Popped into the new Jack Wills in Islington today. It occupies an entire large, long and lowish building, formerly (and controversially) an antiques market, and before that a tram shed. On walking through the door and seeing a mannequin in tweed jacket with '70s-style sweatpants, I was immediately transported to a place that should be distant in every way from Islington: the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, of twenty-five years ago.
It was this outfit that was sported by the Rhodesian/South African (aka 'colonial') agricultural students (aka 'aggies') of the time. I guess the sweatpants, or alternatively baggy shorts for the warmer months, were inherited from their informal life on the range and the tweed had seemed a sensible addition to blend in with the locals (mistakenly, as it turned out).
I liked the shop - product and presentation had a lot of panache and a pleasing dash of quirkiness. It reminded me of an unstuffy Ralph Lauren or a funkier Hackett, but for youngsters. The look seemed to turn what I'd previously regarded as mix-and-match idiosyncrasies (such as those tweed jackets and sweatpants) and turn them into a formula (not meant as a criticism - this is retail).
Given the size of the store, Jack Wills must be aiming to sell barns' loads of colonial aggie kit to the youths of grittily urban Islington. I wonder how their self-description as 'University Outfitters' will help them in this? All-in-all I'm puzzled - but this may well be as it's not meant for me. Anyway, I shall watch the shop with interest and try to spot a varsity-inspired look being punted down the Essex Road.
Coincidentally, T went today to pay her respects to the local Borders (and fill her boots with cut-price children's books). I gather it was the busiest and most profitable branch; it certainly used to be buzzing with Islington's, well, Borders-shopping class. The buzz there now is the sound of bargain-hunters swarming over closing-down deals.
As T said, this is a particularly dispiriting sight as it seems only yesterday that, at least for the Friends generation, Borders seemed the future. What with its in-house coffee shops, its easy tolerance of browsing, its multi-media offer, and its relaxed and carefully lit interiors, retail and lifestyle were made one. This, I think, was how we pictured shopping in the twenty-first century. But, instead, it's turned out to be history.
Time seems to be running in all sorts of directions at the moment.