The Culture Code of London…

May 25, 2010

After spending over a week in London I have been able to gain a real sense of what fashion and shopping means to Londoners. I have been to all different parts of the city in high end and low end shopping areas. I think overall though the most consistent theme with fashion in London is that it is all about INDIVIDUALITY. While leggings, gladiator sandals, skinny jeans, tunics, funky prints, and vintage looks are all very popular in London, locals seem to all take these popular trends and mix them with alternative, unique pieces that makes their own unique look. Mixing old with new is a common approach to fashion. While stores like Harrods, Top Shop, H&M, and other major brands are popular stops in London for shoppers of all ages, each person also ventures out to other nearby boutiques to find that one statement piece to add a little extra something to a dress, or shirt that hundreds of other people may own.

What I found very interesting to further explain how INDIVIDUALITY is highly valued in London is comparing the high and lower end stores in the city. Today I had the chance to visit ASDA (the UK’s Wal-Mart), which was completely different from anything I had seen so far in London. At ASDA prices were displayed in large bold print, and shoppers very very price conscious. I noticed in particular in one of the aisles that had several different solid colored tank tops and tees that shoppers looked at everything from a distance and then narrowed into the items of the lowest cost. This price analysis from consumers was different from anything that I had seen so far. However once the consumer had picked out the top, I noticed that several of the women went over to the accessory aisle soon after to look at a belt of necklace that would complement the look. Here customers seemed to go towards what stood out, or what appealed to them most rather than looking at the price first. The shoppers at ASDA seemed to know that since their options in clothes may be limited at this price point, they can still take it from generic to unique by adding a quirky accessory.

One other major point I want to make about ASDA is that in comparison to American discount stores, I was surprised that there were no designer “knock-offs”. Back in the states Wal-Mart, Forever 21, Target, and Kohls all try to mimic the styles and trends in the upscale stores and brands. Back in the states stores will through on a little moose or seagull logo slightly different from ones at Hollister or Abercrombie so people that may not be able to afford the real thing can feel like they are following the trend and fit in with everyone else. Even designer handbags are copied and sold as knock-offs at low prices and fabrics and designs are copied. Back home fashion is about fitting in, and following trends so discount stores sell products that mimic those that are more expensive. In London, ASDA and other discount stores do their own thing, so that people at that price point can still make their own look. Londoners don’t want to lo0ok like everyone else, they all seem to have a real sense of self, and are true to who they are. They live having their own INDIVIDUAL style that reflect who they are.

This idea of INDIVIDUALITY in London can be seen again at the higher end stores as well. Today I also had the chance to visit Carnaby Street which is a small block located off of Oxford and Regent Streets in one of the most popular shopping areas in London. The street is lined with some store unique to Europe and the UK but I was surprised to see some popular brands on this block as well such as Levi’s, Puma, American Apparel and Diesel. However also located on Carnaby is a store called Liberty, which is one of the oldest fashion stores in London. From the outside the store looks like a German mansion, or medieval lodge. On the inside the theme continue with a five story center foyer and dark wood pillars and banisters. I was surprised to see that Liberty is actually a very very very upscale store. Stella McCartney, Fendi, Chloe, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, and other major couture designers were featured throughout the interior. While this store did not have the quantity of clothes in various sizes, each designer only had 2 or 3 styles in one or two sizes. Shoppers were much more sparse in this store, however for the shoppers that can afford to pay 1500 pounds for a dress or outfit are still guaranteed INDIVIDUALITY if they choose to purchase here. Shoppers at Liberty are extremely wealthy, know fashion, and know the designers they want to buy from. With that said, since each designer only had one small rack with a few select pieces, if a consumer purchased from  Liberty they are guaranteed to own a piece that is unique and perhaps one of a kind.

Over the course of the past week, I have observed perhaps hundreds of shoppers, been to many stores, and talked to some interesting people that all have a unique style. In the end though the main consistency that I found with the majority of Londoners is that they all value INDIVIDUALITY.

Well, time to experience Manchester! Cheers London I can’t wait till we meet again!


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