Approaching HMV’s flagship store in London’s Oxford Street, it’s hard to remember whether the storefront has always had the famous dog Nipper poised as if ready to defecate on the heads of hapless punters below. It turns out not, as the 2m-high model, created by architectural sculptor Alan Dawson Associates, was the jewel in the crown of architect and designer Greig & Stephenson’s 5m fast-track refurbishment.
The two big music retailers, HMV and arch-rival Virgin, seem to be forever refurbishing bits of their stores – like entering the Twilight Zone, things are always being moved and spaces seem to have shifted since your last visit. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, adding as it does a feeling of flux and energy, it’s to be hoped that HMV will settle down and not clutter up its new space or add more disparate elements to the design, as its first attempt in this vein has produced an unmitigated and ridiculous disaster: the silver models of pop stars hanging from the ceiling on the ground floor are truly dire, the characters being barely recognisable (I swear one of them is Gary Oldman’s white rastafarian from True Romance) and, on the whole, looking rather cheap and nasty. It’s a shame, as they’re one of the first things you see and they detract from the cool sense of space and light created by Greig & Stephenson.
These attributes are immediately noticeable from outside the store, facilitated by the broadening of the storefront by a whopping 30 per cent and a huge bank of video screens at the very rear of the store which direct the eye through the interior. The sense of space is no trick of the eye, aisles have been widened, making the record racks seem less overpowering and the circulation easier. Indeed circulation and orientation have been vastly improved: more escalators; more information points; and a mini atrium are just some of the elements which have been introduced to give customers a greater sense of where they are, where they want to be and how to get there.
What’s less successful is the attempt at Pompidou Centre style – orange pillars, blue backlighting and exposed red ductwork sit uneasily with dull carpeting throughout, resulting in a whole that just looks a bit dated and uninspiring. The worst example of this is the classical department which, as seems to be standard, forms its own mini-store. Pillars and backlighting are set against a backdrop of bare wood and laminate – and ruined by the metallic figures (gold this time) and period chandeliers.
You could argue that the constraints imposed by thousands of rectangular objects in racks make any variety or new thinking around music store design almost impossible. You could also argue that the kind of person who buys the crude, jokey T-shirts on sale doesn’t give a damn about store design. But a trip down the road to Virgin’s flagship store shows how a more design-aware record store can do a whole let better than faux Pompidou Centre.
Currently undergoing its own refurbishment, Virgin is unveiling a look which echoes the clean spaces of the FNAC chain in France and seems to be more European and forward-looking. While it’s hard to say what the finished store will look like, the materials and colours being revealed – vinyl inlaid with icons bearing words like Record, Ffwd and Play at the entry to the videodrome, Perspex signage, bold colours and so on – suggest a greater boldness and design intelligence.
The question you’re probably asking yourself is: “Which shop will this writer be rushing to to buy the new Spice Girls album?” And the answer: Mr CD on Berwick Street – it’s cheaper.