19th Dec 2022
Ditching the internet for the pleasure of physical shopping is the only retail therapy that makes sense to Suzie Coen this winter.
If the restrictions of Covid showed us anything, it’s the exact nature of the handful of activities each of us really, desperately needs, if we are to feel alive, invigorated, like ourselves. Besides hanging out with people I like, it turns out that physical shopping is right up there for me. In fact, it’s my number one hobby. Does that make me superficial? Shallow? All surface, no substance, all things, no soul? It shouldn’t. I’m not talking about the mindless acquisition of stuff. I’m not talking about filling my small house with superfluous goodies in the hope that some of them will take the edge off my existential ennui. No, I’m talking about a passion for the physical act of shopping. The endless, gorgeous thrill of just being in the shops. The ritual and the joy of them, the three-dimensional, multi-faceted glory, the potency and the atmosphere.
Don’t get me wrong – I do some shopping online. I like the convenience, the variety and the fact that it doesn’t feel like spending actual money (okay, so maybe that’s a bad thing…). But making online purchases has become an algorithm-driven, frictionless experience of terrifying efficiency and it’s completely devoid of any experiential pleasure. There are also only so many times one can stand holding a returns package in a post office queue before turning into Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Because real-world shopping is so much more than merely consuming, merely identifying a thing we need and clicking it into existence. It’s about getting out, looking at unexpected windows, checking out the neighbourhood and making random contact with people, attitudes, conversations and trends. It’s touching, feeling, trying and being; it’s a show, an all-singing, all-dancing glittering spectacular and we, the real-world shoppers, are its cast. The best shopping experiences are a gesture of optimism, a source of joy. It’s about skipping from cold pavements to warm, inviting spaces and the potent promise of a new look. It’s that feeling when you see freshly reconfigured Christmas shop windows for the first time, the shimmering theatre sets representing a moment of festive celebration. It’s wandering around listed buildings, enjoying how their history and architecture clashes against and melds with the newness of the fashion and interior design statements.
“Real-world shopping is so much more than merely consuming, merely identifying a thing we need and clicking it into existence.”
A good department store floor has a giddy effect on me. I’m never not seduced by the access to couture, the seasonal pop-ups, the cult collabs, the emerging brands. The right fabric draped in the right way over a mannequin makes my heart contract. It prompts me to hold new pieces (recently, some swishy sequins) up against me “just to see”, hogging the full-length mirror in the middle of the floor (all the while ignoring that other woman loitering not entirely patiently in my peripheral vision, her own “just-to-see” piece clutched to her chest, as she waits for me to jog on, so she can do exactly what it is that I was doing). Can I afford to buy most of what I see? No. But I’m not there for the purchase, solely. I’m there for the experience. Shops are facilitators of tactile delight and certain items have caught my imagination so intensely that I’ve felt the need to see them again and again. Like returning to marvel at my favourite art in a museum, I’ve often found myself saying I’m off to “visit” a magnificent bag or a lust-worthy pair of shoes – there was a pair of Bottega Veneta Lug boots in Brown Thomas that I was essentially going out with for several months last year. What I love most of all, though, is browsing in local boutiques and inspiring independent stores; perfectly curated mini universes designed to charm and excite. It’s retail with soul, powered by owners and staff full of vision, passion and knowledge.
My favourite haunts know my style and my name and just how to reassure and steer. It’s bliss.
Shops matter hugely to me. They are where I go to get involved in my own aesthetic, of course. But they’re also where I go to get involved with everything and everyone else. Real-world shopping is a social experience all about plugging into a vibrant industry fuelled by brilliant creatives who set the scene: the interior architects who design the spaces, the people who devise the playlists, the visual displays teams, and also the other shoppers. Who are they, what do they like, what are they about to buy, even though they keep saying they really, really don’t need it? What are they hoping for, excited for? It’s all there, in the way they move and pause and compare and exclaim. It is never not revealing, intriguing, mesmerising. It’s why shopping in real life is the greatest show on earth.
Photography by Kevin Dowling on Unsplash.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of IMAGE Magazine, on shelves now. If you cannot find the latest issue in your local shop, make sure to visit image.ie/magazine to buy your copy and have it delivered to your door, anywhere in the world.