Konichiwa - Japanese retailer Uniqlo has finally opened its flagship SoHo store at 546 Broadway, between Prince and Spring Streets (just a few stores away from Banana Republic and H&M). And it's enormous - and currently pretty crowded with shoppers eager to pick up some moderately priced fall clothing. There's also a contingent of Japanese media, no doubt reporting on the invasion of New York by one of Japan's biggest brands.


At 36,000 square feet, the store's design is "simple loft style" with white walls, exposed ducting, wooden floors and steel staircase, letting the displays and shelves of colorful clothes liven things up. A display of revolving mannequins greets you, a glass shaft lets you see the action on lower floors, and one cashier area has exposed brick covered by glass.


A NY Times article looked at the Uniqlo strategy and spoke with founder Tadashi Yanai:

In a typical winter season, Uniqlo sells one million cashmere sweaters, which retail for $89 to $99 but are frequently on a promotional half-price sale. They are silky soft, but the differences from those sold in other stores are not readily apparent.

A new sweater style this year bears a six-inch zipper at the neck with a leather pull, a style originated by Hermès (for four figures) and popularized by J. Crew last year (for about $200).

“Ours is half the price,” Mr. Yanai said.

The focus on basics, rather than on fashion, contrasts sharply with that of Zara and H&M, which introduced cheap chic to the United States.

Well, don't the fashion magazines always tell you to buy affordable basics that you mix with more expensive items? And have you noticed the $650 cashmere sweater Banana Republic is selling? Anyway, last year Yanai said he wanted Uniqlo to be the "world's No. 1 casual apparel company." (Uniqlo's parent company, Fast Retailing, is worth $10 billion.)

The quality of some of the clothing we touched (we didn't buy, as the lines were a little bananas) seemed better than the Gap or Old Navy, but not buttery soft like $200-300 cashmere out there. The range of colors and basic styles was actually reassuring - sometimes it feels like you can't get a plain shirt or sweater at other stores.


Another thing: The store greeters handed out "Uniqlo Paper No 1," sort of like the store's magazine. Not only are there fashion spreads, interviews (Morimoto!), and coupons ($15 off purchase of $75 or more), there was this funny little comparison of Tokyo and New York at the front.

Are you going to Uniqlo? Have you gone?