With the worst of the financial crisis behind it, Crete, like the rest of Greece, is becoming more attractive to big brands again as the economy improves. The largest and most populous of the Greek islands, its capital Heraklion has seen a number of big chain brand stores arrive in the island’s main port city. From Intimissimi and H&M to adidas, Tommy Hilfiger and Starbucks. For now the effect is to create a two-speed retail class. The destination itself feels somewhat disjointed, with a mixed picture of highs and lows. In a few years time, it is likely that much of the local and authentic character of Heraklion will be overshadowed and squeezed out. But for now, there are still more than a few local retailers that are worthy of a visit.
Within the older stores, traditional retail concepts and practices prevail. Typically, window displays being filled with all manner of goods, presenting everything in stock within a cramped space. Contrast this to the minimalist, single marketing message approach of the chain brands and the difference in style, approach and ownership is immediately clear.
With a good choice of high-end local boutiques, shopping in Chania Town has a more exclusive, designer air. Here, there is certainly more focus on brands but not necessarily the same international circuit brand names recognised elsewhere. This makes for a more refreshing and original shopping experience where there is a genuine sense of being able to explore something new.
What do we love?
Inexpensively but effectively designed, Natura is authentic and well presented with a cohesion and clarity that is rarely seen in this type of ‘fancy goods’ retailer. The store sells a range of attractive locally produced gift lines and tourist goods including olive wood food boards and turned wooden products, a large selection of natural beauty and wellness products, homewares as well as local food and drink produce, including the famous ouzo. Using natural materials and a soft earthy sage colour for the interior design, the store features bare soft wood shelving and floor tables. Built with a contemporary style and integrated LED lighting, product presentation is done with simplicity and authority. Using basic VM techniques focusing on project blocked categories, the store creates an impression of being well stocked, well managed and to a high standard.
Just Brazil Beach Culture, 34, Karaoli & Dimitriou str
What do we love?
This womenswear retailer wouldn’t look out of place in a sophisticated European capital. With a bespoke interior design and product presentation and display done to an exceptionally high standard, the store cuts a dash, stocking ready to wear coordinated apparel collections and matching accessories. The interior has a relaxed and informal look, delivered with chic style and quality – an attractive tiled floor sets the scene with the metal spiral staircase ascending to the first floor. The two-floored gallery space is well set out and has a ‘curated’ presentation style, with goods attractively presented in neat, compact collections.
Monogram Roastery, Chatzimichali Ntaliani & Daskalogiannir 5
What do we love?
This is a cool coffee shop. What it lacks in size and scale, it more than makes up for in style. Selling a range of authentic Barista made coffee favourites and local pastries, it’s a great addition to the town. Unlike most coffee shops, which have a traditional atmosphere (and with that a typically dated, scruffy, non branded look), this is a modern generation and the type of business that I believe has the potential to grow beyond these shores. It does all the same things as any international chain coffee brand but at a local level and is a testament to what can be achieved when you combine the corporate approaches of the bigger players with local service and personality. The products are delicious and coffee second-to-none.
Margarites Pottery Village, 740 52
What do we love?
No visit to Crete is complete without a half-day visit to the Margarites Pottery Village. Not far from the larger town of Rethymno, this small mountainside village is a ‘hidden gem’ that lies off the beaten track. Today only two potteries remain using the original ‘magic clay’ though many others exist, specialising in their own bespoke, beautifully made ceramicware. It’s wonderful to see the range of different house styles and creations produced here – there’s certainly something for everyone and not just predictable tourist fair. Products made here have a truly designer quality. At a time when so much is made of brands trying to create ‘experience’, here they are just doing it as they have done for countless decades. Based on authenticity, skill, workmanship and truly exceptional production retaining skills, it is not synthetic ‘out of a brown box’ experience – this is heart and soul retailing, and done in such a charming way.