It started a while back with Urban Outfitters opening on High Street Ken as the go-to place for fashionable bo-ho Londoners who prefer their vintage looks without the smell of old lady. Then American Apparel appeared on Carnaby Street luring generations of Gap-fans with their soft cotton tees in rainbow colours. But it was unleashing Abercrombie & Fitch on the nation's 15 year old girls that really made everyone sit up and take notice of these sexy American stores charming their way onto our high streets and into our wardrobes.
Unlike their reserved and somewhat eccentric counterparts, the American stores know no bounds. They are vast, glossy and immaculate. No amount of British propaganda (apparently A&F in-store models are fired if they stop dancing) can penetrate their alluring shell. Whole Foods swanned into Kensington, kicked the Barkers building into shape, piled the shelves high with over-priced Organic veg and, like unwitting Northerners with a penchant for coal, had Londoners swooning in the aisles.
It is Banana Republic, however, that is quietly giving British retail a major run for its money. And it's not due to their office-perfect twin-sets, or their preposterously massive changing rooms, it is their standard of service. We have laughed for years at candy-pop cheerleaders who greet everyone with 'Hi! How are you folks doing?', but it is sixteen years since Ab Fab's Eddie quipped 'You only work in a shop, you know. You can drop the bloody attitude' and still we are putting up with surly, unwelcoming assistants.
Will Banana Rep's pioneering development of a beautiful midway point between Olivia Newton-John and Jeeves see things begin to change on the shop floor?