U.F.O. = Urban Freaking Outfitters

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I¹m no brand specialist, but I commend Urban Outfitters for ingeniously positioning itself as retail¹s stylish, trendsetting purveyor of tween and teen fashion. It¹s been around since the ’70s ­then as Philly¹s outlet for pseudo funky home-ware and clothing, and known as “the Free People’s Store”. How boho. Around the time I was getting allowance money and saving up for extravagant purchases like pagers, Sanrio pencil cases, and low-top Vans, I learned of Urban and its slightly cooler-than-Wet Seal reputation. I wish I could tell you I was on board from the start, but Wet Seal was the jam back in the day, so to shop anywhere else was virtually inconceivable. Urban reappeared in my formative high school years when shoplifting was a rite of passage for socially awkward teen girls. Walking to class, I¹d overhear these gangster-ass kleptos discuss their pirated booty. Urban’s store is designed like a big warehouse, which meant that slipping a few baby-tees in your backpack was a breeze. Was.

Finally, the hype enveloped my every waking moment. With a wad of cash in hand and an insatiable desire to buy everything, I wandered into the Pasadena outpost for some retail therapy. I left with nothing and was mostly dismayed. The clothes were cheaply made but heftily priced. I scoffed at the faux vintage designs that represented everything I hated about The Man, and poseurs. Yes. I did use that word.

In my opinion, Urban’s creative slump peaked when the store overstocked on the deconstructive look or what I like to call, “fabric scraps disguised as haute couture”. Five years went by before I could even step inside an Urban Outfitters store without feeling like a disappointed Asian mom. And then one day…

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spring 09 catalogue

PART II

I dont know circa when Urban’s image flipped a u-y, but the impossible happened. Urban Outfitters experienced the same phenomenon that encapsulates Gap and Jcrew’s retail history– it had a makeover. My jaw slams into the concrete whenever I get the newest catalogue, or when I read about their smart collaborations with up-and-coming or established designers (Geren Ford, Steven Alan, Betsey Johnson, Slow & Steady Wins the Race, Filson tba, etc). There was barely a peep about the website redesign 2 years ago, which is strange given that the old website was impossible to navigate (and was fugly). Now it¹s this hybrid of German- and Dutch- inspired aesthetic but with photos that teeter between American Apparelesque sex appeal and high fashion sensibility. Oh yeah, the clothes, shoes, and accessories are really cool too.

In conclusion (here I am, closing out my research paper like a dork), Urban Outfitters successfully kept its dramatic makeover under-the-radar, and it worked. Very inspiring. Expect to see me with a very blond, short pixie-cut soon.

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spring 09 catalogue

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