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Sun 1 Apr 2007 03:05 PM

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Out with the old

British retail chain Marks & Spencer opens international flagship store in Dubai.

At a recent Marks & Spencer International Store Design Conference in London, M&S UK announced that it would be spending 1 billion pounds sterling on its UK properties to bring them all up to the latest corporate look - the biggest spend ever of any retail operator to bring all stores into line. This signals its commitment to developing a new corporate image and the AED30 million regional flagship store in Dubai Festival City that launched last month showcases the company's vibrant rebranding and its attempts to entice a younger clientele to its stores.

Glynis Rabone, from Evolution Design developed the basic M&S international store design formula after thorough consultation with Al Futtaim Retail, and she talks to

about the challenge of designing a new concept for an old brand. She says: "Marks & Spencer's new vision is to create a contemporary modern store that is understandable and enjoyable, to express the brand with confidence, and maintain high design standards. There is a new palette of colours - dark green and lime green, yellow, red and grey."

The corporate signage of lime green individually illuminated and halo-lit letters with deep dark green returns are fixed to Chelsea Artisan's silvered glass facsiae. The corporate yellow is used to designate movement areas. In the UK the bright yellow is helpful to assist the visually-impaired to find their way and is simply painted on the movement area walls. Rabone explains: "As this is a flagship store we used Chelsea Artisan's Bright Yellow Décor Glass system to clad the lift entrances to the glass panoramic lift and the escalator sides to create a more glossy luxurious feel. This detail is also reflected in the fitting room entrances, which the UK frames with a black painted wall. We used Chelsea Artisan's Black Décor Glass system to create a goalpost and highlight the entrance. Using the glass on the fitting room and lift entrances, gave us a smooth surface to apply vinyl graphics."

The corporate red is used in the UK to designate till points and fitting room lobby interiors. "In the fitting rooms, we softened the UK's red painted walls by using a red textured vinyl wallcovering from Muraspec. The fitting room doors and surrounds are covered in black and white photographic images as part of the contemporary look," Rabone explains.

At 60,000ft², it is the world's biggest Marks & Spencer store (outside the UK) and the sheer size of the space demanded a simple floor layout. It has a large square format on both floors with a central lift and escalator atrium. The Food/Bakery/Espresso Café area in the glass rotunda made use of the natural daylight to enhance the different feel the food area has to the rest of the store with its dark grey floor and gunmetal finish shelving. The area has a sleek contemporary feel of a modern deli. The Bakery and Espresso café compliments the food image with a cherry slatted bulkhead to tie the areas together. The Lounge, a restaurant designed by Yabu Pushelberg in the 1st Floor rotunda, will open during May.

Rabone explains how she tried to keep an essence of the Middle East in her designs: "We incorporated elements which are more suitable to the local market. For example, the fitting rooms are always more spacious to meet higher customer expectations. And we try to use more local and upmarket materials, such as the cream agglomerated marble floor available locally from Gulf Stone in Oman which we have used over several recent stores including Wafi City."

The flooring elsewhere is a mixture of materials. Two tonnes of Amtico wood vinyl finish, from Floors LLC, are used in the fitting rooms for a softer feel and sound while slate grey Italian porcelain floor tiles from Arabuild LLC are used in the contemporary Food/ Bakery/ Espresso Café rotunda area to act as a visual separation.

Due to the size of the store, Evolution had to segregate the areas by using different materials throughout, this also applies to the lighting, which is in various applications. Rabone explains: "We have used a mixture of wallwashers and adjustable downlights on the perimeter bulkheads to illuminate the vertical surface and provide feature focus. In the main ceiling tile area there are general ambient downlights and adjustable gimbals to provide focus light." Rabone also used LED colour changing dropped pendants as a feature over the central atrium. These slowly change in sequence through a spectrum of different colours, including lemon, peach, pale green and white. All these were sourced from Microlights Ltd LLC.

The vibrant colours matched with a new dependence on contemporary materials such as LEDs, glass and vinyl graphics signals a new future for the high street fashion brand.

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