Shop Talk

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Indy Lifestyle Online
HOW CLEVER of the Japanese to turn their love of designer labels inside out, and create a trendy shop - Muji - which sells itself as stocking "no-brand quality goods".

Labels are inescapable in Japan, whether you're buying a pair of socks or a new bento box. But Muji is above such things, with aluminium fountain pens and dark jumpers that bear no hint of their maker's hand. Yet Muji's look is nothing if not distinctive. Everything from the work aprons its staff wear, to the rows of functional packets of food on its shelves, is branded with a simplicity bordering on plainness - and it is this that appeals to the current British passion for all things minimal.

Muji is doing well over here; so well in fact that this year will see the biggest expansion of its UK retail outlets since it opened its first store in London in 1991. Muji was one of the first retailers to take up a site at the new Trafford Centre near Manchester; and on 28 November, the label of choice from the cities of the East is coming to the Western metropolis of Kingston-upon-Thames, in Surrey.

Customers in the south can expect all the usual Muji merchandise. Its furniture is ideal when home furnishing is a bit of a squeeze - tall, narrow bookcases and funky, clear plastic storage units are de rigeur in the apartment warrens of Japanese urban sprawl - and Muji stationery is the pick of the bunch, offering everything from pencils (from pounds 1.95) to personal organisers (from pounds 2.95). The business-like hole-punch (pounds 2.95) looks like something from the Ministry of Thought Control's stock and, if you're thinking of travelling on business, pounds 3.50 will buy you an aluminium case for those all-important cards.

Despite its aggressive minimalism, however, there is an uniquely Eastern aspect to Muji design. The simplicity and bold horizontal lines are as traditionally Japanese as reen tea. And at a time when Japanese teenagers will wear anything with a British motto scrawled across the front, it's ironic that Muji has cashed in on Western tastes for designer "kanji" - the characters of the Japanese "alphabet" - and all things Eastern.

Sam Wallace

The new Muji store is at Unit F3, The Bentall Centre, Wood Street, Kingston- upon-Thames (stockists 0171 323 2208)

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