environment, people want out-of-the-box ideas, ways to get younger people into the store,” she continues. “This has all of that wrapped into one. It is the kind of creativity the industry needs.”
The emerging designer showcase is perhaps the store’s most innovative feature, but that’s not its only notable aspect. It is located in the Oculus, the new $4 billion white marble train station that connects the downtown PATH station with the subway.
The 800,000-square-foot structure—considered the world’s most expensive train hub (it came in at double its expected cost)—is expected to draw 250,000 visitors daily, including commuters, office workers, and tourists who come to pay their respects to nearby Ground Zero. But the structure is striking enough to become a tourist attraction on its own. It has drawn comparisons to a “whale’s ribs,” a “turkey skeleton,” and of course, a Pokémon. The New York Times has already predicted that the “luminous” “bird-like” structure will become “selfie central.”
“We have been trying to get into Manhattan for a while,” says Claire. “We looked at Madison Avenue. Rent. Fifth Avenue. Rent. And [a lot of] competition—all the brands are there with their own stores. Downtown is an up-and-coming neighborhood, [that the industry] didn’t seem to be paying attention to.”
London won’t be the only jewelry store there: Next to it are watch brands Montblanc, Breitling, and Longines. Thomas Sabo’s first U.S. store will be nearby. And it wouldn’t be a retail hub without Apple; its Oculus store, located across from London, is slated to become its newest flagship. (It will also debut next week.)
Even though the structure has just opened, and its retail area is very much a work in progress, Claire has already seen a steady stream of traffic, mostly rushing commuters and gawking tourists. And, he predicts, this is just the beginning.
“There will be a performing arts center, there will be restaurants,” says Claire. “This is an evolving project in an evolving neighborhood. Downtown is being completely transformed. In a few years, this won’t be the downtown we all have known. We feel this will be a leading destination.”
(Top two photos courtesy of London Jewelers; bottom photo courtesy of Port Authority of New York & New Jersey)