In the run-up to the opening of Europe’s biggest retail site in March, Bluewater became a household name. The construction of the centre in a disused chalk pit off the A2 has been well charted, and the use of design has been played up throughout the process. Architect Benoy, when it was part of Fitch, created the original concepts. Since then US architect Eric Kuhne has taken the helm, and everyone involved, from McDonald’s to Boots, has been encouraged to push interiors concepts to the limits.
Of the 320 outlets, most of which are now open, a considerable number have had input from the UK’s major interiors consultancies. Coupled with the developer’s push for innovative store concepts, Bluewater should be a unique showcase for retail design.
Many retailers are using the site to create new flagship stores, with views to rolling out designs to other sites. Marks & Spencer is a good example of this.
More than half a dozen design groups are responsible for two or more outlets. Dalziel & Pow and Checkland Kindleysides have five and four shops under their belts respectively, while Kinnersley Kent Design worked on three stores, including House of Fraser, one of the anchor stores. 20/20 tops the chart, having designed for Jaeger, Vyella, Boots, BT Retail, Knickerbox, Tammy and fast food joint Spud-u-Like.
Pioneering stores include Girl Heaven, a new venture for maternity wear chain Blooming Marvellous, aimed at girls from 2-12 and their mothers. Interiors are by Lumsden Design Partnership. Elle’s first standalone store is created by 4IV. UK fashion label Kangol opens its first store, by Conran Design Group. The first store in Europe for Californian young fashion chain Bebe is by Caulder Moore. Athena moves away from posters and into designer giftware, with interiors by Silver & Co. And Checkland Kindleysides has designed Speedo’s first shop.
It’s too early to chart how successful Bluewater is commercially, but the general feeling is that, for a shopping centre, it at least looks good.