Melissa Chrys looks at why Australian fashionistas are going loopy over European and American chain store threads
When the Spanish retail phenomenon Zara opened its doors in Melbourne midway through 2011, the city was buzzing. There were painfully long queues snaking down Bourke Street, filled with shoppers desperate to get their hands on some of the chain's trademark fashion-forward and budget-friendly merchandise.
Those mad enough to brave the queues were treated to scenes of chaos inside as women of all ages went berserk, grabbing and snatching bits of clothing and haranguing overwrought staff on the lack of items in their size. The reaction was similar when Topshop opened on Chapel Street later in the year. The news showed scenes of dozens of young women camping out on the street the night before the grand opening to ensure they wouldn't miss out on purchasing a coveted garment. But what is the appeal of these European and American chains? And more importantly, why does their arrival on our shores turn us into a pack of desperate and demented consumers?
Well first of all, we've all done some travelling these days and we've had a chance to experience the wonderful variety of overseas retail therapy. The stores in Europe and America (and don't forget Asia) offer a huge amount of options and one of the first things you notice upon returning home is just how much our retail chains are lacking.
The sad fact is that here in Australia we are a bit deprived when it comes to mainstream chain shopping. Of course we are lucky to have a talented and vibrant selection of boutiques and independent labels, but when it comes to fashion that is affordable and accessible to a wide range of the population, there just isn't that much to choose from. Secondly, these overseas chains are big; bigger than anything currently here in Australia. This means that not only can they offer us more variety, but they're also more competitive on price. I think many shoppers feel like they are getting better value from stores like Zara, because the clothes are bang on trend, seem (reasonably) well made and aren't going to break the bank.
One of the best purchases I ever made was a fur-lined brown leather bomber jacket that I bought at Zara in Barcelona in 2005. It cost me a two full days of my backpacking budget (about 100 euros), but I've worn it every winter since and I still get compliments on it. Finally, these stores allow us to get our hands on trends coming directly from Europe and the northern hemisphere.
So even though we are on the other side of the world, we still feel close in terms of fashion and style. And it can be nice to think that you're wearing the same style of jacket/dress/boots that you saw on a Parisian street fashion blog two days ago. Unlike local chains which only seem to offer watered down versions of what we see on overseas catwalks, these overseas chains present something different - and that is what we lust after.
Of course not every overseas chain is destined for success on our shores. For instance, M.N.G (which overseas is known as Mango) doesn't seem to do so well and when The Gap opened at Chadstone a couple of years back there was very little fanfare. So why do some succeed where others fail? My theory is that local shoppers know when they're getting duped. We've seen these stores overseas and the stuff we get here just isn't the same. I thought The Gap was pretty good when I was in the States, but the one here is incredibly average. The same goes for Mango - it's sensational in Europe but utterly boring here. The stuff in store seems like remnants of unsuccessful lines and end-of-season stock. Regardless, I think the success of Zara and Topshop means it's likely that more chains will start arriving on our shores.
Here are Melissa's predictions for who which fashion juggernauts we might see in Australia over the next couple of years. Fingers crossed.
• H&M - with 2000 stores around the world it's only a matter of time before this Swedish brand makes a move down under.
• Banana Republic - apparel, handbags, jewellery and fragrances at affordable prices? Yes please.
• Urban Outfitters - solid fashion and cool home wares, luckily they have international shipping urbanoutfitters.com.
• Bershka - a favourite when visiting Greece, Bershka has quirky pieces that bring out your individuality.
• J.Crew - just under 20-years-old, J.Crew's speciality stores are popping up all over, one can only hope in Oz.
• Forever 21 - a fashion phenomenon, Forever 21 is the source for current fashions at low prices.
• Sephora - it's like Mecca Cosmetica times a million. Heaven for beauty and make-up junkies.
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