General merchandise manager Wendy Wurtzburger says, "We try to make it a place where the customer would like to spend time. We think a lot about how they feel, the clothes, the music, the scent, the comfortable fitting room."
"We want the customer to come into the store and exhale, to come in and be comfortable in the space," adds creative director Kristin Norris, who started working for the company in 1992, when the store debuted.
Anthropologie is more than just a retailer -- it's a specialty retailer for which concepts and aesthetics, rather than units or volume, are key. Using narrative arcs, characters and plots, it expertly taps into our psyches and subconscious desires, our sense of wanderlust and nostalgia.
Although these elements are interwoven throughout the store, they start with the customer. Anthropologie develops concepts based on variations of three themes its core customer responds to: Feminine, Artistic (bohemian) and Linear (preppy, classic silhouettes). "Each one is a different woman," Wurtzburger says. "We talk about her very specifically, where she lives, and sketch her life."
“Alice," based on Alice in Wonderland, is crisp and feminine, and a bit whimsical. "Maiden of the North" capitalizes on the bohemian trend, and features softer fabrics, neutral colors, browns and pale blues. Anthropologie's merchants and design team conceptualize some key pieces based on ideas that are produced under the names Elevenses, Louie, Odille and Sleeping on Snow, with signature details such as bows, ties, ribbon trims, unusual buttons or flower "corsages." "We build them up rather than strip them down to get into a price point," Wurtzburger says.
Then the buying team will shop the New York and Los Angeles markets to find accessories and other pieces that will "round her out," Wurtzburger says. That might include sexy, fitted T-shirts by Michael Stars, San Francisco's Rebecca Beeson or Velvet; exclusive items such as Lucy Barnes' Zoe line and Rozae Nichols' Aquarius; and intimate apparel from Cosabella and Only Hearts.
Designers such as Tracey Reese (Plenty) and Nanette Lepore, who specialize in charming, feminine separates with retro touches, are also mainstays.
When customers enter an Anthropologie, they immediately leave behind the sterile mall or not-so-sterile street and are transported into another world. It even has its own language. The store features "vignettes" that put the "assortment" of merchandise into homey context, connected by metal arcades. The front of each store typically shows a gardening or outdoor entertaining "statement," Norris says. Mimicking the movements in one's own home, the customer will "decompress, as you do in your own home," head to the dining and kitchen areas, then peruse "bed, lounge and soaps, so by the time you get to the back of the store, you're as relaxed as you would be by the time you get to bed." Our customer is reading the magazines and wants the current looks, but she's not a fashion victim," Wurtzburger says. "She's going to save her clothes and wear them in different ways year to year."
"It's an experience of an environment you're walking into, not a straightforward statement about knit sweaters," she says. "It's about the way you live your life." Coffee-table books, boxed cards and scents are also commonly displayed with clothing, and the same camisole shown under a sweater might also turn up in the lingerie section. Those popular pottery latte bowls frequently hold Rosebud salve or baubles. Nestled amid a shelf filled with Elizabeth W. drawer liners, scented candles and "Paris Rain" room spray was the book "Just Kiss Me and Tell Me You Did the Laundry: How to Negotiate Equal Roles for Husband and Wife in Parenting, Career and Home."
Each Anthropologie has a visual manager and display person who work with the store manager to create a compelling environment. The apparel concepts inspire "display elements" that are crafted at each store. For fall, real lace cutouts punctuate the front windows; inside, "display elements" such as watches and teacups allude to "Alice in Wonderland." The crowning touch, connecting the first floor to the mezzanine level, is a giant installation of interlocking clock faces made from old book pages.
"We don't spend specific direction on placement by item; it's more general direction about type of mood, color, silhouette, trend -- we create direction that supports those things," Norris says.
This attention is also reflected in Anthropologie's catalog and Web site. The home, apparel and accessories are so seamlessly integrated that one half expects to be transported to the beach houses, farm cottages, boardwalks or European living quarters pictured on their pages. It's potent stuff, and even customers who understand the marketing are drawn in by it.
"Our visual philosophy is to make the store feel as if it's a one-off, to feel like it's the only one," Norris says. "We capitalize on existing architectural elements. All of the stores have a similarity to them, but none are exactly the same."
Part of the effect comes from the store's furnishings, or "found objects, " in Anthropologie parlance. A full-time buyer scouts flea markets in the South of France, London and Italy, among other places, with an eye toward pieces that can work in the stores both as displays and one-off merchandise. These typically sell for thousands, as opposed to the less expensive retro- inspired housewares Anthropologie commissions. It's possible to buy the antique iron bed as well as its ribbon-scallop bedding and throw pillows, or the $3,200 French birdcage. Norris says the chain's biggest challenge, as it nears 60 stores, is balancing continuity with distinctiveness.
"We want each store to have a unique personality and cater to the customer. The customer in Miami is not the customer in Seattle, and to treat them as if they're the same misses the nuances and subtlety," she says.
We may still frequent flea markets and Pottery Barn, and flirt with Old Navy and other purveyors of West Coast casual, but there comes a time when we want to shop in a place that speaks to our dreams and desires.
It's no crush; we're in love.
-Laura Compton for San Francisco Cronicle 2004