Urban Who?

Urban Outfitters Logo, courtesy of 110livingston.net

By Lauren Panariello

Shakespeare once wrote, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But what would it smell like if the name remained the same, and the flower changed? That’s what Urban Outfitters is about to find out when it opens a slew of new stores in the European market.

Business Week is reporting that the Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters will be adding 100 more stores to its current 18  in Europe, and another 100 of its Anthropologie chain, of which there is only one in London. This European invasion is set to take place over a decade, making the retailer’s bid for the across-the-pond market “slow growth.”

But with American stores like The Gap and Wal-Mart falling off of the European retail radar faster than leg warmers and black nail polish, Urban Outfitters is going to try an entirely new approach to inter-continental design: changing their merchandise.

Michael Arndt wrote in the mag, “Urban Outfitters set up a separate design and merchandising unit in London so it could tailor its goods to European tastes.” My question is: how can they still call the store Urban Outfitters?

On any given morning a New Yorker might think they’ve taken a turn into Times Square walking past the Abercrombie and Fitch on 5th ave. The gaggle of tourists and t-shirt whores lined up outside of the European retail conqueror can make you question if  the 6 train rerouted to Hong Kong.  This is because Abercrombie and Fitch stocks their shops with the same goods world-wide, and it is their unique, Cali-born lifestyle branding that makes their name so recognizable- and my I add valuable. Tourists know that they can wear an A&F shirt in New York, London, or Paris and the brand’s recognizability will make the garment worth every penny.

If I thought for one second that Gucci’s signature red and green stripes were different colors in Italy, or Christian Louboutin’s red soles were unidentifiable in London, why would I spend money on a geographically limited design? The appeal of houses like Gucci and Louboutin, or even Abercrombie and Fitch for that matter, is that they have found a recognizable, irreplaceable niche within the retail community. If Urban Outfitters finds that Europe’s shopping public demands an entirely different set of style values than their American counterparts, and therefore designs a completely different collection of clothing for the European market, how can both Urban Outfitters operate under the same store name? The shorter version: they can’t.

I come from an old fashioned (literally) school of thought that says a store, brand, or designer is great because they have a determined point of view. Every retail giant has followed this golden rule of retail, be it Abercrombie and its allegiance to US beach-chic, or Louboutin’s french stiletto seduction. If Urban Outfitters throws out the garments hanging on its Broadway and Roosevelt Field racks, it might as well throw its store name in the same trash can.

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