Japan has the largest number of mixed-brand boutiques, or “select shops” in the world. But is the idea of the “select shop” going to die out?
Will only flagship stores survive? 生き残るのは、オンリーショップとフラッグシップショップ？
I read an article on BoF (Business of Fashion) about legendary New York City men’s store “A” closing at the end of 2013. The owner, Karlo Steel, laments that due to the proliferation of online shopping and global transparency that the idea of a select shop is terribly “20th century”. Customers can far too easily search online for a product they find in a mixed-brand boutique and usually get it much cheaper from its country of origin or even just on the brand’s own shopping page.
At first I thought, “There is no way that Japan will ever see the demise of the select shop! It’s part of the culture!” But…never say never?
The “select shop” is an idea that was popularized especially in Japan. In 1975 BEAMS opened, and in 1977 SHIPS followed in Ginza. Along with United Arrows, the 3 popularized the notion of a community built around a select shop. It has worked extremely well for a number of reasons, but most certainly because of the loyalty a shopper in Japan has to the well-trained staff at the shops.
Here, the staff are called “shop stylists” and it is considered a viable and envious career, a stepping stone to better positions within the company. A customer may come in for a coat and end up buying an entire outfit at the prompt of the sales staff who will style them. This is in contrast to the the western world where working on the retail floor is considered a junk job and the scourge of all, and having a shop staff try and get you to try more is “pushy” and “annoying” (“I can decide for myself, thankyouverymuch”). But now this education will work just as well at ANY shop.
Popular select shop Guild Prime on Meiji-dori
Yes, perhaps the tide will turn. Japanese consumers are smart and more and more people are shopping online. I have a luxury brand-loving friend who buys most of his clothes from Luisaviaroma online (“I don’t like the selection in Japan”). If you’re really smart, you’ll pick out your favorite outfits from a brand’s show and just purchase it straight from their website. Even Marc Jacobs allows you to reserve your pieces *imemdiately* after they’ve been shown on the catwalk.
Luxury select shop RESTIR downsized from two Tokyo shops to one, and now they are leaving their spacious Midtown location. Perhaps they are downsizing space again?
The main buffer for select shops that will keep Japanese customers coming to them despite inflated prices will probably be the language barrier. Japanese consumers still are not fluent in English and many are nervous to buy from shops they don’t trust online.
The most popular “select shops” are actually ones that are built around one original brand with a selection of other brands to flesh out the space. This way there’s a very strong sense of community and the taste is easily defined. But will there ever be an end to the brick and mortar “select shop” in Japan? In the future, the shopping landscape may be filled with nothing more than flagship shops of one brand only, serving as advertising for the brand more than anything.
My actual favorite select shops in Tokyo:
Asst edits by Natsumi Yasuoka