American chain stores are learning to ship internationally, and the world breathes a collective sigh of relief. No longer will Parisians suffer the indignities of a couture wardrobe devoid of an Ann Taylor blazer. The days of British men muddling through with authentic country apparel are almost over, J.Crew will be just a click away. And the Italians? Their long suffering over hand-blown Venetian glass is screeching to a halt; Crate & Barrel is coming to the rescue.
Hey, I’m all for an accessible and enjoyable shopping experience. I love a good basic (in the form of ceramics or T-shirt) as much as the next gal. But it strikes me as just a bit odd that we are exporting our chain stores to the most artistic and (at times) stylish parts of the world. (By “most artistic” I don’t mean to suggest that other nations have a lock on talent, but they do have a culture of supporting the growth and success of artists.)
It took me a couple of years to understand the British love affair with the Gap. They see it as a mid-scale product, where as we see it as a place to periodically peruse the racks jammed with markdowns ending in $.98. But what the Gap lacks in ingenuity it makes up for in their branding of themselves as “American.” Foreignness can be fun; in food and fashion. Coveting a look for its “otherness” is certainly understandable. But coveting goods which are unrecognizable as “American” is a bit confusing. Many of the chain stores reformulating their software to accommodate international shipping are known for their blandness. The ubiquity of white ceramics and housewares in Crate & Barrel can make the store seem like the set of Wonkavision. The whole point of the design at Ann Taylor is for women to blend into the workplace. It’s hard to imagine a French woman walking (on very un-American heels) along the cobblestone streets to her place of work; passersby stop and smile, one older shopkeeper puts down his broom, leans against his doorway and with a gauloises dangling from his lips, utters; “ooh la la, zee mademoiselle looks tres magnifique c’est matin, Ann Taylor, non?” I just can’t picture it.
My romanticized naïveté is also to blame for my insisting that somebody made a mistake in research or a typo is at fault; but Lane Bryant simply could not be shipping to France.