OK, I'll admit it: I'm an Anthroholic. I've had a longtime love affair with Anthropologie (and I have the charming summer frocks and decidedly less-charming Visa bills to prove it). I can actually recall my first coup de foudre encounter with Anthropologie on a gloriously sunny spring day in Chicago, and all the inappropriate, weirdly frantic joy I felt winding through its faux-vintage racks.
As if I had finally uncovered my life's purpose: to shop for bird-printed tops. It was sometime in the late '90s, when the retail landscape--anemic-coloured clothing stretched over Parson tables--was more endlessly beige than the Gobi. And Anthropologie was the sunshiney, colour-sopped rebuttal: an estrogenic fantasy island of lace trims, ladylike jackets, time-scarred wooden floors, owl-patterned mugs and dainty floral prints.
I've been known to stalk the website, I've fantasized about beruffled blouses, rationalized why I urgently needed a cherry-patterned cardi or a camel-printed cushion and imagined the life I would need(a better one, obviously) to go along with them. I also wondered when my love would ever be requited. When would Anthro come to Canada?
Well, it's happened:Anthro and all its bird prints have migrated northward. When I discovered this news, I shared it with the sort of life-shifting, celebratory tone other people might adopt to announce the birth of their first-born. Canada's first Anthropologie opened in Toronto in late April; its second at West Edmonton Mall in May; and a third in Yorkville last month.
Part of the chain's formidable success lies in its clever merchandising and nostalgic design. Anthro's romantic wares loll about on the kind of paint-chipped armoires or barn-tables you'd expect to find in a Tuscan farmhouse. Meanwhile, the store is mapped with all the curls and twists of a backstreet flea market. Shoppers are wise to do a couple of laps around the store before making for the cash register.
The effect is that whatever you find feels like, well, a find. "We offer an escape from everyday life. We want to spark imagination," says Aaron Hoey, Anthropologie's head home-decor merchant. "Our goal is to create excitement. We're trying to surprise (the Anthro shopper), and let her have an adventure, entice her with things she's never seen before. It's a chance for her to have an eclectic hunt."
Hoey profiles the classic Anthro devotee: "She's smart, well-to-do and well-travelled."
And if the Anthro shopper is well travelled, so is the chain's buying and design team. "Our goal is to scour the earth," says Hoey. "I'm personally obsessed with collaborating with as many talented artists as possible. I've been to five continents in the past year looking for artists who are not overly exposed, but who are extraordinarily talented."
The company's home-decor collection --which, like the store's apparel, has mastered the vintage-chic vibe--is driven by artist collaborations. For instance, Anthropologie acquired the rights to use a collection of Vera Wang prints.
While Wang's tropical leaf-and-parrot graphic works were initially used in the'60s and '70s as silk-scarf patterns, Anthropologie applied those prints to a collection of summer plates and trays. Anthropologie also teamed up with Parisian painter and sculptor Nathalie Lete on a line of whimsical dinnerwear (Francophile plates patterned with owls, woodpeckers or strawberries)and drawer pulls in cutesy butterfly, poppy or ladybug shapes.
All of Anthropologie's old-fashioned housewares seem to inspire a life of tea-sipping, needlepointing and journal-keeping: There are jubilantly coloured quilts; snowflake-patterned bedding; gilded letter openers; hand-knotted rugs and, from designer John Robshaw, cheerful cotton-linen Marigold Morning pillows, hand-blocked and whipstitched.
Shoppers who can't survive five minutes without checking their Berrys are fondling floral aprons, tulip-patterned oven mitts and the kind of paperweights, notecards and travel scrapbooks that seem to hail from Jane Austen's England.
If shopping offers, as Hoey suggested, an escape from everyday life, at Anthropologie it also seems to be an escape into another century. Shame the price tags aren't just as old-world. Like most love affairs, this one comes at a cost.