Our retail safari in the city of angels

Los Angeles in May is just irresistible so we popped out for a cheeky midweek break to check out the new shops on Melrose and West Hollywood. Considering the retailmaggedon in the UK, with April reporting a 4.1% drop in sales, we all needed a bit of fresh inspo. Just like Jamie Olivier went to the south of Italy to re-ignite his passion for cooking, we went west to rediscover our love for shops.

All things retro with depop: The trip turned out to be something of a busman’s holiday, as the very first exciting store we found was by our British friends from Depop! The much cooler version of eBay for teens has teamed up with the similar NY-based brand, Purcell, to cook up a storm for Mother’s Day in LA. Their joined-up pop-up was a mix of retro clubwear and ’70s sportswear, so coveted by the vintage cognoscenti. There’s nothing better than taking your mum down memory lane and we found the venue was packed with nostalgia fans and fashionistas alike. Depop is set to do well in LA and will be combining a permanent pop-up with the HQ upstairs.

Take Apple, but make it fashion: Nordstrom Local in LA is developing their shop-not-shop concept, with not even a stock room in sight. With only 3,000 square feet, compared to 140,000 for the average Nordstrom, this is a local service venue, with champagne-fuelled personal shopper sessions, click-and-collect, returns, alterations and, the most important component, people. It’s all very well to move the brand online but Nordstrom built a name on service and is keen to keep the intimate connection going. All staff were very clued-up on Nordstrom’s online tools and the sales girls had the ambience of Apple store digital natives about them, while also being able to advise on fashion.

All good things revolve around the festival trend: Revolve.com, one of Topshop’s big competitors in the US and a fast-growing young fashion brand, has invested in a one off festival pop-up at Melrose. Thanks to Coachella, US festivals are less mud-meets-music but more sunny catwalks with all the top celebs playing their part in the desert hijinks. Their previous pop-up in the same venue was built around a Nike collab but felt somewhat forced (after all, the Revolve girl is probably too hungover to go for that morning Nike Club run). In comparison, the festival theme sat better with the brand. The venue was completely re-designed and felt like Coachella-by-the-Pacific, sans the whiff of weed (although we found plenty of that on Venice Beach, as pot for medical use is now legalised in the whole state). Revolve is now focusing on more themed pop-ups, each of which has a 2-6-month duration and is located in the brand’s key cities.

Brandless… But full of surprises: LA is having a massive shop-not-shop moment, with another stock-less venue rolled out by Brandless. Not a piece of merchandising in sight, just eco inspiration and an events venue. Here you can register for events with eco-fashion celebs (they are all within walking distance so why not get them into the store), cruelty-free beauty products and non-GMO food presentations. Tickets at $9 seemed really good value for money as Brandless offers beauty workshops, vegan nutrition talks and all the alternative topics California is so famous for. Fun venue with an added extra of an ethical take on sourcing.

LA just got a little glossier: Beyoncé’s favourite beauty brand Glossier has just opened a new joint and, true to form, it is pink. After playing with pop-ups in LA, Glossier has now put their well-groomed roots down on Melrose, concentrating on providing experience, events, product sampling and testing new beauty technology. It’s also extremely selfie-friendly with plenty of backgrounds to use as a setup, plus a high-tech skin diagnosis centre.

The great American denim: The Great, a brand that is not very known in Europe but much loved in LA, is just opening and we caught a glimpse just as the fitters were packing up their tools. America is not America without denim and this brand does it nearly as well as Topshop (but then again, we would have said that considering we put the first jeans online for Topshop back in 2000). The Great puts its focus on casual vintage-inspired jeans – a lovely trend somewhat overshadowed by the failure of the Nasty Gal brand, whose young founder had a penchant for retro denim. We hope the bad spell for retro jeans is broken and The Great will do great indeed, as the interior looks fresh, the offer is stylish and their staff has a certain LA whiff about them (in a good way).

A pretty little tease: And finally, the shop that was… not a shop. Pretty Little Things have wrapped up a big pink building around a block on Melrose, so everyone was saving up to shop for the new British sensation. However, it was all a big tease and instead it will be the brand’s American HQ, including a photography studio. We ‘ve been saying for ages that high street is now the work street, for offices rather than shops, so we’re glad to see we were ahead of the curve here.

The American sample sale extravaganza: During our retail safari we dived into countless sample sales – a fun and simple format that just needs a gallery or a florist shop for the weekend and a van or two full of last year’s stock. Since Angelenos will turn up for the opening of a paper bag, it only takes a few smiley ‘influencers’ to be invited and the shop fills to the brim in no time at all, providing countless Insta and Snapchat coverage.

And now, a quick stop in Santa Monica Place: Away from Melrose there is always Santa Monica Place, with Bloomingdale’s and a quirky mix of locals and tourists. Here you can find a regular Nordstrom and their new e-bar (with raw juices created by bearded, tattooed baristas, of course). New up-and-coming cosmetic brands, yoga studios and a Drybar for that quick hairstyling that’s so necessary in LA can all be found here. Priorities in LA are to look your best at all times, just in case a paparazzi pops out from behind a bush.

What can we learn from LA? Lessons learned? LA does what it does best, retail as showbusiness with ever-changing pop-ups, new themes and pop-up brands floating around more established brands and their permanent stores. Retail theatre and happenings, both for openings as well as one-off events, are available in spades.

Combining an office with a pop-up below and a solid online presence is what brands are exploring, similar to boutiques such as Coco de Mar in Covent Garden or (on a larger scale) Topshop on Berners Street. But permanent shops are thriving too – more so if they are concentrating on service rather than pure product.

Tip of the week: if you fancy a visit to LA, avoid the Beverly Hills Hotel – it’s just a faded oil sheikh’s trap these days. We loved the sky deck pool at LeParc Suite hotel as it’s THE place to relax and watch the view over West Hollywood while eavesdropping on visiting rockstars preparing for their next LA gig.


Next month we’re off to Stockholm, the original source of bearded hipsters, midsummer’s night parties and all things sustainable. Watch this space for a Scandi retail update with byte!