Light is streaming in through the attic window, casting a filtered glow into 5 Carlos Place—the brand new retail and lifestyle destination in Mayfair, London, launched by online e-tailer MATCHESFASHION.COM. And seated in front me, ever so poised yet relaxed, beaming a warmth to rival the comforting cup of coffee I have in my hands, is Jess Christie; the brand's Chief Branding Officer. "Good to see you again," she chirps. "Let's order some afternoon tea."
Over finger sandwiches and miniature chocolate eclairs, I speak to Christie about the rationale for going back to bricks-and-mortar, the MATCHESFASHION.COM difference, and why, as you'll soon discover, 5 Carlos Place is going to be the fashion destination and hub for London.
ESQ: MATCHESFASHION.COM is known as an e-commerce site. What was the inspiration behind going offline and purchasing this property at 5 Carlos Place in Mayfair?
Jess Christie: We’ve been going for just over 30 years. We started as a brick-and-mortar. We always started with physical retail. And then around 10 years ago, we launched online. And it became phenomenally successful. But the physical side of retail has always been really important to us; we wanted to engage with our customers and deepen the relationship. A personal relationship. So last year when, during our birthday, we did a pop-up townhouse and it was massively successful. So we started thinking: we should have a permanent home for residencies and activations. So about 18 months ago, we took this place. And it was the perfect site because we really wanted something that had a little character where we could combine different elements together: there’s a physical retail element, which anyone could walk into; there’s a private shopping element, so you could book your appointments because that is a big part of our business; and then we also have this kind of cultural programming of events that the public can engage with and feel a bit like a community.
ESQ: What can people expect when they enter 5 Carlos Place? What should people do?
Jess Christie: We made it so that it feels more like a hotel or a member’s club. So we have a host. You’ll always be greeted by a human, who will tell you about what is going on. Give you an event programme for the month. And generally talk to you about the experience of the house. The thing is, if you want to, they’ll look after you for your whole journey. Someone will walk you around the whole experience. And then I would say, you definitely want to make sure that you come in and see our garden at the back. It’s a little bit of a haven in central London, to go and be able to sit in a beautiful garden. And then, you have the two retail floors to experience different installations. And you definitely want to make sure that on that first floor, you stop by the vending machine. It will have new things on offer with each new collaboration.
ESQ: And definitely visit the private shopping suites.
Jess Christie: Definitely. When you are on your way up to the cafe on the top floor—where you need to end and have a coffee or a lovely salad or breakfast—make sure you pop your head into the private shopping rooms. Even if you don’t want to do an appointment. Because they are my favourite.
ESQ: We are seated here in the attic now where there’s complementary tea, coffee and food all day; it really draws people together. And there’s also a room to do podcasts here?
Jess Christie: Exactly. So we have an editing suite inside the room behind us here in the attic. But actually, we could take over the whole house and do podcasting from anywhere. Livestreams, different kinds of interviews in different formats. It is really important to us that we are thinking in that way, because the idea with 5 Carlos Place is that it has to feel very inclusive. Yes, we are dealing with very expensive clothes and very artisanal and beautiful brands, but actually, you want to bring people into that experience and tell them a story.
ESQ: MATCHESFASHION.com stands out in terms of its buy. It picks brands that are going to be hot. Even before they are. You catapult them. But because you’re an e-commerce site, you might not know what your size is in a brand. So I imagine that having 5 Carlos Place gives shoppers the opportunity to try them on, to find their size in these new brands.
Jess Christie: It’s exactly that. A big part of the retail concept of 5 Carlos Place is discovery. So you should come in, discover a new brand like GMBH, and you can physically engage with the product. Because if you’re a Gucci customer, you know what size you are. There are plenty of Gucci stores around the world. So we won’t showcase any of the main Gucci or Dolce or Saint Laurent collections here unless they are an exclusive collaboration happening with 5 Carlos Place. You will not walk in here and see what you see in a department store. It’s always got to be something that feels completely different. 5 Carlos Place really gives us an amazing platform to showcase innovators and new young designers.
ESQ: And it feels like a home.
Jess Christie: I’m thrilled that you think it feels like a home. Because when we employed the interior architects P. Joseph, we told them we want it to feel like the ultimate collective house. It’s really warm and we use a lot of colour in the house. Like those private shopping suites. Because again, I think people don’t want everything to be in a very clean and cold space. It needs to feel really warm right?
ESQ: Totally. 5 Carlos Place is your baby, really. How did you choose the people and firms to work with to turn this place into a reality? For example, architects P. Joseph and sculptor Nick Hornby who created pieces for the stairwell.
Jess Christie: Our founders, Tom and Ruth Chapman, have always prioritised relationships. So what’s really exciting about this project is, first of all, Philip and Peter from P. Joseph are really brilliant and they gave us ideas for people to collaborate with. So, for instance, Nick Hornby was their suggestion. And also, we’ve built so many relationships over the years, where we’ve worked with so many interesting people, that we had too many ideas.
ESQ: So you had to edit…
Jess Christie: Totally. And because the space is really flexible, everything’s fluid, nothing’s fixed. It’s not typical retail. That’s very exciting because you can always bring different people together for different projects. For example, when we worked with Prada for an exclusive collection and installation, they brought in their own ideas and collaborators. And I think that’s why it feels more authentic as well. We have the ultimate pub quiz night coming up, and we are going to have darts, a pop quiz, and posh pub food, so that’s when the fun comes in. I think sometimes retail can become a bit safe. If people take the time to visit us, or come into an event or space, it should be a pleasure.
ESQ: On the topic of programming, how many events or activations do you have for the next few months?
Jess Christie: So we’ve got about 40 in the next two months, but they are really varied. They range from bigger things where we will do big launch events for a collection, all the way through to small workshops or panel conversations for 20 people. So we’ll have supper clubs with Australian chef Skye Gyngell, but we’ll also have an acoustic performance by Theresa Wayman from Warpaint. It’s like a menu for people to choose from really. And also, for anyone in town, there’s something fresh and new. That’s the big idea. And we have created a new area on our site called “What’s on” so people can keep up-to-date with all our activities at 5 Carlos Place. And we will also livestream or turn our programming into podcasts, because you really need to be giving people great content.
ESQ: You have so many things coming up. I mean, last night you had Kate Moss in your house for Mario Sorrenti’s book signing. That was amazing.
Jess Christie: That was amazing.
ESQ: We recently did an Esquire Shophouse in Singapore where we took over a shophouse in the Duxton Hill neighbourhood for weekend. It was a huge project but we just did it for one weekend. But 5 Carlos place is a permanent activation.
Jess Christie: Yes, we are doing it for 52 weeks in a year.
ESQ: That must be a huge undertaking both mentally and physically? Although MATCHESFASHION.COM is a global powerhouse, the team here in London is still relatively small?
Jess Christie: And yeah, to be honest, that’s probably what makes it so different. I think the key difference for us as a business is that we retain that personal feeling. Something again that our founders really believe in. You need to be able to recognise your customer’s requests. It’s a relationship, and I think when you have a relationship, that’s what makes it really meaningful. Because there are so many choices out there now, there’s so much noise. People want something that feels personal.
ESQ: What has been the biggest challenge of realising 5 Carlos Place?
Jess Christie: I think the biggest challenge, first of all, is that the property is a listed building in Mayfair. So you are dealing with a lot of people. And the hardest part has been making everyone understand what you are trying to do, joining all the dots, keeping everyone focused. So we’ve really enjoyed the challenges—be it, how to install lights into a heritage-listed ceiling—to work really closely with designers and architects. This has truly been the most cross-functional project that we’ve ever worked on as a business.
ESQ: Tell us about the private shopping experience here. How does that work? How can someone book an appointment and buy something from 5 Carlos Place?
Jess Christie: So basically, to book an appointment, you can book through the Carlos Place hub online. There’s also an access point just for private shopping generally on the site. So you can send an email, and one of our stylists will contact you and they say to you, “Norman, when do you want to do an appointment? What are you looking for? What do you like and don’t like?” Again, depending on what kind of customer you are, you can also put a lot of things into your online wishlist, send it to the stylist, and then they will place them into one of the suites at 5 Carlos Place for you to come in and try on. And then we could always add to it. To add in that sense of discovery; to build in new and young brands.
ESQ: How much does it cost?
Jess Christie: There’s no cost attached to it, and there’s no obligation. You just come in. Again, if you want more help, they’ll be there. If you don’t, you can be on your own and try things on your own. That’s one way of doing private shopping. But the other service we have here, which I think would be great for some people, is that you can just do a 90-minute delivery service into 5 Carlos Place without having a stylist edit the pieces. You could just email and say, “I’m going to be in London, I’d like to come to the house and try on these pieces.” And we will have your selections ready for you in the retail changing rooms.
ESQ: And then you can just take those pieces with you?
Jess Christie: Yup, you can just take the pieces you want away with you. Or you might arrange for them to be sent to your hotel, your home, or office. We will cater to how you want to shop with us.
ESQ: In terms of point of sale, is it all on your mobile device? How is digital integrated into the whole 5 Carlos Place shopping experience?
Jess Christie: Yeah, all mobile point of sales. So everything in the house, from when you check in, has a QR code. You can have someone literally walk you through the whole house, or if you want to shop alone, you could just use your camera and hover over the QR codes that are next to products throughout the house, and you will be directed to the product on the website.
ESQ: For the QR Code, you just need to open your camera and scan. You don’t have to download a specific app?
Jess Christie: That’s right. Just point and scan. You got to take the friction away. People now are so immediate that as long as you ask them to do this or do that. You lose them.
ESQ: The whole house is very Instagrammable. Was that intentional or part of the thinking process?
Jess Christie: We were almost worried at one point that it wasn’t going to be. Because typically we brand a lot more. Like when we do pop-ups, they would be a big logo somewhere. Actually, it was quite an interesting challenge. We wanted it to be so beautiful, Instagrammable, but without being all over the place.
ESQ: You want the property to sell itself. Not have a defined Instagram corner.
Jess Christie: Yes, not to be obvious.
ESQ: What do you want people to feel when they walk into the space?
Jess Christie: I want them to feel warm and welcomed. I want them to feel like they’ve discovered something. Most of all, I want them to feel that they’ve made that personal connection.
ESQ: For me, the keyword I am taking away is “community”. It feels like a club, but an inclusive club. All the cool kids are still here, and the fact that you can come up to the attic to enjoy complementary food and drink, plus great WiFi, it just ticks all the right boxes.
Jess Christie: That’s right. It doesn’t need to be a hard sell; we are still going to do the majority of our business online. But 5 Carlos Place is a place to visit when you’re in London, when you want to see what’s going on and hopefully get inspired by a designer that you didn’t know. But also, like you said, to enjoy a cup of coffee. I can sit and do some emails. And I will probably bump into somebody I know. It’s a home.
5 Carlos Place, Mayfair, London is open from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Saturday.