Go Forth! Mercurylab in London (Part Three) | The Conran Factor

August 05 2014

Sir Terence Conran’s influence on the way the British live has been immeasurable. It wouldn’t be possible for me to list all of his contributions to the design and comfort of British life, but he has been at it since the 1950s, and The Conran Group continues to be a vital force in British culture.


Signage at the new Design Museum

For those of you who haven’t been there, try visiting the original Design Museum in Shad Thames before it moves to the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington in 2016. This famous building is considered to be one of the major post-war buildings in London, and as such is a fitting home for the expanded and continuing conversation and influence of design in all aspects of our lives. Conran has donated £17.5 million to fund the new museum. Meanwhile, the new Design Museum is already showing its influence, creating brand awareness through their presence in the current windows at the John Lewis and Peter Jones department stores, where many Londoners go to get their housewares, drapes, clothes, and of course, to visit the “foodie” Waitrose food hall in the Oxford Street John Lewis.


Design Museum curatorial expertise at John Lewis

In any event, the Design Museum curators have given their imprint from a historical or contemporary design perspective to items sold at John Lewis, a heritage brand that is currently 150 years young. It’s a great way of creating high street awareness and appreciation for good design. Conran furniture and objects are also sold as part of the Conran collection for Marks & Spencer, and the upscale Conran Shop is still a destination for excellent mid-century classics as well as modern and contemporary design. And now in another venture that shows he still has his finger on the pulse, Conran has conceived of the Albion Cafes.


The Albion Café's delicious offerings

Ahhhhh, Albion. There was an hour wait at the café in Shoreditch, but we luckily stumbled in the door at the café behind the Tate Modern. The market itself is a perfectly curated (but not twee) and surprisingly affordable mixture of goodies from the Albion kitchen (massive jars of homemade raspberry preserves; tomato chutney; homemade baked goods); vegetable, cheese, smoked fish, and a good selection of specialty teas, biscuits, Guernsey yogurts et al. And to make it even better, there’s a 15% discount if you have expanded your mind at the Tate in preparation for expanding your stomach at The Albion. I’m gushing, but dinner was delicious. Conran’s idea worked as usual – feeling that upscale pretention was not the way to go, he conceived of something homey (it is), and relaxed, where you could eat and do a bit of shopping for things you really need, and those you simply want. Now that’s the mind of a visionary trend-reader and trendsetter at work. I’m going to appreciate him yet again today when I have some of that delicious chutney with my fish for my lunch!

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American Apparel: When Simplicity isn’t So Simple

October 09 2013

American Apparel is a brand well known for its’ pared down, comfortable aesthetic, one that appeals to the young. urban, hipster-chic teens and 20s of America and across the World. Long known for simple basic unisex t-shirts, hoodies and jeans, they have moved into the territory of vintage-inspired disco pants, chiffon blouses and palazzo pants. By bringing more “design” into their clothing, American Apparel has attempted to set themselves apart from their competition -- Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Urban Outfitters. They have been so effective in branding themselves in the mind of the consumer that it will be interesting to see what happens as they move forward in this new vein.

On a political level, American Apparel’s heart has been in the right place (at least from my leftie perspective). The brand is a strongly voiced advocate of LGBT rights, it is committed to environmental protection, and is known for having all of their clothing made in the U.S. without the use of underpaid sweatshops in other countries. That is a big one, as more and more ethical issues arise regarding how the fashion we love and wear is made. American Apparel’s company website also has a list of other ethical causes that they support.


via americanapparel.tumblr.com

This is a brand with some major disconnects despite its success and good heartedness. Despite their ethical chops, the brand has been scrutinized in the past for having overtly provocative advertisements, for not being plus-size friendly, and for their inflated price point, given the quality and lack of originality in the merchandise. In addition, if American Apparel is going to claim a more constructed, designed sensibility, they will need to pull other elements of their brand communications in line. Their window design frequently looks like a cheap mall brand that sells five-dollar T-shirts and ten-dollar parkas. The store merchandising is decidedly barebones as well. It’s certainly not an issue to expand upon a brand’s sensibilities, as Juicy Couture moved very successfully from coveted velour tracksuits into much more cultivated pieces that still retained a high level of comfort. American Apparel might benefit from studying Juicy more closely, as that brand has had all of the elements working in sync since the beginning, and was just sold to Authentic Brands Group for $185 million. Get it together, AA!!

However, American Apparel has come a long way in the message it gives through its brand. What makes American Apparel such a strong brand is their exuberant, precise, and edgy advertisements. American Apparel speaks volumes through their fashion photography. Each advertisement exudes a feeling of the American dream through clothing, in other words the emotion of living your life through these clothes.

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