Thursday, 28 July 2011

Forever 21 Opens on Oxford Street - A Photographic Visit

An example of budget brands translating high fashion effectively - the cut-out faux leather tunic t-shirt. So, what is Forever 21? Imagine that Topshop and H&M merged and decided to inject a bit of glitter. That's basically it - the target age is from teens to late twenties, and prices tend to reflect this. Shorts might be £12 or £15, and a pair of shoes is around £15 to £20.

Typical Forever 21 customers: young fashion lovers. They don't all own Louis Vuittons, though. Many of them emerged later with the shop's bright pink carriers - normally they are yellow in America (where the brand originates), but perhaps this would have clashed with the sunny bags of Selfridges. The American versions also carry a small Bible reference on the bottom, which the British versions luckily seem to have dropped. If I want Evangelism with my hotpants, I'll ask for it.

The window displays are bright and shouty, mirrored by the decor inside - this new store includes a mini-van with fake graffiti. It's the kind of visual merchandising that will get the teenage shopper buzzing, but it might give her mother a headache.

Colour is particularly strong in Forever 21 designs, no less so than in this feather maxi dress on the right (a snip at £22.75). It would work for a summer wedding or a relaxed city break.

This top caught my eye as the slogan is also the name of an Iron Maiden song (one of my favourite bands). I'm not sure many of the other customers would get that reference, though - the typical piped music during my visit was pop or indie.

Here's an example of the sneakier overpriced product, which Forever 21 also holds - it goes against the prices of other items, such as a panelled cotton skirt for just £4.75, to demand £19.75 for an un-lined canvas bag with faux leather handles and a simple camera print. Although this is a quirky and fun item, it seems extortionate at just under twenty quid. Ditto the single layer maxi skirt with the density of tissue paper and no zip, also at £19.75.

This is more like it. Bohemian, homely displays on the basement floor, using glass cloches and tiny dressmaker's dolls. The jewellery underneath is made to look classy and tempting.

I am quite in love with this bag, though it is ridiculously heavy due to the amount of metalwork in the chains. At £19.75 (the weird prices are due to the conversion from dollars) it is worth it for such a cool design and the bag's ability to transform a basic outfit.

There was a constant stream of traffic on the stairs, in the hour I spent here. It's a huge space, very well planned, but it could do with more escalators or lifts, and definitely more cash desks. I would rather lose out on a couple of rails of clothes if it meant there were two or three more tills to cut down on the queues. Even in the American branches I've visited, they seem to have difficulty processing the amount of shoppers efficiently.

This girl, like many others, was weary after traipsing around the Oxford Street store. It was an intense experience as I arrived on the opening day (27th), but I would recommend seeing it for yourself if you're able to, even if the crowds feel overwhelming. This is going to be a popular destination for London shoppers.

Four Forever 21 points to make:

1. The brand's spokesmodel in the UK is Bip Ling, the famous blogger and It-girl.
2. Other existing UK branches are Birmingham and Dublin. There are plans for a further London-based store in Covent Garden.
3. F21 has encountered many lawsuits and angry designers over repeated claims that it copies catwalk clothing too faithfully, with little or no changes to the original product. Although it's great that the F21 team are so beady-eyed, I'd feel more comfortable wearing something that wasn't entirely ripped off from someone else's work.
4. The sizes often come up on the tiny side - think Zara, in terms of Small/Medium/Large (I'm definitely a Large there). Shoes also seem to be more available in little sizes, and you need to remember that US footwear is two digits above ours, so a US 9 is a UK 7. I couldn't find any US 9s in the several styles that I liked, though there were more than enough US 7s and 6s to go round. I considered cutting off a few toes, but decided this might be regretted later.

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