It would be a tall call not to find the retail heritage of Hamburg impressive. After all, it was here that designers Jil Sander and Wolfgang Joop founded their labels – brands that have evolved into worldwide names. Versatility has long been a key attribute of this Hanseatic city, which is now Europe’s second largest seaport, and its retail offering combines high luxury stores with a growing range of innovative shops off the beaten track. Recently a new generation of creative retailers has been making a big impact with bold, concept-driven boutiques.
The past few years have seen a flurry of openings. In the Eppendorf quarter you’ll find Vau, which specialises in interior and design pieces. Just around the corner, concept store Hello Love is a new womenswear destination. To the south, in the Ottensen quarter, menswear specialist Adler Altona is thriving. A recent highlight was the opening of the Apropos men’s concept store in the city centre in summer 2016.
Apropos was established in 1984 in the town of Gummersbach to the east of Cologne. It was launched with an offering of designer brands such as Jil Sander, Iceberg and Armani. In the mid 90s, co-founder and managing director Klaus Ritzenhöfer instigated a move to Cologne where the headquarters remain today, and there are now stores in Munich and Düsseldorf as well as Hamburg. ‘Apropos has six stores across Germany including one womenswear and one new menswear store in Hamburg,’ Ritzenhöfer says. The newly opened Hamburg menswear store is located on the urban promenade of Neuer Jungfernstieg off Binnenalster, the inner Alster lake. ‘This area is easily accessible and additionally a prime pitch with its admirable view of the Alster,’ Ritzenhöfer says. Devised by French architects Rodolphe Parente and Benjamin Liatoud, the new space was designed to emphasise natural light as well as the watery outlook.
Over in Eppendorf, Vau is famous on the city’s fashion scene. ‘When Vau opened its doors eight years ago the idea was to bring high-end Scandinavian and French design to Hamburg,’ says Romy Perényi, head of retail. She adds that the aim was to serve ‘the classic though fashion-conscious customer who is willing to pay a higher price’. Brands such as Acne Studios, Filippa K, House of Dagmar and Valentine Gauthier were showcased. ‘We managed to create a unique new look and feel through less well-known designers, with probably more colourful prints and shapes, too.’
Nearby, Hello Love was founded in 2015 by Anni Glahn and Rike (Henrike) Broede, who both quit their jobs to open the shop. From their Eppendorf space they pride themselves on sourcing original, one-of-a-kind gems. Their carefully curated selection of design, fashion and homeware pieces features labels from all over the world. ‘We go on global treasure hunts in cities such as Brooklyn, Paris and Tokyo,’ they say.
The customer is king
An appealing attribute shared by these new additions to Hamburg’s retail scene is a one-on-one type of service for which customers are treated as individuals. ‘We try to offer the customer something unique,’ Ritzenhöfer says. ‘They should feel special when visiting us. It is like entering a world full of new and imposing experiences and impressions ‒ a place where they feel at home and are always welcome.’ Similarly, Hello Love prides itself on special attention. ‘We like to give advice and wrap every gift ourselves with a lot of love involved. We have the best, most lovely customers who already highly value our store and us,’ say Glahn and Broede.
Among Hamburg’s six million visitors a year, the customers frequenting these stores are connoisseurs, some travelling specifically for the experience of shopping there. Vau’s customer base reaches into other European countries. ‘They come from Switzerland or other parts of Germany and we try to give them a good insight into what we have in store while they are visiting,’ says Perényi. ‘This might end up in an intense shopping experience. And this is what we love.’ On such occasions, she says, Vau’s retail expertise is truly endorsed.
Yet it’s not only fashion and shopping that are bringing visitors to the city. Glahn and Broede are quick to point out the wider attractions of Hamburg. They note that customers from outside the city like to enhance their shopping trips with a walk through the famous Speicherstadt district of amazing old warehouses, and perhaps to enjoy a cultural event or take a boat trip on the Alster river.
Perényi makes similar observations, starting with Eppendorf. This area, she says, offers so many wonderful shops and cafés that any visitor would enjoy getting lost in its streets. ‘The same applies to Winterhude, Karolinenviertel and Sternschanze,’ she adds.
A wander from Apropos to Vau will certainly allow you to discover Hamburg’s hidden architectural and urban gems. It’s clear that Germany’s second biggest city is developing a retail offering to rival even that of Berlin.