I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was invited to the opening of Forever 21 - but I definitely wasn’t expecting what I saw.
To find the store, all I had to do was follow the queue snaking from the entrance, up the stairs, round the corner and down the middle of The Trafford Centre. This was at 8.30am.
Then, when I stepped into the shop, between the gap of the shutters and the floor, I was greeted by bright lights, white pillars, floor to ceiling mirrors and chandeliers. Everything was so dazzling and white and new, it was beautiful. Untouched loveliness.
The layout works like so; in the right hand corner was the ‘rocky’ corner, studded collars, leather skirts and striped jeans (this was my favourite section), then you move into the pretty dresses, floaty skirts and blouses, lace kimonos and tops followed after that, festival fashions followed that, then the eveningwear.
Then you move on into shoes, then to bags, jewellery and then you finish off in pyjamas and lingerie (which is all lit in pink - so pretty.)
Some people had been waiting since 3am, some had slept in the car park and some had travelled from Sheffield and Liverpool just to get some of their F21 fix.
Lucy, 17, from Warrington, had visited the Abu Dhabi store and already owned clothes from the brand. She described the retailer as, “Good quality, like H&M but with more of a variety.” Whereas Amy, Jodie and Stevie from Manchester thought it was the ‘American Topshop’.
Many people queuing had heard of the brand and had visited stores across the UK and Ireland, America and the U.A.E and were loyal customers - while others had only just heard of the company and were quickly browsing the online store before the opening.
Going from group to group, different people told me various rumours they had heard about the opening and what would be happening. And at ten o’clock we found out. The shutters went up and the noise erupted. As I type this, I can still hear the sound of clapping and chanting of FOREVER, FOREVER! The queue surged forward as staff cheered the customers in. Giftcards varying from £10 to £210 were dispatched at the door to the first 300 people, which ran out in no time and pink balloons, ribbons and streamers floated around the customers heads.
I caught the first customer with a Forever 21 bag just 5 minutes after the shop had opened, who had been let out by her manager to queue at 8am and shop. She was rushing back to work when I caught her, happy in her triumph.
As it was the launch day, I was fortunate enough to meet the marketing director of the brand, Linda Chang, who had flown in from L.A to oversee the London store reopening and the opening of The Trafford Centre store. I asked Linda the burning questions of the brand I had heard so much about, but never seen (apart from online).
HJ: Do you usually get this many people at a store opening?!
LC: In America, literally thousands of people queue, they start camping out the night before! This is good, it means we’re raising awareness in the U.K. People have heard of us, they want to see what we’re about. I didn’t realise how big the queue was at first, I’m so happy so many people have turned up!
HJ: What has the reception been like in the U.K for Forever 21 so far?
LC: Fantastic! We opened our first U.K store in 2010 and we have plans to open more soon. I’ve just come straight from London where we’ve reopened the store there. In August we’re opening a store in Bluewater and one in Lakeside at the beginning of 2013. It’s great that’s its going so well!
HJ: I heard that F21 were scouting out locations in Sydney and Melbourne recently, are there plans to open there?
LC: It’s something we’re definitely looking at, it’s a great opportunity and something we’ve considered.
HJ: Who would you say are your main competitors here in the U.K?
Topshop and Primark. We’re fashion forward but affordable and also quite unique I think.
HJ: Describe a F21 customer in 5 words.
LC: Oooh, I’d say, trendy, daring, individual, and, this isn’t a word but someone who looks for value and lastly, I guess I’d say fun.
HJ: Is the customer base in the U.K different to the one you have in the U.S?
LC: Sometimes there are differences. You know that the U.K style and U.S style can vary anyway, but I think the same sort of people shop in Forever 21 in the U.S as they do in the U.K. They’re looking for good quality, fashionable pieces at prices they can afford. Everyone wants the same thing.
HJ: I read American Teen Vogue as a teenager, where F21 is always mentioned or shown, but here you’re mentioned more in the weekly magazines like More and Look, which I think are targeted at older readers. Have you noticed a difference in age in the customers in the U.K and the U.S?
LC: We have concessions within F21 which target different ages, like Love 21 for example is for 30+. But the high street in the U.K is a lot bigger than in the U.S, you guys are all about high street! And the high street is for any age.
HJ: You’ve collaborated with designers before, are there any plans for more in the future?
LC: Yes definitely. But we want something different you know, something unique, something that will stand out.
HJ: Finally, is there something for you whatever your style at F21?
LC: Yeah! We have a something for everyone. Come down and see!
I received a goody bag of F21 pyjamas, a top, make-up, a clutch bag and a bracelet. I was then taken on a tour of the store and was told of the stock coming in soon for A/W (keep your eyes peeled ladies) I really CANNOT wait for some of the stuff.
I then had to rush off to work, but, of course, not before I queued in the mile long queue that zigzagged around the whole of store for one of the studded collared tops I’d laid my eyes on the second I walked in and some rings to match.
I’ve still got my eye on a few things though so I feel there’ll be a few more visits in the weeks to come. Ooh and a tip for you if you’re planning a F21 trip; if you see something you like, BUY IT! I’m told that whatever is out on the shopfloor is all they have and once it’s gone its gone. So in a sense it IS unique.
Fear not though, deliveries of new stock are daily! In all seriousness though, if you do get a chance, pop in, Linda (yes, first names terms!) was not wrong; there really is something for everyone.
Hi, my name is Hannah Jones! I’m 21 and I'm a fashion marketing student at Manchester Metropolitan University. I’m here as the shoppers voice. Have a read of my posts, I hope you enjoy!
* Hannah was a guest of Forever 21's, but writes from an independent viewpoint as the voice of The Trafford Centre Shopper.