Tuesday, November 21, 2006


It first started to make its way onto the pages of my morning newspaper and now it’s on my coffee cups. I’ve heard its buzz from chatter on the street and it’s most recently been the answer to, “Whereeee did you get that?”

It’s UNIQLO. And it’s everywhere.

Since the popular Japanese apparel retailer recently opened its first global flagship and largest store on Broadway in Manhattan’s fashionable SoHo district, traces of its success—from shopping bags to sweater-adorned New Yorkers—have been seen all over town.

So it was time to see what the fuss was all about.

While moseying around the store, I noticed its exposed brick walls and large white columns, which emphasized the colorful and chic basics. The space also had the distinct raw feel of a warehouse. Cutting-edge architect Masamichi Katayama designed the 36,000-sq.-ft. retail location, aiming for simplicity while capturing the feel of modern Japanese retail experience.

A glass display filled with revolving mannequins welcomes shoppers at the entrance. Vertical displays of 8,000 colorful and neatly folded cashmere sweaters are seen at the sides in repeating floor-to-ceiling grids. It’s obvious that organized is the name of this retailer’s game.

I began thumbing through some of its signature items from 100% Mongolian cashmere sweaters to fleeces and Japanese denim. The quality seemed like an unbelievable match for the prices. I slowly started piling things onto my free arm.

This was my first UNIQLO experience. I never made it to either of the temporary stores already situated in Manhattan, one on the Upper West Side and the other at the plaza in Rockefeller Center.

Even though the retailer only has three permanent stores in the United States, all in New Jersey, the company is hardly a stranger to the retail industry. UNIQLO opened its first store in 1984 in Hiroshima and has since opened 760 locations worldwide. It’s also Japan’s first brand to go global.

The launch of the Broadway location in SoHo was so highly anticipated that the ribbon-cutting ceremony featured New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And Food Network celebrity Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto later served up fresh sushi from the kitchen.

The store may still be shy of a two-week presence, but I immediately see how the word caught on so fast. With its sale associates more than willing to answer questions, complimented by the store’s easy layout, I could have been in and out if I wanted to.

But in this case, I didn’t want to.

Due to the success of the flagship store, the company has placed an array of newspaper ads announcing additional open-house recruitment events. And the ads don’t stop there. Singer Kelis and actress Lee Lee Sobieski are among the celebrities that have loaned their faces to the growing cult brand.

With no signs of letting up, UNIQLO will sell over 100 different T-shirts designed by 40 top Japanese artists exclusively at the New York store during the fall/winter 2006 season before introducing the styles to worldwide locations in spring 2007.

UNIQLO may be everywhere in Manhattan, but I’m betting that soon enough it will be everywhere else.

— Samantha Murphy

No comments:

Post a Comment