I like Gilly Hicks. Some of their clothes can be found in my wardrobe and if you were to wander into either of my sons bedrooms, you would find a hoodie or T.shirt from its sibling store, Hollister, strewn across the back of a chair. The clothes, while pricy, are comfortable and feel nice to wear but, for heaven’s sakes, must it be quite such an ordeal buying them?
When we lived in Massachusetts, a trip to Abercrombie and Fitch (from which the aforementioned brands were spawned) was a bit like popping into The Gap. Nothing to get excited about (though I did, a bit.) Agreed, it was rather more fragrant than your average clothes shop and the enormous stuffed moose’s head on the wall was a bit disconcerting but, moose aside, the experience was pleasurable, almost a sensual one with friendly staff, a well designed space and a sales rack that could generally be relied on to provide a bargain; I have fond memories of that sales rack, once bagging my two boys four beautiful cotton shirts for a song at $9.00 a piece.
This side of the pond it’s another story altogether. Here we get the loud music and the nightclub gloom; small, narrow rooms with Triffid-like plants that get in the way; shop assistants who have been hired for their looks rather than their sales skills and who come across as aloof and vacuous, like a trendy version of the Stepford Wives. Oh, and did I mention the inflated prices?
Maybe its just that in America A & F has been around long enough for its gloss to fade. Stores in ageing malls (including the one I used to visit) are closing down in large numbers and it’s to Europe and Asia that the company are now focusing their efforts. I once made a trip to A & F’s flagship store in London (the only place, at the time, you could purchase their clothes outside of the States) and vowed never to go back again. Not because of the noisy Euro students clogging the pavement outside, or the cocktail of music and scent (sprayed at regular intervals by the staff) which started to give me a headache. Nor was it that the tills were located about as far from the entrance as you could get or the fact that there was nowhere to sit down in the small and pokey changing rooms (I’m sounding old here, I know, but when you’ve queued for forty minutes just to try something on a chair, at the very least, is a necessary, some would say essential amenity.) I just found the whole thing pretentious. All those wall murals depicting scantily clad models suggesting that the sexual overtone of the the shop brand carried more weight than the clothes.
I get that I am not their target audience and that these are shops for teenage girls (and boys) whose idea of bliss is to be photographed alongside one of the bare-chested clones posing outside the entrance in low slung jeans and flip flops. However, given that its more often than not the mums picking up the tab, it seems an oversight to want to alienate them. I recently found out that customers frequently faint in the stores, overcome by the disorientating interior and knock-out scent (appropriately named Fierce).
At some stage, I shall probably get lured back to Gilly Hicks or Hollister for the sake of my children’s street cred if nothing else, but if I do I will go armed with a torch and a pair of earplugs. Oh, and for those of you who might be thinking, why don’t I save myself the bother and use the online website instead, I’ve already had that experience and, trust me, you don’t even want to get me started on that.