Are we perhaps a bit sad to report this? Yes.
Are we surprised? No.
The first installment of British textile designer Celia Birtwell's exclusive collection for Express debuted this week to basically zero buzz.
Birtwell has had a similar arrangement with Topshop for a few seasons now that has been very successful and features some of the same prints and styles.The results of that collaboration have been occasionally available at Opening Ceremony. We're sure that from her point of view, duplicating the concept at an American chain seemed like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, Express is no Topshop. Although it could have been, and may still become, a far more exciting retailer, at the moment it isn't, and has a way to go to regain its vitality in the market.
It's too bad for Birtwell who designed two silk chiffon blouses and a dress/tunic (depending on your leg confidence) very much in the flowing style of her late husband, 1970s London fashion icon Ossie Clark, and featuring her own distinctive prints. It's a retro look with real credibility. It's certainly not couture quality, but it's good for the prices which are $79.50 for a blouse and $128 for a dress. Express shoppers, unfortunately, seemed nonplussed with the front and center display when we visited the lower Fifth Avenue branch on Tuesday afternoon. Clearly, the concept went over their heads.
Birtwell is obviously not a well-known enough name among your average Express shoppers who probably wouldn't be able to place her in her own context. Her position in the design world is well respected, but fairly obscure to most Americans. We would imagine that Bergdorf Goodman's or Barneys' insider-y customers, for example, would be far more receptive to a Birtwell collection, at a much higher quality level, of course.
We have to admit that Express is one of those stores that we never enter. There never appears to be anything inside of interest, and now that we've crossed their threshold we realize that our instinct was pretty much correct. Potentially, that may change. Now operating under a new owner, Express made a misstep with this line, but it wasn't really in the wrong direction. Hopefully, this won't discourage them from trying the other new ideas this chain desperately needs. Maybe in a few years, their customers will be ready for something more esoteric.
Celia Birtwell for Express (Retail Site)
Celia Birtwell (Official Site)