23-Sep, 11:08

04:31, June 27 112 0

2017-06-27 04:31:02
Critical Shopper: Shopping Without Instagram: It’s Full of Surprises

Juoksentelisinkohan is a Finnish word that, when punctuated with a question mark, translates to “I wonder if I should run around aimlessly?” Retail is increasingly a space for brand experience more than actual commerce. But brand-as-destination requires established familiarity. Successful stores are not really about discovery.

I’m headed to two new stores in NoLIta: Ulla Johnson, a New York label, and Samuji, a Finnish company with its first store in the United States. “They’re everywhere” is the enthusiastic response when I ask friends about the labels.

This is an everywhere I no longer see; I deleted my Instagram almost a year ago. Algorithms connect us quickly to whichever brands align with our aesthetic; it has become less likely to like something by surprise.

Eventually, those algorithms will be in our heads. Sometimes, I think we’re the last people who will be able to put down our devices, who will be able to ask, “I wonder if I should run around aimlessly?”

I shop without looking at either brand’s Instagram page, as aimless as I can get with an assigned shopping trip. To enter Samuji, I push on a rough-cut piece of Finnish granite fastened to the door bar. Minimal but beautiful, carefully carved to look organic, somehow more the essence of granite than if it were actually just a piece of raw granite — this is the essence of the brand, and you can’t enter the store without being in physical contact with it.

Samuji was founded in 2009 by Samu-Jussi Koski, who had worked as the creative director of the Finnish textile and design house Marimekko. Textiles are a huge part of the label. Of course, I don’t know this when I enter; I just notice that the clothes use a lot of fabric. They’re roomy. Tented with a few well-placed sticks, many of the pieces could easily be actual rooms. I’m tempted to buy a pair of silky rust-colored cupro trousers ($450), truly the most A-line garment I’ve ever seen, just so I can experience wearing them while standing over a subway grate.

I try them on with a matching robe jacket with deep pockets ($460). I’m dressed to give a lecture on lava flows at the University of Helsinki. I also try on another set: a boxy pale green skirt suit that yawns away from my body. There’s something stoic and trustworthy about this aesthetic — clean lines, cut wide, modest and precise. There’s humor in how utterly flappable they are.

The store itself is minimal, and lines are key: Smooth birch panels form the ceiling, and large stone tiles cover the floor. The walls are covered with a clean straw grid. Two shelves in the back of the store are filled with the company’s housewares (called Koti, which means “home” in Finnish). Delicate and handmade, each piece looks special enough to sit alone on a mantel — even a tea towel, a hand-carved wooden spoon or a piece of Kikoi lava stone on a gray rope, which I learn is actually for scrubbing your feet.

Doll-like ceramics by the Finnish artist Jenni Tuominen stare out with black dot eyes ($800). They have an eerie appeal: If your kindergartner brought one home, you would be creeped out, but here, they look as if they summon the kind of specters who open your kitchen cabinets, like in “The Sixth Sense,” except they reorganize your glassware.

At Ulla Johnson, I enter the store by pushing on a bronze cowrie sculpture (by Rogan Gregory), which serves as the door handle. Whereas the clothes at Samuji are the shape of the dress in the women’s bathroom pictogram, the clothes at Ulla Johnson are scalloped and ruffled. The interior is also full of trimmings: There’s a woolly stool, a knotted rope wall hanging and a sconce in the dressing room trimmed with tiered fringe.

The entryway has huge floral arrangements, and many of the pieces look as if they’re blooming. I try on a hand-crocheted shirt ($897) with little white flowers in the netting. Like many of the garments in the store, it is handmade.

I try on a chambray shirt with a grosgrain ribbon at the collar and cross-stitched flowers ($230), and pair it with wide-legged overalls ($380). I look not as much ready to ride a horse as to sit in an expensive chair and tell a writer from a website how much ranch culture inspires me. I also try on a patchwork shirt that swoops and ties ($357), as well as a white dress with eyelets that looks like one of the many white outfits Miley Cyrus wears in her “Malibu” music video.

I wouldn’t ordinarily wear a dress like this, but for some reason I do. I decide it reminds me a little bit of a stack of napkins tied up with a string. I can picture taking them out of a wooden chest and setting a table, possibly in a Finnish kitchen. My mind is running around aimlessly, which I guess means this dress inspires me. For me, this almost only happens when something I normally wouldn’t like surprises me.