On today of all days, talk of a love affair seems appropriate. And the subject? The British shoppers’ affection for overseas retailers.
The latest beau comes in the form of Gap's Banana Republic, which will set pulses racing when it hits our shores next month. And this week heralded the opening of H&M’s flagship store on Regent Street and the news that Inditex's Pull and Bear has signed up too. To top it off, Abercrombie & Fitch sister brand Hollister is set to debut at Brent Cross.
Regent Street has become a mini Manhattan of style over the past year, helped by high-profile openings from overseas retailers such as H&M’s Cos fascia and off-pitch Abercrombie & Fitch.
But will they all be able to win the hearts of the fashion-fuelled British shopper, or will some demands for attention remain unrequited?
They join a saturated market, with the likes of Mango, Bershka, Zara and Uniqlo sitting alongside British stalwarts Topshop, New Look, Miss Selfridge, River Island, M&S and Next.
Pull and Bear, as well as competing with home-grown talent, will give recent infatuation Abercrombie a run for its money, while Banana Republic will have the thinking woman all of a flutter and M&S hot under the collar.
However, the Brits can be fickle lovers. Gap had to reassess its focus by hurriedly drafting in a design team with a European outlook after the US-inspired smart-casuals failed to impress. And can the overseas interlopers develop their shiny promises in the first flush of love into a long-lasting relationship?
Abercrombie & Fitch arrived in a flurry of PR and fanfare – much as Banana Republic will – and Uniqlo’s marketing campaigns are attention grabbing. But the love affair with Cos is still simmering almost a year on and Abercrombie – despite its thin merchandising and dollars-into-pounds pricing – has managed to succeed in creating an exciting store experience.
But overseas retailers face a tougher audience outside of London. In the capital, it shouldn’t be overlooked that these companies are dipping their toes in a market that is buoyed by the tourist – who in all probability has an affection for the names already.
But, as one analyst put it: “Thank God, they are trying.” Whatever the result – whether our love affair with them ends in tears or whether the relationship is a long one – the move reflects a precocious confidence in UK retail at a time when it is being hit by widespread economic disruption.