For those who lament the loss of the "authentic" Williamsburg (the one that existed for a very special month sometime between 2000 and 2005, when everything was cool and scrappy and corporations were still to scared to touch it) the final nail in the coffin has got to be the new four-story Urban Outfitters on North 6th between Berry and Wythe. But it was inevitable. Urban Outfitters trades on the perception of being very "with" the scene. It's a place where 16 to 29-year-olds go when they want to get something that feels underground, offbeat, and insouciant, but don't know anyone or anything underground. It's an easy entreé to being cool, without the work of seeking out local designers, finding small boutiques, or making original style decisions for yourself.
“Our customer is from traditional homes and advantage, but this offers them the benefit of rebellion ... Although they deem themselves worldly, they believe the way they see things personally is the correct way and everyone else feels exactly the same way.” - How Urban Outfitters describes their clienteleSo naturally, Urban Outfitters' next outpost would be in Williamsburg, which has likewise become a layover to Cool Town. There's no longer any danger of being mugged, there are enough restaurants and coffee shops on every block so that you never have to suffer the indignity of schlepping out of the neighborhood for a latté, and it's as close to Manhattan as you can be without actually being in Manhattan--literally, one stop away from the island, three from Union Square. (It's also only five stops from the Warehouses and galleries in Bushwick, if you need to indulge in the true underground scene.) Yet, so far, it has still managed to retain a lot of the flavor that people love about it, with thriving vintage stores, farm-to-table restaurants, weekend markets, bars and clubs that are all locally owned. That's seems to be changing, though, with a Dunkin' Donuts--clad in brown-painted wood in a nod to the neighborhood's aesthetic--greeting you right as you emerge from the Bedford subway station. Urban Outfitters investing so heavily in the neighborhood seems to indicate that all the creatives that built this neighborhood up will soon have to forfeit their leases to Starbucks and Tory Burch, and move on. That fact in itself--the corporate co-opting of a culture that was carved out of urban grime by true artists who have since been pushed out--is enough for many to hate on the store. Sorry, "retail concept." But I have other reasons to intensely dislike Urban Outfitters, besides just hipster-ish cooler-than-thou angst. Even though Urban Outfitters sells mostly to women, they only have one woman on the otherwise all-white, all-male board that they added after intense pressure--and she's the CEO's wife. They have a long, rich history of ripping off small artists and designers. They sell t-shirts emblazoned with just generally shitty slogans, phrases and images. Their CEO is really, really right wing. And they are an excellent example of fast-fashion culture, selling cheap, throwaway apparel and accessories that find themselves in the Goodwill bin after only a season or two, if they stay in one piece for that long. Basically, Urban Outfitters is everything wrong with the fashion world. Or is it? Because as the store opening approached, many of my favorite designers and makers were sharing their excitement in being featured in the locally-made section of the store. How could I deny them their success? So, I decided to pay the store a visit on Saturday and see for myself.