Making Shopping An Experience

Retail trends tend to emanate outward from America, but the man who's shaking up the trade these days is a London-based Italian. Vittorio Radice is best known for taking over the British department store Selfridges in the late 1990s and turning the stodgy Oxford Street shop into ground zero for hip. American retailers like Federated and May have copied parts of Radice's approach, which is to bring entertainment to shopping to give the customer a little something more than a commodity--a jazzier layout, a cafe, a special event, whatever.

A few blocks down from Selfridges sits his next turnaround target: the staid British retail institution Marks & Spencer. It already pulls in more than 8 billion a year selling everything from underwear to sandwiches. Now M&S wants to own the country's 20 billion home-furnishings market. Radice was given a golden hello of more than 1 million to go onboard as executive director of the new Marks & Spencer Home business last March, and the first Lifestore will open this spring in Newcastle.

This time round, Radice's entertainment formula will center on cutting-edge design--the Newcastle store will feature at its heart a two-story house created by a series of top architects. Customers will be encouraged to put a sofa in their kitchen, or a workout space in their closet, if that's what feels right to them. "Travel is my great inspiration,'' says Radice, who plans to mix Moroccan rugs with plywood tables and Plexiglas lamps. Aussie celebrity chef Bill Granger will create fusion food for the in-store cafes. Former Wallpaper editor and cosmocrat Tyler Brule will produce the catalog.

Analysts caution that it will take at least five years for the Lifestores to reach critical mass. But by spring, you can bet Radice's competitors will be heading north to see what new tricks retail's greatest entertainer has pulled out of his hat.