Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hope on the High Street

Last night I dreamt that I was the proud owner of a thriving menswear boutique in an unknown district of an unknown city. The rails were stocked with a wonderful mixture of good quality wardrobe staples, well selected vintage pieces and there were areas for my favourite designers and recent graduates to showcase their talent and of course to wow the viewing public in to consumer submission. The shop itself was busy and people were relaxed, comfortable and, most importantly, leaving with a smile and a full complimentary shopping tote.
The reason for my dream, aside from my obsession to one day play shop, was the fact that I couldn't get to sleep last night, so to combat my restlessness I decided to re-listen to the Monocle Weekly. As I was drifting off the distant voices I could hear belonged to Tyler Brûlé and Lord Mandelson (British Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform). As they discussed their views on how budding entrepreneurs should ride the waves of the recession and make a difference (with the help of a few banks who actually lend money responsibly), it triggered off my entrepreneurial spirit in making a mark on the retail landscape. One day my friends, one day...

The Monocle discussion highlighted that our High Streets have become so overrun with huge chain outlets that they have lost their community spirit. On the most part, if you have seen one high street you have seen them all. The closest High Street to where I grew up is now a very depressing sight (not that it was much better when I was a nipper) where most of the large chains have now left the town centre and retreated to out of town shopping areas leaving a mourning ghost town- only Primark and KFC survive. Sad times indeed but there is hope. Lambs Conduit Street (as profiled by Monocle last year) symbolises what can be achieved and, when I own a shop, it will certainly be part of this retail renaissance.

Furthermore, despite the obvious decline of our much lived high streets there are glimmers of hope offered, surprisingly, by a number of megabrands. The blogosphere has been inundated with collaboration news and impressive look books from the likes of Uniqlo, Topman, COS and even H&M.

From the previews that I've seen, the best of the lot is Uniqlo's guest-helmed designer invitation lines. As we have come to expect (and rely) from a collaboration with the Japanese megabrand, basics are the rule, but each designer's spirit still prevails. The Opening Ceremony (designs hitting the stores in March) feature cropped lengths and plaids in washed-out pastels and I'd gladly buy the lot...

Released twice a year in February and September, Lens was set up in 2006 as an area dedicated to a handful of changing designers in the flagship store on Oxford Circus. A few seasons on and the Lens area is renowned for pushing the boundaries when it comes to high street fashion and it really is a delight to see designs by the likes of Carolyn Massey, James Long, Mjolk, Kasper Harup-Hansen and Dexter Wong hanging on the rails of a High Street only complaints would be that they don't stock enough small and mediums and that it would be nice to see the Lens area in more stores across the country.

Susie hearts COS for reasons detailed in her post last month but it should be added that I have hearted (??) this certain store for longer than she has. The simple, well made clothes in soft colour palettes can be worked in to any closet. The store consistently provides a clean and attractive aesthetic and for me the store really comes into its own when the sun comes out and the looks I have seen for the coming Summer are just how I envision myself dressing.

So despite the fact that many of our cloned high streets are on the decline (if you still don't know what I mean then I suggest a quick walk down Oxford Street or my home town of Margate) there is hope provided by a number of major retailers stocking menswear. The entrepreneurial spirit demonstrated by these High Street megabrands have inspired me to look at the blue print of my own retail haven- there is certainly room for all of us.

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