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April 6, 2007

Shopping Music: How Stores Get You To Spend

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"A lot of how we shop rests on how the store makes us feel, and how it enhances our self-perception. Music plays a big role in that," says Laura Paquet, author of The Urge To Splurge. So what does it say about the Ann Taylor shopper that the sounds are provided by Musak, once a synonym for predigested kitsch-by-committee? "That's history, with no bearing on Musak today," laughs Dave Keller, creative director of what is now known in their culture as "audio architecture." He explains that once music in public spaces moved from the background to the foreground, Musak evolved with it. "My people are hip, tuned-in music freaks," he insists.

The clothes here are about sym-metry: crisp basics in brown and black, and Musak has customized the music with the same across-the-board appeal in mind (other clients include Armani Exchange, DKNY, and Liz Claiborne). "The artists are mostly female," the store's affable manager tells me. "When male, they must be singing about love or getting dumped." This month's recipe: Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Annie Lennox, and Dido, along with the occasional SoCal classic from Fleetwood Mac. That is, folk stylings with verses as neatly arranged as the merch.

But Keller doesn't see what he does as a science. "That has Pavlovian implications. It's not, 'Play Madonna and they will salivate.' It's more of a design process," he says-before adding somewhat cryptically, "We understand the essential attributes of the Ann Taylor brand, and we support and amplify what goes on in the store."

The rebirth of the outdoorsy casual-wear label is totally incarnated by the in-store experience, which is equal parts Mayfair gentlemen's club and nightclub at full-tilt boogie.The exclusive feel of the bitter-chocolate walls, potted palms, and overhanging moose head already makes me want to spend big. A Mark Beard mural snakes around the entire ground floor, conjuring the homoerotic languor of Brides-head Revisted. It's all Oxbridge privilege: nude swimming, punt races, and the fleeting, sepulchral beauty of boys in boaters. This visual is underscored by the fat, wet bass line that fills the store with energy, sucking people in off the street. Over a slick Pet Shop Boys remix, a handsome shop assistant with an irony-fro assures me, "There's always a thumping beat."

The vibe is a booster shot for the clothes. Denim so distressed it's distraught; hooded sweats and sentinel shirts that can take you from couch potato to street stroll. The store teems with clean-cut 20-somethings, teens, and the credit-card-carrying parents who love them. While the music bounces off the walls, the knit tees fly out the door.

This Is A Developing Story
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