Boston’s Newbury Street, a shopping district positioned in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood, is home to some of the most prestigious names in the fashion world. Brands like Cartier and Chanel hold outposts there. Today, one of streetwear’s most longstanding retailers, Concepts, adds its name to the list with the grand opening of its new three-floor flagship at 18 Newbury Street.
“It's absolutely been a vision and a dream to open a place like this,” says Concepts founder Tarek Hassan. “I wouldn't say from the first year, of course not, but it's always been something that we wanted to be.”
One day prior to the official opening, passerbys and nearby retailers already appear curious about the street’s newcomer. It’s before launch festivities, tweaked to adhere to pandemic gathering regulations, are set to take place. And it’s before the next major collaboration draws a lineup of hopeful customers down the block. A local news reporter sets up in front of the shop for a video. Others simply ask some questions to figure out what’s going on. But the latest chapter in Concepts’ 24 year history, which has included brick and mortar openings in Dubai and countless memorable collaborations with brands like Nike SB and New Balance, is clearly one of its most pivotal moments.
“It's exciting. [Concepts is] celebrating its 25th anniversary. It's like the cherry on top of us,” Concepts creative director Deon Point tells Complex. “We loved Harvard Square. We loved what it helped shape and mold. But I think at some point we always knew we belonged over here too.”
Of course, navigating an ongoing pandemic throughout 2020 has presented its own bit of challenges for the team to deal with ahead of the grand opening.
“I think it was just patience man. [Tarek] has had this vision for a long time, for years, to be in a space like this, especially on Newbury Street. When Covid hit, no one knew what to expect. In the beginning we probably thought two weeks. Two weeks turned into a month which turned into three months,” says Concepts president Darin O’Brien. “We couldn't do anything, but we shifted our energy into one, making sure that everyone was healthy on the team. We didn't lay anyone off, we had no furloughs. None of that. We kept everyone on payroll, which was a big goal of [Tarek’s] from the very beginning. That was our focus, and then just pushing our efforts to marketing or e-commerce just to keep things rolling.”
Hassan echoes the sentiment, saying the team rose to the challenges that Covid-19 presented over the last few months.
“Some people work under the pressure and the challenges better than when things are normal. That is where the creativity comes, that's when the team comes together. That is where you actually try and make a difference. To us, as challenging as it was, it just elevated everybody,” says Hassan. “We took this as a challenge. If you take a step back and see this, it's something to be proud of.”
The space itself, designed by Sid Lee, is three floors with each dedicated to its own purpose. Upon entry, a shoe wall composed of the latest from brands like Nike, Jordan, and Adidas is to the left. The right wall is lined with brands like Bape and John Elliott. A table at the center displays the latest offerings from Concepts’ in-house line like fleece five-panel caps and grey hoodies with blue paisley collegiate lettering. A peak around the back left corner past a wall of designer sneakers from Alexander McQueen reveals a large screen looping skate videos and a wall of colorful skate decks, a nod to the shop’s skateboarding and snowboarding roots when it was just a small buildout in the back end of the Tannery back in 1996. A wide staircase centered in the back of the first floor is the access point to the next level, a space that will carousel between various collections and special installations. It currently houses wall to wall Stüssy. Zinc paneling overhead surrounds a yellow Concepts logo, a visual centerpiece of sorts to the whole area.
For the final floor, Concepts is launching a new venture, VRSNL, that focuses on the female consumer and stocks everything from Jimmy Choo heels and Saint Laurent slippers to Bape leggings and MISBHV bodysuits. The new Boston flagship will act as the physical representation to its e-commerce platform.
“We’ve had some challenges getting females to shop in our stores in the past,” says Point. “Talking with [Tarek] about what the space could develop into or become, he had invested interest in how we can open that market, especially here. If you get a chance to walk up and down the street, you'll see the dynamic of shopping definitely favors women. So we had to make sure that it was an integral part of what we did on the floor.”
Each aspect of the space points to something that Concepts has become known for throughout its nearly 25 year history. It's an immersive brick-and-mortar experience. And while the shuttering of boutiques and department stores has fed the narrative that “brick-and-mortar is dead,” Concepts continues to embrace it. The staircase is made to be a hangout for customers as much as a way to scale to the second floor. A DJ booth will pump music into the shop for special events. And a cafe on the third floor is yet another community-oriented piece of the puzzle that nods to the roots of the streetwear and sneaker space despite its rapid and continuous push into the mainstream.
“To me, it’s not just about products. Products can be dealt with anywhere. To me it's about experience,” says Hassan. “And with this space here, we're going to be able to achieve the experience that we always wanted to be able to give to our consumers.”