Forever 21 opened a colossal new megastore — four stories, 91,257 square feet, and 121 dressing rooms — on Friday amid great hype and circumstance. It's now the largest retail venue in Manhattan devoted to a single brand. And like the rest of Times Square, it's raw-capitalism-as-spectacle-a-go-go, with big plasma screens and shimmering walls and cash registers cranking until 2 a.m., seven days a week.
Reduced to its essential nature, Forever 21 is an Americanized version of Topshop, the British chain that makes a killing with designer knockoffs. Forever 21 refines this business plan into an even more lethal form of consumer crack: It makes knockoffs of Topshop knockoffs, and sells them even cheaper.
Like Topshop, many of the wares — look-specific, clumsily wrought, disposable kinder-slutwear — hearken back to the Flashdance era. But the prices are even lower than they were in 1983 — so low, in fact, they seem wrong. Your brain can’t help but factor in the invisible stuff: "Oh dear, surely there is a basement of horrors in some far-off land that makes these $4.50 stretch-capri leggings possible ... " But then your eye gets caught by another shiny gold lamé headband, and you end up carrying around half a dozen hangers' worth of V-neck T-shirts just because they're priced at a mind-boggling $2.50 apiece.
The interior of the new flagship was supposedly designed to reflect different New York neighborhoods — the West Village, meatpacking district, etc. — but aside from a taxicab parked on one floor, the theme was hardly evident. I did, however, see many areas that seemed decorated to evoke other familiar New York retail establishments: a Juicy Couture–ish neighborhood, an Anthropologie-esque block, and so forth. A jeans department features every flavor of knockoff denim, priced around $30, but aside from this and a nondescript men’s section, the zillion racks of glossy inventory are all hilariously similar. In one section, big T-shirts and cutoff shorts, with stripes! In the next: big T-shirts and cutoff shorts, with yellow stripes! On another floor, big T-shirts and cutoff shorts, with grommets!
Forever 21’s Topshop imitation goes well beyond flattery and almost into parody — right down to the jillion pie-eyed tweens milling around in Valley Girl outfits, as their mothers trailed behind them, wincing through every beat of the super-loud eighties dance music, supplied by a house “D.J.” (who was actually just a confused-looking store employee wearing headphones and poking buttons on a laptop).
Perhaps the decibel level was intended to scare off anyone over the age of 21, though the long-running joke about Forever 21, since its inception, is that at least half of the people who shop there haven't been 21 for at least eight to fifteen years. Or maybe it was a strategic anti-Mom marketing offensive: The pounding bass acts as a mental buffer against potential style issues. To wit: "All right, Brittany, for Christ’s sake, you can get the damned Lady Gaga body stocking and the stretch-lace Day-Glo thong and the fake Léger bandage/bondage dress ... just get me the hell out of here!" After four Excedrin and box of Pinot Grigio, moms won't care if their daughters dress like they're running a K-12 escort service.
None of this is to say I didn't catch the high myself, of course. I was all set to splash out on a rayon-spandex pullover with dolman sleeves and enough capri stretch pants to see me through the next eight seasons of Glee — until I saw the line to the cashier.
“I’m sorry,” I said, handing a nearby employee my basket, defeated. “I just can’t wait in that line.” The young lady accepted my basket with a smile tinged by the kind of curdling hatred you reserve for someone who knuckle-punches you right in a bruise — and I knew I wasn’t the first to do this.
Forever 21 isn’t about fashion any more than fast food is about cuisine. The addictive component is kicky shapes at price points you can find beneath the cushions on your couch, and the fact that you can buy 37 clothing items for under $200. If it’s the slow-food, slow-clothes, minimalist approach of “less but better” you want in a wardrobe, you’d best skip this Times Square monstrosity and bugger off to Europe. Forever 21 is a shrine to the American obsession with More New Stuff. Suppress any thoughts of faraway places of horror; at these crazy prices, you can’t afford not to fence your grandma’s VCR and buy more neat tops.
Editor's note: This post originally misidentified Forever 21 as a South Korean-based chain. The article has been updated.BEGIN SLIDESHOW
Most Viewed Stories
Mary-Kate Olsen Strains Every Muscle in Her Face in an Attempt to Smile
The Fashion Executive Who Doesn’t Wear Underwear on Dates
25 Famous Women on Being Alone
22 Intimate Lost Photos of Marilyn Monroe
Prince George Has No Time for Justin Trudeau’s High Fives
How Angelina Jolie Won the First Big Battle in Her Divorce
It’s Time to Get Over Your White Feelings and Start Taking Action for Black Lives
2009 Called — It Wants Its Vogue-Versus-Bloggers Fight Back.
Former Miss Universe Becomes U.S. Citizen So She Can Vote Against Trump
Madame Clairevoyant: Horoscopes for the Week of September 26
From Our Partners
powered by PubExchange
Latest News from The CutThe Novelist Disguised As a Housewife
Shirley Jackson wrote 17 books while raising four children — and she couldn't have had a successful career without them.Preschool Benefits Women More Than Men
A new study finds preschool is good for all kids, but particularly for girls.Uh-Oh, Is Rob Kardashian Feuding With Kylie Jenner?
Or, at least someone is trying to make it seem that way.Area Woman Interrupted by Man 25 Times in 26 Minutes
Lester Holt also interrupted Hillary Clinton 15 times.Hillary Clinton’s Sickest Debate Burns
She eviscerated Trump.Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber Are Separating After 11 Years Together
“The best way forward for us as a family is to separate as a couple.”Outrageous Party Photos From Andy Warhol’s Factory Days
Preview the book Brigid Berlin: Polaroids.Morning Sickness May Suck, But It’s Actually a Sign of a Healthy Pregnancy
An upside to the nausea.2009 Called — It Wants Its Vogue-Versus-Bloggers Fight Back.
Vogue called blogging “pathetic,” and bloggers were not pleased.I Can’t Believe I Like This Victoria’s Secret Beauty Product
And why you’ll love it, too.
Swedish denim label Dr. Denim is here to make denim shopping a lot easier.Vanderpump Rules Drama Is the Only Constant in This Crazy Thing We Call Life
Season five arrives on November 7.Emily Kinney on Life After The Walking Dead
Her new show Conviction premieres next Monday on ABC.5 Things on Sale That You’ll Actually Want to Buy: From Saint Laurent Jeans to an Isabel Marant Sweater
We dug through the internet to bring you some great deals.Here’s One Reason Why Women Are Underrepresented in Politics
It starts at the local level.Rob Kardashian Meets Chyna’s Parents and They All Take a Trip to a Strip Club
They also have a Fourth of July block party.My Favorite Fruit-Shaped Hand Cream Doubles As a Pill Holder
Can also hold gum, almonds, and paper-clips.Mary-Kate Olsen Strains Every Muscle in Her Face in an Attempt to Smile
It was a good effort.A Weekend of Hair Envy With Rubi Jones
Including an impromptu Weasley family look for a Potter-themed party.All It Took for Anti-Vaxxer to Admit She Was Wrong Was Her Entire Family Getting Sick
Rotavirus made her change her tune.