It was 1813 when William Debenham, with his partner William Clark, founded a store in London’s Wigmore Street where draperies, silks, hats, hosiery, lace and a full-on haberdashery could be found under one roof — the rest, as they say, was fashion history. Now, the retail mammoth Debenhams is found in 178 stores across the UK, Ireland and Denmark, as well as 26 other countries worldwide, including the Philippines.
Now, Debenhams enjoys six outlets in our archipelago, with its robust partnership with luxury retailers the SSI (Stores Specialists Inc.) group, the newest in the uptown destination of Estancia Mall. “It’s not just an ordinary Debenhams. It is retaking what is the best of what goes well in the UK and replicating it here. I think that the recently refurbished and completely remodeled Debenhams in Oxford Street is what you see in here,” explained British Ambassador to the Philippines Asif Ahmad. Ahmad addressed Debenhams’ vibrant guests in Estancia’s walkway designed to look like the marketplace at Portobello road, replete with fish and chips stands, flower shops, and of course, a brimming cocktail counter.
After a handful of Mini Coopers jammed the walkway-turned-runway, models began to sashay, displaying Debenhams’ newest collections of easy-to-wear corporate, cocktail and casual collections, replete with summer florals, quintessential British hues and charming separates. They led guests upstairs to the newest Debenhams retail complex, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.
“The Oxford Street store is much bigger, so we’ve taken some of the best elements to fit into a smaller space here,” explained Debenhams’ international franchise director Philip Topham, while walking me through the 13,000-square-foot boutique. “All that you see here, in terms of the lighting treatment — the floor, to the wall features, the coloration in the fitting rooms — all of it is brand-new,” he noted.
Inside the new Estancia Mall outlet are Debenhams’ well-received designer collections, a formula the brand pioneered with famous British fashion movers since 1993 under the Designers at Debenhams spotlight. Designers like Jasper Conran, Matthew Williamson, Pip Hacket, Ted Baker, Melissa Obadash and St. George by Duffer filled Debenhams’ racks with their posh collections at High Street prices.
Now, Debenhams’ bankable ranges like Redherring and their infinitely-rewarding collaboration with designer John Rocha are still found in the newer racks, yet in a more stunning and dynamic display. “It’s essentially the same range as in the other stores in the Philippines, although I do think that our new concept makes the product look better in Philippine Fashion,” Topham explained.
Debenhams’ equation of making British fashion more approachable for emerging markets has proved profitable for the brand. “British fashion is no longer about us making tartan and making them wear it all around the world,” said Ambassador Ahmad. “You are a part of the fashion story; all eyes will be watching you. The designers will be watching you. What the people are wearing in Asia, what you are wearing in the Philippines, soon you’ll see that being reflected. So when you buy in Debenhams, you are actually creating the new story for British retail.”
With its spanking new location and energetic new collection, Debenhams seems bent on ruling Filipino tastes, two centuries after opening its first department store. Expect a lot of changes to match its new store layout. “We’ve got some new brands launching over the next year or two, new designer collaborations coming. And there are also some collaborations that are in the UK and aren’t still available here,” Topham said.
The new Debenhams store is now open at the second level of Estancia Mall.