August 30 2014

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Thinking Big


At least one company is feeling bullish about the American market. Uniqlo, the Japanese retailer with a store currently in Soho, is opening its largest flagship yet, a vast 89,000-square-foot space at 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue. Come Friday, when the sleek glass doors are open to the public, expect crowds to mob the store for the $9.90 Japanese denim opening special or the super-lightweight down jackets (currently a best seller at the Soho branch).

But this morning, as did a preview walk-through with Uniqlo’s U.S. chief operating officer Yasunobu Kyogoku, the store was a sun-filled oasis of glass and steel. The retail experience opened with a cathedral ceiling with three banks of escalators leading to the third floor. There were colorful cashmere sweaters lining the walls, but no racks, which translated to an open feel.

“We wanted to give the customer a feeling of zen when they step in,” Kyogoku explained. From there, the retail experience—usually with most of the products at street level—was in reverse. The third floor was where the bulk of the merchandise was, including the first ever Uniqlo Innovation Project section: an athletic-meets-sportswear collection made with specially commissioned materials by Toray, a Japanese company that’s known for making the fuselages of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. Around the bend was the mirrored tunnel of Heattech; the successful thermal line has expanded since hauling in 80 million units last year.

Fashion-forward shoppers will find the best wares on the second floor, where the first delivery of the J+ fall collection, designed by Jil Sander, hung pristine on the racks. It’s the last collection with Sander, but there’s more to look forward to. Uniqlo is following up Sander’s much-lauded collaboration with a collection by Undercover’s Jun Takahashi next spring. Plus, the retailer has ambitious plans for expansion. Along with a store on 34th Street opening a week later on October 21, Uniqlo is currently hunting for real estate in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. “There’s nothing to announce yet,” Kyogoku hedged. Although he added, “The chairman said the goal is to hit $10 billion in U.S. sales by 2020.”

Photos: Robert Mitra

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