Go Forth! Mercurylab in London (Part Three) | The Conran Factor

August 05 2014

Sir Terence Conran’s influence on the way the British live has been immeasurable. It wouldn’t be possible for me to list all of his contributions to the design and comfort of British life, but he has been at it since the 1950s, and The Conran Group continues to be a vital force in British culture.


Signage at the new Design Museum

For those of you who haven’t been there, try visiting the original Design Museum in Shad Thames before it moves to the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington in 2016. This famous building is considered to be one of the major post-war buildings in London, and as such is a fitting home for the expanded and continuing conversation and influence of design in all aspects of our lives. Conran has donated £17.5 million to fund the new museum. Meanwhile, the new Design Museum is already showing its influence, creating brand awareness through their presence in the current windows at the John Lewis and Peter Jones department stores, where many Londoners go to get their housewares, drapes, clothes, and of course, to visit the “foodie” Waitrose food hall in the Oxford Street John Lewis.


Design Museum curatorial expertise at John Lewis

In any event, the Design Museum curators have given their imprint from a historical or contemporary design perspective to items sold at John Lewis, a heritage brand that is currently 150 years young. It’s a great way of creating high street awareness and appreciation for good design. Conran furniture and objects are also sold as part of the Conran collection for Marks & Spencer, and the upscale Conran Shop is still a destination for excellent mid-century classics as well as modern and contemporary design. And now in another venture that shows he still has his finger on the pulse, Conran has conceived of the Albion Cafes.


The Albion Café's delicious offerings

Ahhhhh, Albion. There was an hour wait at the café in Shoreditch, but we luckily stumbled in the door at the café behind the Tate Modern. The market itself is a perfectly curated (but not twee) and surprisingly affordable mixture of goodies from the Albion kitchen (massive jars of homemade raspberry preserves; tomato chutney; homemade baked goods); vegetable, cheese, smoked fish, and a good selection of specialty teas, biscuits, Guernsey yogurts et al. And to make it even better, there’s a 15% discount if you have expanded your mind at the Tate in preparation for expanding your stomach at The Albion. I’m gushing, but dinner was delicious. Conran’s idea worked as usual – feeling that upscale pretention was not the way to go, he conceived of something homey (it is), and relaxed, where you could eat and do a bit of shopping for things you really need, and those you simply want. Now that’s the mind of a visionary trend-reader and trendsetter at work. I’m going to appreciate him yet again today when I have some of that delicious chutney with my fish for my lunch!

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An American Heritage Brand: Twinkies

July 17 2013

When we think about America, we think about apple pie and baseball. What about other American classics, like Twinkies? Hostess Twinkies have been around since 1930, a true staple for generations of snackers. The cream-filled sponge cakes have never been the healthiest option but America has never seemed to care. It takes a strong brand to stay relevant and successful with such a processed, sugary product in today’s market, especially when fresher, organic options are being become more popular and widely available.

Twinkies took a hit last year when Hostess Cakes declared bankruptcy after a hostile fight with its union workers. Once the word got out that the factory was about to close, any remaining product sold out in the blink of an eye. Media stories abounded about people’s grief at the loss of an iconic American brand.  

Then Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo came along and bought Twinkies and other Hostess cakes for $410 million. Now this beloved, familiar snack is back on our shelves. The new boxes will showcase the tagline, “The Sweetest Comeback In The History Of Ever,” underlining the brand’s heritage position.

Despite their one-year hiatus, the Twinkie brand hasn’t lost its place in the heart of America. Reaction from the public seems promising, and a less iconic brand might have been mourned and already forgotten. The product will still have the same classic taste, as well as all the sugar and calories that come with it. Twinkies have a whopping shelf life of forty-five days, which may not be what it once was, but is enormous in light of the current trends towards local and fresh food and changed consumer consciousness.

So it seems that although the market for healthy food has only grown over the past year, consumers can’t wait to get their hands on Twinkies once again. This brand seems to be resilient to say the least, and it looks like the desire for this tasty treat will last a lifetime.

                 

                                                    Image via marketingpilgrim.com

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Anthropologie: A Faux Heritage Brand Hits the High Street

February 12 2013

 

          Anthropologie Regent Street's living plant wall, Image via www.businessoffashion.com


Major lifestyle and clothing retail chain Anthropologie, with over 147 stores in the U.S., and six in Canada, operates only two stores outside of North America—both in London. That’s a far cry from parent company Urban Outfitters, which racks up an impressive twenty-five UK locations, plus sixteen others throughout Western Europe. Catering to the universal teenaged fast-fashion set, Urban Outfitters has been able to easily make a name for itself within the European market. Anthropologie’s two London locations are fairly new, and are definitely an experiment for the brand.  So why the “pessimistic economic predictions” on the opening of the London locations from Vogue.co.uk?

A love of heritage brands is ingrained in British sensibility—from the royal family to Liberty of London, which has maintained its position as England's premier department storesince 1875. Liberty is still selected each year by the readers of Time Out London as the top shopping destination in the UK. So as a faux-heritage brand, one wonders in what way Anthropologie will be able to find a place in a country with actual heritage. In the U.S, vintage is a longstanding trend, as shoppers and merchants either connect to our real shared past or fabricated an idealized sense of what it means to be an American. Hence the success of Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, two brands that have constructed billion dollar businesses around the beauty and romance of what America never has been, but aspires to be. 

So why bring a faux-heritage mall brand like Anthopologie to Britain? First off, their girlish, embellished, romantic clothes and lifestyle items do fit in well with how British woman dress, and live. A friend there recently told me that his mom and her friends are starting to flock to Anthropologie. These women "get" the brand. They want pretty, and decorative.  On a certain level, it's also an investment brand, as this part of Americana does not come cheap. Antrhopologie is coming up against British high street brands with a more contemporary sensibility, so there may be a place for them in the market.

 

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Anglomaniacs Unite!

February 22 2011

What is it with those Brits? Everyone wants a piece of them these days.They’ve got the whole heritage thing going on, and then for the past fifteen years or so, they’ve re-emerged as a center of hip, smart, ironic and fine design. They’ve also got the whole high/low thing down pat, so that you can feel just as good buying a luxurious and fun Vivienne Westwood rug (a whimsical take on the Union Jack)

Vivienne Westwood for the Rug Company

to buying a candle in the shape of Big Ben,

Candles from BlissLiving Home, T-shirt from the London Underground shop

or a Union Jack throw pillow that can be found at every stand on Portobello Road. This is apart from their ongoing infuence in the world of architecture, fashion design, food (hello, Jamie Oliver), literature, publishing and photography. You get the picture. I don’t see this trend going away very soon, so stock up on your tea and biscuits, set your ipod to Lily Allen, and crack open your coffee table book on Sir Norman Foster. Cheers!

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