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Zara Mania Hits Sydney

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'Zara mania' has swept our fair city of Sydney. Since the Spanish retail giant opened its doors for Tuesday's official opening, its debut on Australian turf, the scene outside the three-level store in Westfield Sydney has been pandemonium. Opening night saw hundreds of VIPs queuing (an oxymoron in itself) for hours, business district traffic at a standstill and, when I surveyed yesterday morning's papers, a whole five days later, not a lot had changed. Zara, no last name required, was still the word on everyone's lips.

As a friend sitting opposite me wearing a green and navy striped Zara top, strikingly like that first master-minded by Miuiccia Prada for SS 11, reminded me the night after the opening; it's price that is driving the hysteria. "You can buy a tank-top for $16 or a trench coat for just over $250," she regurgitated like she was on staff. "Now that's hardly a big investment." To put this in perspective for anyone who doesn't understand the parity, Sydney is an expensive city and $16 will only just buy you a brand-name burger and a coke.

In what is a promising sign for the Melbourne store billed to open in June, Zara spokesman Jesús Echevarría admitted last week that the fast-fashion launch has been one of the most successful of the 79 countries worldwide, and that the product can promise its own Australian flavour. "Eighty-five per cent of Zara's Australian merchandise has been either adapted for or tailored specifically to the Australian market," he reported. 
"Every week you are receiving two lines per week, items that are based on the decisions of three weeks earlier, that the customers took."

But Zara is just one of the international mid-tier brands heading down under. Gap arrived last year -- to a mixed reception -- and we're soon to see the arrival of Uniqlo and Victoria's Secret. While we're a small market over here in the antipodes, my father-in-law (an economist) will tell you that we've done a good job of escaping the global financial crisis plaguing the rest of the world and this makes us look like promised land to the international retail opportunists. Despite this, ABS statistics showing that retail is down 2.3 per cent since January, have forced many to predict some interesting changes in the retail market.

If I've seen a shift in the advent of Zara's arrival, it's that retailers are up for the challenge; investing more energy into design and quality and that ultimately, the shopper wins out. Also in the weekend paper was a write-up of a RUSSH collaboration with SABA (an Australian, family-owned retailer that has been around for almost 50 years), where our stylists worked with their designers in a cool twist for the old brand. Then there's Portmans, who surprised shoppers with some clever marketing and made headlines with Abbey Lee Kershaw as their poster-girl, just as Sportsgirl did by bringing ex-Cerutti designer Richard Nicoll to do a line, as well as bringing blogger Susie Bubble out here to blog for Rosemount Australian Fashion Week.

Of all the Zara coverage over the weekend it was a quote by Vogue Australia editor Kirstie Clements that I felt surmised the hype. "It has brought Sydney up in the world," she's reported to have said at the VIP opening.

Zara or no Zara, call me biased but I see Sydney as on the fashion map regardless. As to whether it is worth queuing for. I'll let you know. The last time I stood in a queue was for a hamburger, even if it did cost me $16. Fast-food or fast-fashion; I suppose it's a taste thing.