Are All Saints Sinners?

by Katie on April 4, 2010

There aren’t that many high street chains I don’t understand. I’ve been shopping my whole life and been marketing and PR’ing many designers and retail brand names so I do get a bit ‘have I lost it?’ if I just don’t get something. All Saints is one of those and, from talking to various industry opinion formers, it appears that I’m not alone in this. What is the appeal? Help me out here, people. It must have bucket loads if they’re expanding at the rate of knots with over 60 stores in the UK. And, they have just signed a deal to take over Nokia’s 15, 000 sq ft Regent Street store which will open in May this year.


Its design aesthetic has been described by fashion trade magazine, Drapers, as “characterised by offbeat silhouettes, intricate patterns and neutral colours, coupled with dark, quasi-industrial store fits, (this) has marked All Saints out as one of the most interesting retail experiences.” I beg to differ. The chain has eschewed regular large changes in retail visual merchandising in favour of a mass of old vintage Singer and Jones sewing machines as a focal point brand statement, that at one time seemed quirky but now looks, well, old and dated. Really guys, are there East End warehouses full of these if you can use them in every massive store? Ebay vintage sewing machine dealers must rub their hands in glee and cackle every time a new All Saints is announced. Then , from the moment you stumble inside the literally darkened doors, you are met with ill adjusted light, urban rough hewn fittings and a confusing VM layout of dull, lank lifeless shapes and colours. Various shades of black, grey and washed out blue items hang limpless and, at best, can be described as tonal in range. Lank modal or cotton jersey, broderie anglaise and distressed leathers with studded or asymmetric detailing try valiantly to scream ‘rock and roll’ but tend to look jaded ‘Nathan Barley’ Hoxtonite trying to fit in. As Ned Smanks would say, “keep it foolish!”. No doubt millions of Whoreditchers do.

I have a friend who lives and breathes fashion and to quote his views on All Saints, “Stock looks like it was washed, scrunched into a ball still damp, put in a carrier bag in the back of the garage for 10 years, then taken out and put straight onto a hanger.” He adds, “The merchandising resembles a Greenham Common lesbian protest camp washing line.” Another said of the knitwear offer, “Knits one, purl one, drop two, create hole. Repeat. Finish off roughly and drape lots with asymmetric hemlines…Ta Dah! Finished article. That’ll be eighty poundingtons please!”. And honestly, they really should be the target demographic of single household, high disposable incomes.

But personally I blame Mel, Shaznay, Natalie and Nicole. They have a lot to answer for and already gave us two Blatts on the landscape. If it weren’t for their formation and mass following in 1993, it probably wouldn’t have inspired the clothing chain, established in 1994, to adopt a ‘street wise’ name that stood for everything that was hip and happening in West London. Once the focal point of the mid May riots of 1968 (alongside Powis Square) the famous All Saints Road in Notting Hill soon became to represent a melting pot of new ideas, inspirations and inner city multi racialism. Thus, it’s marketing kudos of mild ‘anti establishment’ togetherness appealed to record companies and studios, restaurants and clothing brands alike. Infamy and edginess soon led to mass appeal.

So, with the “All Saints’ clothing chain established to represent a new line and appeal in ‘youth’ street wear and “acclaimed for its unique brand of sharp edge, rock n roll inspired clothing”, how come it has now became the every epitome of the high street establishment chain which is sought to be different from and rebel against?

All Saints is once again becoming a name that is a centrifugal force in the current highly topical campaign to Save Portobello Road market supported by likes of Jasmine Guinness, Zafar Rushdie and Tom Parker Bowles, alongside countless trustafarians and normal West Londoners. Only this time, All Saints are the pantomime bad guys alongside the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea planning officers, intent on changing the public face of Portobello forever. The latter two are viewed by Notting Hill locals, as intent on developing a monstrous modern fibreglass site in place of The Good Fairy antiques market, ripping any character from the Portobello that we know and love. To quote the Facebook “Save the Portobello Road Market” site dedicated to saving the character of the area, “We need lots of people to express their views on the ‘All Saints’ monstrosity with its fibreglass fake shopfronts etc!”. Planning application details from RBK&C state Demolition of existing building and erection of new building consisting of basement and ground floor retail space and 2 floors plus loft conversion in connection with to use as 2 maisonette units. Construction of rear roof terrace.

Says Marion Gettleson, a supporter of the “Save the Portobello Road Market” campaign, “Without public consultation, the RBKC Council wants to steal a public asset – Portobello Road Market, for private benefit. Portobello will become yet another ‘clone’ retail fashion destination. The process has started, with a vast new branch of All Saints. Yet the firm already has a branch in Westfield shopping mall less than 2 miles away!”.

While All Saints business expansion and success is to be commended and applauded in the face of detractors and the recession, it has sadly become the very apotheosis of the retail establishment that it initially sought to differ. No doubt All Saints could at best be accused of simply expanding in an area that has already seen the coming of Starbucks, Accessorize and American Apparel chains on the Portobello Road. At worst, the voice of ‘youth’ hardly demands the destruction of an iconic and inspired area replaced by brand power. It’s hardly ‘rock n roll’ to tear apart the soul of an area that initially inspired a brand. Tourists and regular vintage shoppers don’t flock to the area to pay homage to a wall of sewing machines in a crass modernist development. Perhaps I’m wrong. I hope I’m right.

To support the fight to retain the character of the Portobello Road Market, facing off juxtaposing new developments like the planned All Saints store, please visit and sign up to: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?filter=lf#!/pages/Save-the-Portobello-Road-Market/300902793992?ref=ts
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous April 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Hey my mum loves it… she’s 65 and lives just outside Norwich in a small sleepy village…she looks really good in it to because she also accessorises with ripped drip dyed wraps and leather studded boots – she rocks the main high road man. All Saints For Ever.

She has been married six time mind.

Reply

Anonymous April 7, 2010 at 9:44 pm

‘It’s hardly ‘rock n roll’ to tear apart the soul of an area that initially inspired a brand. Tourists and regular vintage shoppers don’t flock to the area to pay homage to a wall of sewing machines in a crass modernist development.’

Exactly. You said it all, Katie.

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