Christmas shopping is stressful enough, without making you feel entirely inadequate as well. But inadequacy flooded through me as I entered Jack Wills, the young person’s fashion shop in Brighton, situated near The Lanes and carrying the depressing tag-line “University outfitters”. It was, with the exception of Highways Agency spokesman promising to clear the roads during wintry weather (knowing full well that a herd of comatose antelope could make more efficient organisers), the most hateful thing I’ve ever seen.
The lights are dimmed and convincing enough to make you think you’re in a seedy little nightclub and the music pounding over the stereo reinforces this, yet vintage wooden tables display endless rows of preppy jumpers and scarves, all surrounded by fawning knobheads discussing whether their student loan will stretch to a pair of jeans costing £200.
There is not one redeeming feature about the place; it is just a monochrome money-making machine, with stunning till workers who look at the shoppers with as much disdain as they can muster. Apparently, you have to be model-level attractive to work in there and the staff can wear the outfits on sale in the shop, meaning it is impossible to decipher who is a member of staff and who is just a twat for shopping there – an important distinction.
I feel out of place in most fashion shops, especially those which differ from the basic jeans, shirt and jumper template. In my humble opinion, any store where you cannot get a full outfit for £50 is an over-priced, over-rated load of bollocks (although my advice shouldn’t be heeded as I look like a TK Maxx has been violently sick over me). So entering Jack Wills was a glimpse into what life would be like if I was cool. And I’m glad I’m not.
Anyone who can pick up a jumper, which to all intents and purposes looks like any ordinary jumper with ‘Jack Wills’ in massive white capital letters emblazoned on the front, and not recoil in horror at the price tag of £85, should be disqualified from walking the streets like a normal person as a threat to public order.
The shop was self-consciously wacky and the old saying that there is nothing more boring than being controversial for the sake of it seemed to be the most applicable. There were random chairs atop dressing tables. Some of the items were hanging up in actual wardrobes. The walls were bare and peeled back to the building’s stone. It looked like a cross between a medieval castle, a party held in an underground crack den and a Primark.
I needed clinical attention after seeing this one lone example of pathetic coolness, but my vital stats were plummeting when I discovered somewhere even worse: Hollister’s, an impossibly classier version of Jack Wills. A new branch has opened in Churchill Square and was severely delayed because of building work. On seeing Hollister’s, the transformation from its previous incarnation – a regular clothes shop – should have taken longer than the construction of Wembley Stadium and cost at least twice as much.
The entrance is not just a sliding set of automatic doors, for that would be what an ordinary shop would deem acceptable. It includes six sets of saloon bar doors stolen from a Hollywood studio circa 1928 and a grand conceited hallway which looked like something you would step under in an Oriental garden.
Inside, the place was darker, louder and even more ridiculous than Jack Wills. The till-workers made the staff in Jack Wills look like they had been picked up at a drug rehabilitation centre. The boys were all six feet, ruggedly handsome and nodding serenely to Scouting For Girls, with just the right amount of facial here so as not to be confused with something from Planet Of The Apes but then again not pre-pubescent enough to be mistaken for bumfluff.
The girls were all blonde, perfect and would probably have been accepted on to Noah’s Ark as human being’s only representatives for they were the perfect specimen of our species. Looking at the queue and the slowness of the cashiers, I got the feeling that the extortionate prices were only in place to keep the staff on board as they could be making big bucks doing L’Oreal adverts.
Walking around the place I felt like some hunchbacked servant ferrying glasses of champagne to more worthy people than myself. I felt I should offer a courtesy to the workers or at least address them by a proper title like Duke or Marquess. Yet both these stores get more free advertising than they could ever purchase because the people who wear their clothes do so with the name of the store shining like a bus stop advert on their chest. And this is supposed to be the dizzying height of sophisticated fashion.