Beatrice Colin sees fashion put on hold as utilitarian values come to Glasgow.
Mug trees, toasted-sandwich makers, electric toothbrushes, bean bags, leg warmers, deely-boppers, ﬂuorescent socks, crimplene dresses . . . need I go on? Paddy’s Market in Glasgow is living testimony to the ridiculous nature of late 20th century lifestyles. Consumerism has so deeply permeated the fabric of society that no one is exempt from the accumulation of vast amounts of junk. But now with a lengthening recession and an awareness of the earth’s ﬁnite resources, things are beginning to change. From Japan to Glasgow, via London, comes a shop which claims to sell everything you could possibly need and nothing which you don’t.
Muji was conceived ten years ago as a reaction to the extravagantly
packaged, extremely expensive designer-wear which dominated the Japanese market. The idea was to sell quality without a label, at a reasonable cost. Muji’s ‘No Brand Goods’ are created by a team of anonymous designers, or sourcers. who scour the world for quality raw materials and then work on simple utilitarian concepts. With 200 stores
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all over Japan, Muji is now the tenth largest retailer with a £100 million turnover.
In Britain the designer end ofthe market has had a rocky time recently, with year-round Sales and few people taking any notice of the hem-line. The shell-suit has been adopted by some as the all-season answer, but others have discovered Muji’s two shops in London. Descibed by The Face as a ‘kinda funky Marks and Sparks’, No Brand Goods provide simple style without fashionable details. ‘It’s looking after the basics in life,’ comments Allison Pyrah, Mu ji’s director of UK operations. ‘Instead of saying red is the colour this year so throw out all the blue you bought last year, we’re actually encouraging people to come back to us and buy the same things they bought last year ifthey liked them. But we do also introduce over 200 new products a year.’
Muji stocks other garments, such as socks, shirts, sweaters and tracksuits in black, white and grey cotton and wool. ‘Muji always starts with the material first and then decides what to do with it,’ says Pyrah. ‘Then they’re very careful
about seaming, so the clothes are all very soft and comfy. It’s called “One Mile Wear" in Japan.‘ But as Pyrah is keen to point out, Muji sells more than just clothes. ‘Muji is about a lifestyle or concept. It’s like a mini-department store with stationery, food, furniture, housewear and even shaft-driven bicycles. It’s all very simple — plain
‘We’re actually encouraging people to come back to us and buy the same things they bought last year ii they liked them.’
white china plates, glasswear,
stainless steel kitchen equipment —
everything must have a function. .There’s nothing that’s frivolous.’
While cynics may claim that Muji is
just another label with a clever marketing ploy, at the root of the Mu ji concept is a wholehearted rejection of packaging. ‘A shirt will come in a cellophane wrapper to keep it clean,’ says Pyrah, ‘but if you buy a book or a glass, it won‘t come in a carboard box within a cardboard box. What you see is what you get.’ The ‘all value, no frills’ catchphrase also encompasses modes of production where unbleached fabrics and natural dyes are used whenever possible to keep costs down.
The Glasgow store is twice the size ofthe two in London, but Muji is ‘convinced it’s going to do brilliantly’. Chosen for its big urban population, Glasgow’s reputation as a stylish place seems to have reached Japan. ‘We wanted an industrial city with a big population. People are very proud of Glasgow, like being there and like shopping there.‘
But will spartan chic take off? Will the shop’s success prove to be the death knell of ‘fashion’? ‘There will always be designers,’ says Pyrah. ‘It would be awfully dull ifthere weren’t any. But now people are unwilling to spend a vast amount of money on a name. We’re not anti-fashion, we just complement it with constantly evolving basics.’
M uji, 63—67 Queen Street, Glasgow, opens on Fri 2 Oct.
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TEL: 041-334 5007
74 The List 25 September — 8 October 1992