How Bicester Village became the go
One night this summer, I quizzed two 20 something fashionistas bedecked in fabulous Cline and Prada about how on earth they could afford such high ticket items on starter salaries.
never pay full price, Hannah Lamb, a fashion researcher, told me. me and my friends, it a sport. We follow the clothes from the catwalk to full price websites and stores. When they get placed with outlets, we pounce. We don care about having it first, we care about having it at the right price.
Considering that the price of luxury fashion has grown at twice the rate of inflation over the last decade, these girls are a whip smart product of their time. And the fact that today, bragging rights are more about price than speedy acquisition is also why Bicester Village, the only outlet in Britain blessed with the luxury titans Prada, Cline, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, attracts a massive 6.3 million people a year.
Bicester Village, halfway between London and Birmingham, opened in 1995 Photo: Will Sanders
A lot of them are tourists. The Chinese especially love a day out at Bicester to stock up on Burberry, Prada and Gucci: it is now thought to be the number two UK destination for tourists from China after a visit to Buckingham Palace.
Three in four Chinese visitors travel to Bicester aided by Mandarin signs that have been installed at London Marylebone station; others travel by pandora website jewelry tour buses, of which nearly 10,000 arrived in 2014. And an estimated 2.5 million Brits a year, among them the thrifty Duchess of Cambridge, also come here to invest in their designer goodies.
Bicester Village, opened in 1995, was the first of luxury outlet specialists Value Retail 10 international destinations its next is opening near Shanghai in 2016. And no wonder: Bicester is a hugely successful business model, with double digit growth in gross sales each year since it opened.
While I knew about it, I had been just once, for a press launch, three years ago. riddles jewelry Why? Utter laziness. Bicester is halfway between London and Birmingham, a few miles off the M40, and a bit of a faff to get to. Trains from Marylebone or Birmingham New Street stations go as far as Bicester North, which is still a further bus ride away from the bargains.
The faff in question, however, will soon evaporate in eight days time when, on 26 October, Chiltern Railways unveils a new station, Bicester Village. Sitting, effectively, in the mall car park, it is on a new 100m line that speeds from Marylebone to Bicester in 46 minutes, and then loops back down to Oxford Parkway so no more need for that bus.
'Three in four Chinese visitors travel to Bicester' Photo: Will Sanders
It the first new railway line built to link London to another British city for 100 years, and the project is part of a grander Government scheme to reopen an east west train link between Oxford and Cambridge. Not to mention an educated punt on the growing popularity of Bicester business model.
A few years ago, the fashion consultant Yasmin Sewell was asked to curate the British Designer Collective at Bicester, and she is a now a convert. works because it very multicultural, she says. come to the UK and luxury shopping at Bicester is near the top of their list of things to do. They really want to shop!
'From a retail point of view, it as fun as going to Selfridges, if not a bit better, because of the potential to find a great designer piece at a good price.
Bicester Village has had double digit growth in gross sales each year since it opened Photo: Will Sanders
On the day of my second ever Bicester trip just a few weeks ago, the shopping clichs are there in spades. Within an hour, I see two glamorous young Chinese women loaded with Gucci bags, four Sikh men toting bright orange Superdry bags, the new Farmhouse restaurant opened by Soho House, an unexciting building site that will soon be a train station and finally, and most incongruously, a roaring helicopter landing on a nearby field.
Turns out the helicopter is owned by an Indian billionaire who has dropped in to pick up a wardrobe full of Dior and Burberry menswear. It may seem surprising that a how much do pandora bracelets cost billionaire would come to an outlet mall, but then the term does not equate to cheap at Bicester. Far from it.
At Saint Laurent, the price tag of a beautiful forest green leather bag shows 850, down from 1,270. The brand famous Tribute sandals cost 440, reduced from 765.
Bicester Village boasts luxury titans Prada, Cline, Balenciaga, Gucci and Saint Laurent Photo: Will Sanders
At Prada, beautiful catwalk pieces are displayed like glittering prizes in a sea of generically lovely products: red block heels at 310 (reduced from 610) have a queue of three pretty young Chinese girls waiting to try them on. It good to see the on the ticket, but these items are still not exactly cheap.
In the menswear department upstairs at Burberry, a young Chinese man is trying on a shearling coat, half its original price of 3,495. Downstairs in the huge store, rack upon rack of identical padded winter coats and trench coats in the designer signature beige and black gabardine are lined up as far as the eye can see.
Here, things get a little confusing. The tag on a black wool pea coat pandora gold beads at Burberry Bicester Village outlet store shows one price: 625. Where is the price then? I here to save money, after all. Turns out this piece is an special created as a generic Burberry piece to the same standard of quality as a Burberry Prorsum item.
Nearly 10,000 tour buses arrived at Bicester in 2014 Photo: Will Sanders
These specials are all over Bicester Village 130 plus boutiques, and are what makes the place so successful. The luxury brands supply the everyday classic designer products Bicester customers want, and in house teams of merchandisers work closely with the brands to make sure the right thing comes at the right time, based on customer data.
The close partnership with brands is the secret of their success, and that what keeps people coming back. That and the catwalk specials scattered like glitter.
Desire Bollier is the glamorous CEO of Value Retail and the kind of woman who sits on the board of directors at The Royal Academy and is on nodding terms with Ai Weiwei. She says that billionaires started shopping at Bicester about five years ago.
Tthe station will link the outlet village directly to London and Oxford Photo: Will Sanders
yes, the high net worth individuals know we have the brands and that we will take care of them. So for them, it becomes about ease. Our customers have definitely moved on from saying, it an outlet, to knowing it is a destination.
Unsurprisingly, Bollier pitches Bicester to the kind of jet setter whose natural habitat is Bond Street, or a private plane. is international, she travels. She does not just want the latest she is obsessed with quality and is very demanding. If we can serve her, we can serve anyone.
With that, Bollier tells me her latest fashion win.
While Bicester stock is usually a year or more old, this month its Marni store will get the s/s 2015 collection stock that only left the full price rails in August. Next on her agenda is to entice Chanel, Vuitton and Herms, the three brands that famously never sell in outlets, to succumb. If she does, I predict a riot.
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