I had a confusing brand experience in Urban Outfitters. I was reminded of that ‘I saw you coming’ Harry Enfield sketch where he dupes an upper middle class lady into buying objects for astronomical prices , which he’s picked up at a car boot sale for peanuts.
Urban Outfitters opened in Brighton back in November taking over the old Borders bookshop (R.I.P) space in Churchill Square. I’ve managed to avoid thus far as that particular entry point to Churchill always makes me feel like a salmon swimming up stream, but with such a big retail space and hoards of people coming out clutching bags I couldn’t avoid having a peek and seeing a) what they’d done with the interior and b) what lines they’re carrying.
My UO days date back to the 90s visiting the stores in NYC, particularly the one in Seaport. I would describe it’s early incarnations as a sort of trendy Ikea with clothes. A place for college students to get discount candles, throws etc and inexpensive vintage looking T-Shirts and cool sugary pink Korean pop-culture nic-nacs. When the brand came to the UK and I lived in London, I found myself drifting into the one in Covent Garden and Oxford Street for a window shop. I understood the market for the stock, but didn’t want to be charged the inflated U.K prices for things I’d pick up myself in charity shops and on holiday. TBH I was staggered at the price hike and rebrand into a self consciously hip fully signed up member of the high street. #avoid.
The company also now own the more sophisticated Anthropologie of which we’ve only one in the UK on Regent Street. The home ware is gorgeous, although the clothes are a tad conservative for my taste, think Boden on acid, Laura Ashley on speed. They also own the clothing label FreePeople which produces divine L.A hippy /West Coast-chic stuff. I think ASOS stock a bit and I like a lot. I’m especially fond of the catalogue photography and aesthetic but have never bought anything as it’s a tad over priced.
But what’s going on with the designer lines in Brighton’s U.O? I saw A.P.C Madras (worship!), Chloe , Vanessa Bruno, t.b.a and Vivienne Westwood on the rails. These are v grown up brands and stocked else where in the city in smaller boutiques in the lanes. Paradoxically the OU Brighton store was totally chokka with under-25s. In fact, on the day I went in I’d say the average age of shopper was 19. Are people getting a lot more pocket money these days?
If want A.P.C I don’t want to buy it from a shop full of local teenagers and be served by yoot with a dreadful A-symmetrical haircut in treggins who know nada about grown-ups fashion. I want to go to the nice small boutique and feel I’m buying a piece that half the student population of Brighton isn’t wearing. What are A.P.C thinking? What are U.O thinking?
I’m sure the store overall will do well as it presents an accessible and neatly packaged version of the vintage second hand aesthetic that was so popular last year. The trend has truly filtered to the high-street and for the brand, I guess it’s a case of right time right place, but I for one, am very confused about who Urban Outfitters is.