Real lives: No, I don't want to Just Do It, thank you
LOUISE FRANCE doesn't own a pair of trainers. Weird, eh? We sent her to Britain's first NikeTown, which opened yesterday, to see if it could sort her out
Sunday 18 July 1999
Indeed, it's a fair indication of my interest in all things sports footwear that should someone proudly show me a pair of spanking new trainers my response is to panic and blurt out something along the lines of: "Oh look! What a lovely pair of, er, pumps you have."
Logically it follows that I am not a great player of sport. Following an embarrassing experience when I slipped flat on my back in the school showers at the age of 14, I vowed never to enter a changing room again. I do not run, or jump, or even Fosbury Flop. The last time I rode a bike I fell off.
So I was like Thora Hird at a line dance competition last week when I visited NikeTown, the new Nike shop at Oxford Circus in the centre of London. Personally, I hadn't heard of NikeTowns but by all accounts they are a pretty big deal in the States where the first store opened in 1990. There are now 11 branches across America and one in Berlin. The Oxford Circus branch, which opened its doors this weekend, is only the second in Europe.
It's taken two-and-a-half years to build and more money than you can chuck a tennis ball at. (Sadly, Nike is not giving out official figures.) But calling NikeTown a "shop" is like calling the Beatles "a cute four- man guitar combo". As you walk through the main doors, there is a sense that you are walking into some kind of hallowed place. A veritable temple to trainers, a palace for pumps.
I was wearing a pair of Birkenstocks for my guided tour. Indeed, there's the rub. For Nike is having to face up to the fact that trainers are no longer the must-have footwear for a generation. Last year it reported its first slide in profits for 13 years. For as soon as dads started wearing them to B&Q on a Saturday, the younger market turned elsewhere. Now we're wearing all kinds of shoes from itsy bitsy kitten heels with very useful plastic cherries on the straps to Timberland walking boots. And our trainers (or rather your trainers since I never had any) are left quietly mouldering away at the back of the hall cupboard.
Which is all rather problematic when you've got precisely 49,000 pairs of the bloody things in the stock cupboard. Wisely then Nike is flogging its merchandise by promoting sport. When you enter the store and walk through the atrium - a domed space called a "decompression zone" which Nike hopes will become a meeting point for athletic clubs - you see the words `To all athletes and the dreams they chase, we dedicate NikeTown, London" emblazoned across the wall.
Walking around the 69,000 square metres of shop - and that's a lot of walking, let me tell you - there's a sense that Nike's attempting to elevate sport (and surely by extension shopping) into something spiritual. NikeTown is a shrine to sportsmen and women. Every 20 minutes the blinds go down electronically and a 360 degree video screen starts up with mini films about sporting heroes. Frankly, it's all a tad Orwellian. Around every corner there are rousing aphorisms and slogans encouraging you to wash your smelly PE kit and run up and down a lot while wearing, naturally, top-to-toe Nike.
Not that they haven't been creative in the way they've designed the store. The main space has been sectioned off into mini streets and specially designed buildings which ape the London skyline. Each department is cleverly designed with the specific sport in mind. The Men's Football dept, for instance, is carpeted in artificial turf. In Men's Tennis the sounds of balls being thwacked and blokes grunting as they serve are piped through the PA system. In Men's Running there are glass cases exhibiting each generation of trainer. Frankly this bit went over my head. Suffice I'm told they're a lot better than they used to be.
The women's section is the biggest women's sports department in Europe - "not a mere peach add on" as the Nike spokesperson says. Like the men's bit, each enclave is dedicated to a different sport. Nike is doing research into why girls stop doing sport when they reach their teens - this obviously struck a chord with me. I almost told the Nike spokesperson about the shower incident but thought better of it.
As you leave through the main atrium the words "Go Run! Go Jump! Go Play!" can be read along the tops of the double doors. How About A Nice Cup Of Tea? would have been more my style, I have to admit. Then just when I thought it was all over, I had a memorable moment on the street outside. For what should I find slap bang next door to the souped-up, all-singing, all-dancing NikeTown? A branch of the outsize clothing store Evans. Now, that's what I call a shop.
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