I find more and more excuses not to go into Santa Monica in the Summer – this year seems to be worse than ever, with throngs of people to rival Venice, Italy, traffic that snarls at snail’s pace and fellow drivers ready to knife any rivals for a parking spot. As far as I am concerned, I can wait to go to Santa Monica until next October.
But my mother had other plans and, on a Tuesday morning, I agreed to take her to the predictable and boring commercial hub that is the Third Street Promenade, a center of sorts for this seaside city, and a pedestrian area that has lost any charm it possessed having yielded to big name brands, store after store after store.
Neither of us was looking for anything in particular but my mom wanted to see “what’s out there” and, on most of these forays, I am the one who ends up returning home with a lighter wallet.
We walked into JCrew and I noticed only two other customers milling about. We went through the racks, turning clothes over, lifting sweaters, examining sheafs and I was beyond unimpressed. I was dismayed. Whoever designed this Summer’s collection had a woman in mind who seemed at times frumpy, at times an extra from Mad Men, or just plain boring. Everything that Jenna Lyons brought to the brand when she first took it over was there (bold prints, Summer dresses, stripes, sequins) but dumbed down and incoherent. In short – unwearable, at any age.
The last time I shopped at the Armani Exchange must have been about 20 years ago, a pretty organza burgundy and beige dress with an empire waist I sometimes still wear. Now I am not even sure why such a brand still exists. It’s only to be found in certain countries, where Armani logos sold on the cheap still make a buck but how it is surviving here is a mystery. Numbers of other customers in the store: 1. The clothes were intended to jump on the already passe bandwagon of athleisure, in different variations of neoprene, in bold colors – possibly (badly) made in China and designed with neither care nor imagination. Some of the plainest and ugliest dresses I have seen in a long time. We hurried out before the bored assistants decided to become helpful.
While I don’t like admitting that I am, at times, a consumer of cheap fashion…well, I am, with purchases from Zara my worst sin. Still, the Spanish brand has made it an “art” to copy the trends of the runways and turn them into often wearable clothes. This Summer, I must have missed the tulle skirts, the Chinese prints, the fringes and the somber hues that made up the entirety of the store. Once again, the only word that came to mind in looking at these offerings was “ugly”.
On a whim, we veered into Anthropologie, the 30 something sister to Urban Outfitters. Again, the vast two-storey shop was empty of customers but filled with an impressive offering of hippie dresses that a certain type of Californian woman might favor. Not this Californian woman. The clothes lacked a point of view, a mere shadow of what a 30-year-old today might have thought someone at stomping around Haight Ashbury might have worn.
We quickly left the Promenade and repaired into a kitchen store, where one can always soothe one’s spirit by examining gadgets one doesn’t strictly need. One thing is certain: the roasting pan I bought on sale – with its rounded corners, it’s proportionate height and the smooth nonstick cover – will give me much more satisfaction than any of the cheap looking, unimaginative and sad clothes high street fashion brands failed to persuade me to buy. And, judging by the crowds on the street – but not in the stores – nobody else was buying either. The end of retail that has been gloomily announced is taking place. And good riddance.