CITY Magazine
 

TECH: BABES IN TOYLAND

Is that an iPod in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? Mae West could never have dreamed that would become the pick-up line of choice in the newest place to see and be seen. The Apple store. By Keith Allison. Illustration by Julia Rothman.

There’s a word: sacrifice. That’s what I’m willing to do - put it all on the line in the name of getting the story. So when someone says to me, "Have you seen the people that go to the Apple store?" referring to Apple’s flagship SoHo location in New York City and the unusually high number of hip, hot customers, I’m willing to stand around in the store "doing research" until employees tell me to leave.

So here I stand, thinking to myself, yeah, we all know the usual places: bars, nightclubs, the gym, those dog runs in the park, but the computer store? Hey man, this isn’t TRON.

And yet one step inside the immaculate store, conceived and designed by Steve Jobs and the Apple creative team in conjunction with architects Ronnette Riley (New York City) and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (Berkeley) says it all. This is a whole new world, one where interactive chats and flirting have been taken offline and placed back in the real world. Initiating a conversation is as simple as turning to the surprisingly attractive person at the computer next to you and asking, "What’s on your iPod?" Who would have guessed? Even if you can’t turn your computer on, just visit the store. I do, and I have a PC. It’s just that PC stores don’t have the same curves.

So how did this happen? I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time in CompUSA over the years, but there was never anything like this. And Apple fever isn’t just an American phenomenon. A Tokyo location in the Ginza District emulates the buzzworthy SoHo store, and a London store promises to draw posh Brits into its slick white surrounds. How does an electronics company become a cultural icon and a symbol of all that is fashionably cutting edge? What brings these people here, the reason you don’t get this mix of hipsters, models, families, gadget geeks, and artists at any other store, is Apple’s fusion of design, technology, and lifestyle.

It all seems so obvious in retrospect: make computers easier to use; make them nicer to look at; make them appeal less to the hardcore computer whizzes and more to the artists. Apple isn’t just selling technology; they’ve created an entire lifestyle concept, one that appeals to people you don’t normally find passing time in computer stores. Apple ought to consider stocking their "Genius Bar" help desk with top-shelf liquor to make a proper lounge out of it. There’d be lines around the block.

Wait, there already are, every time a new product comes out. We’ve come to expect long lines to see a Star Wars movie, or to get William Shatner’s autograph. We brace ourselves for similar waits at swank new eateries (generally with fewer people dressed as wizards and Klingons). But it’s far less common to stumble across a line snaking around the block and discover everyone’s queuing up for the release of a new operating system.

Of course, location is a plus as well. From the start, Apple has been careful to choose spots in swish, high-traffic shopping areas rather than relegating their stores to suburban strip malls. For the SoHo store, it doesn’t hurt that several modeling agencies are right around the corner and that intimidatingly pretty people frequently pop in to check …

 

Hmm. Where was I? Sorry, distracted by a bit of in-store research. You know, this is the sort of thing that gets a lad in trouble with his girlfriend, so I certainly wouldn’t want her finding out that … Hey, wait a second. Isn’t that her over there checking out the David Beckham lookalike at the G5?

So you have models. You have artists and students and hipsters. But it’s not just the customers who set the bar higher than ever before for the sexiness of a tech store (Not that the bar was very high to begin with; Jeff Goldblum was about as scintillating as it got). The Apple store staff all look like they just wandered in from practice with a local indie rock band. And they actually appear happy to be here.

It’s not so much that the beauty of the clientele matches the beauty of the store; it’s the hipness and sophistication of the store that matches the customers. Over there is a guy with Elvis chops and gold sunglasses, and coming through the door is a woman with a ridiculously groomed little dog. Even the pets here are hip.

Says Alina, a film student at New York University who uses a Mac for desktop editing and who was loitering in the store next to me, "I came in one day and Iman was standing at one of the computers having her picture taken." It’s just as likely you’ll find David Bowie in the iPod section encouraging people to download his music. Lars Ulrich? He’d be standing outside demanding to know what’s on your iPod, but not in the same way as the people inside.

Pop in. It’ll make your head spin. Supermodels, rock stars, and film students; designers and architects; families and tourists; and dogs with funny poofy tufts of hair. Even weird loners with opera binoculars.

Hold on. That’s me. Scratch that one.

 
 
 
 
   
   
   
 

Taken from CITY magazine, issue 32, The Many Facets of Luxury, November/December 2004
Illustration by Julia Rothman.

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