American invasion of London

J Crew whale sweater

J. Crew whale sweater from its latest collection. Price: £77

If you know me at all (and many of you don’t) you will also know that I do very few things with great enthusiasm. Shopping – for clothes, not food – is the exception.

The British husband can vouch for how shopping has been a source of fierce lively debate in our marriage. I have contemplated throwing purchases into our garden, to avoid going into the house bearing incriminating bags. That’s how bad it has got.

The art of shopping is a rather shallow and vain pursuit, so I avoid blogging about it much. But word reaches me – through a rather shallow ‘lifestyle’ magazine – that J. Crew will shortly open its first store in London in the autumn.

If you can’t wait for its arrival in the capital later this year, a pop-up store (blink and it’s gone) will be opening in King’s Cross.

(For my American readers, King’s Cross is a central London location once much favoured by junkies and prostitutes but now ridiculously expensive. It’s called ‘gentrification’, so you know, and evidence of the area’s revival is proven by the presence of a big-hitting American chain.)

The American invasion of London started around the time I washed up on these shores, when the trendiest thing I owned was a second-hand sheepskin coat I nicknamed ‘stinky’. No need to guess why.

Today – about 17 years later – you can’t move more than a few short blocks in central London without bumping into an outpost of Starbucks, Gap, Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods, Banana Republic and American Apparel. The list goes on…

They’ve all set up shop here, if you pardon the pun. This is both good and bad. I love it because American stores tend to have ‘real sales’. A British sale is considered discounting something 20% off. Most Americans would laugh at this.

Gap, for instance, is perpetually in some sort of sale cycle. I don’t know how good this is for its image, but it’s good for my wallet. I won’t buy anything from Gap unless it’s 30% off or more.

The bad news is that every single shopping street has a feeling of being cloned. Independent shops are dying out because they can’t compete with big money and lose out on the best locations.

The arrival of a J.Crew flagship store in London shouldn’t surprise me, really. It has a feeling of déjà vu about it. I remember the big hoopla when Banana Republic arrived a few years ago.

I am having a hard time getting excited about it, though. When I last seriously step foot in a J. Crew store – now much favored by Michelle Obama – it felt like it was flogging conservative clothes for East Coast wasps.

Perhaps this has changed. The pictures of its latest collection seem more geared to a trendy urbanite who likes acid brights than a preppy woman who wears cabled sweaters and takes style tips from Ralph Lauren.

The prices reflect its change of status too. The magazine trills: ‘With knits from £100, cocktail pants from £150 and statement skirts from £95, the label offers plenty of bang for your buck.’ Really?

American company, London prices. I hope they have a sale soon…

  • How is J. Crew viewed in the United States these days? Perhaps some of my American readers would like to comment.
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