The recently opened Uniqlo “Global Flagship” store on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan’s prime stretch of shopping is a massive statement by the giant Japanese retail clothing brand. (See pix below.)
To walk through the store can be a vertigo-inducing experience for some. The cavernous and, in some areas, maze-like warrens of clothes racks and shelves are mediated by large video panels of various sizes and alignments, neon and fluorescent lights playing off layers and walls of glass, and the clothing sections broken up by open areas with massive stairs dipping between deep floors at every turn in the multi-colored, multi-floor space. It’s fun, but can feel overwhelming.
At the front of the store, twin banks of elevators based in the display windows along Fifth Avenue are filled with mannequins and arrays of flashing neon rods that ride up and down the vertical face of the store.
Uniqlo is a case study in how a once ho-hum, intelligently no-nonsense and popular discount clothing chain can up its game in a big way internationally with great design, product, pop-culture savvy and “cool Japan” imagery and then export back the cachet of the successfully enhanced, hipster-certified brand back into its own country of origin, Japan. And, of course, then, eventually, how it can further leverage the new and improved domestic brand cachet in an even bigger way into the global space in places like Shanghai, China. (We visited the Shanghai flagship store on its opening day in 2010, and while it’s epic and nice, it’s tamer than 5th Ave.)
The global flagship store is a cacophony of visual noise and an interior retail design concept and brand experience on the grandest commercial scale available in Manhattan. We like the Uniqlo store in SoHo better. It was the first United States flagship, though not the first store in the US, and not the first in the city. But the Fifth Ave. Uniqlo is worth a visit to see the design aesthetic firsthand, sit in the lounge area, do some people watching, and buy some of those great socks they make and sell at three-pair for $12.00.