Put Out More Flags

Shopping in Americaland

 Now that all the collections have been seen and reviewed, it is plain that the joy of fashion has not been stifled, and designers address themselves to a season when men will be both serious and carefree, and will attend parties as well as memorial services. . . . 9/11 has not been forgotten. Patriotism is built into fashion in the Zang Toi collection, and tragedy turns up as a black armband in the Sandy Dalal collection. —The newsletter of the National Association of Men's Sportswear Buyers

So sex and death, those old chums, are arm in arm on the runways, garbing fashionistas in outfits appropriate for fetes and funerals. It may be creepy, but it's hardly unique—lots of other industries are also panting to get into the 9-11 game.

Tribeca resurgent: Warehouse W, a new high-fashion discount store on Chambers Street
photo: Jay Muhlin
Tribeca resurgent: Warehouse W, a new high-fashion discount store on Chambers Street

Maybe wearing a black armband, even one designed by Sandy Dalal, won't catch on, but who doesn't like a flag? The Duck brand duct tape company is celebrating the product's 60th birthday by spotlighting what their press release calls "duct tape's patriotic history." To this end, they have hired a guy called Todd Scott, the world's only professional duct tape artist, to create a gigantic flag on Thursday, June 13, at Union Square. The square, which was the home of a spontaneous outpouring of mourning in the days immediately following September 11, will now host a model of Old Glory that measures 50 by 95 feet and is made of more than 13 miles of tape, or enough to tape the Empire State Building, that other potential terrorist target, 23 and a half times.

Meanwhile, Target has launched a promotion with the hideous name Americaland that is designed by Stephen Sprouse, the guy who had a surprise hit with the Louis Vuitton graffiti handbag, extending the longevity of the graffiti trend far beyond normal life expectancy. Target is an odd store—it's resolutely suburban and completely unglamorous, plus you have to travel miles from Manhattan to find one—yet it persists in its yearning for a hipper-than-Wal-Mart-or-Kmart image, hiring people like Sprouse and Philippe Starck and Michael Graves and spending millions on arty TV commercials. The store is like that slightly pathetic rich kid in high school throwing around tons of money in an attempt to be cool and never quite making it.

Target's Sprouse line, predictably red, white, and blue, doesn't break any new ground style-wise—it's the same old baseball caps, T-shirts, and flip-flops you've been seeing for 30 years. Still, if you've been looking for $6.99 flag-printed rubber sandals or a red, white, and blue $8.99 bucket hat that says "USA" in graffiti print, you have found a home. The thing that's sad about this Target stuff is how stunningly unironic it is. You would expect someone like Sprouse to have a bit of fun with force-fed Americana—after all, wasn't slathering those giant graffiti letters over Vuitton LVs meant to mock that logo? But no. A $9.99 T-shirt with a flag that says "4th of July 2002" is just that—a saggy shirt with no more wit than any other $10 T-shirt. Probably the best item in the Sprouse Target line is the woman's tank-style bathing suit, which is $29.99 and has blue stripes on a white ground and smeary red "USA"s drawn across it. It looks like a joke version of an Olympic team suit whose colors have bled in the water. (A case of "these colors won't run" not applying.)

Despite all the patriotic blather, the store's Web site, www.target.com, confesses that the swimsuit, like the other Sprouse items, is imported. Though the site is delicate about such matters, declining to reveal what corner of the earth these shirts and flip-flops hail from, it's a fact that they weren't made in Americaland.

If Americaland has a capital, it might be the area around ground zero, that eerie stretch of Lower Manhattan where tourists wander about taking pictures of an empty hole and retail businesses struggle to come back to life. What a strange neighborhood Tribeca is, with its combination of 99-cent stores dedicated to the needs of the working poor and restaurants for the area's newer residents, where couples can spend more on a meal than some people earn in a week.

Warehouse W, a newly opened discount store on Chambers Street west of West Broadway, is in the swankier section of Tribeca, and the merchandise, while cheap, seems geared to shoppers who are impressed with European labels even when they're on racks next to tables full of grungy half-opened cosmetics.

On a recent visit, the bare-bones store, which makes Target look like Bergdorf's, offered a collection of leftovers interesting enough to give Century 21 a run for its money, though of course, at 5000 square feet, the shop is about as big as Century's shoe department. A group of items that once graced Fiorucci, the doomed Italian store that tried and failed to make a comeback on lower Broadway and closed earlier this year, included a well-cut $36 swimsuit in light turquoise with lime trim. It was minus USA insignia but pledged allegiance to its own brand name, which was written discreetly, under a picture of a little fish, on the lower left side of the suit. A bunch of those Seven Jeans, the current darlings of the fashion set, were only $44, though on second glance it became apparent that each pair had a pronounced rip in the tush area. Whether this was intentional, or would in fact bother potential Seven Jeans wearers, was not clear.

Next Page »