Magnificent, minimalist MUJI opens its doors in the U.S.

Roberto Cavalli at H&M, thankfully, this was not.

A patient gaggle of people stood outside in the cold, waiting for America’s first MUJI to open its doors to the public. The workers and executives inside, sensing the well-behaved shoppers’ enthusiasm, decided to let them in shortly before 11 a.m., more than an hour before its scheduled opening time.

It’s a far cry from catfights over limited-edition animal print clothing, but the latest branch of the veritable Japanese design chain is neither temporary nor undignified. MUJI finally opened its first U.S. store – its 73rd overseas branch – in New York, a city whose previous exposure to the chain came in small offerings at stores like the Museum of Modern Art Design Store and the East Village’s Air Market.

MUJI takes pride in being a brand without having to push said brand, as none of the products at their stores display a noticeable company label or imprint.

“MUJI was formed in 1980 based on the concept of reducing the wastes and frills of products,” executive Masanoru Foruta said at the store’s press conference prior to the grand opening. MUJI limits the amount of materials used in its offerings, which have grown over the years from 40 to more than 7,000 items. Many are adorned by just a small adhesive label, clear plastic wrapping or – in rare cases – thin cardboard boxes.

Given the limited retail space in Manhattan, the 3,200-sq. ft. SoHo store more than carries its own, showcasing about one-third of MUJI’s total inventory. Many items are well-suited for New York’s shoebox studio apartments, with products ranging from cookware to clothing to electric appliances to furniture, such as beds and a very comfortable “Mold Urethane Sofa.” Some of the more unusual items include portable ashtrays, gadgets to build your own pens and Japanese Tabi socks. Retail prices are not far off from the original Japanese yen price tags, with the cheapest items running at just $1.

What the SoHo store doesn’t carry (yet) are food and beverages due to the challenges of keeping these imported goods fresh. Also missing from the lone New York store – the second U.S. MUJI is scheduled to open in Midtown Manhattan in April 2008 – are washing machines, bicycles, a Meal MUJI restaurant, a rotating art exhibit…but, well, shoppers will just have to travel to the massive flagship in Tokyo for all of that.

However, what the SoHo store does have is an ongoing “My Bag” promotion. Free to the first 500 shoppers throughout the weekend (and just $1 from Nov. 19 onward), the reusable cream-colored tote bag entitles owners to special “15% off discount shopping nights” and frequent-buyer stamp programs.

The MUJI SoHo store is located just several blocks away from its fellow Japanese import, the fabulous three-floor clothing store Uniqlo, at 455 Broadway. Store hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Mondays to Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

Some products to watch for:

A number of items sit atop a handwoven luncheon mat ($4.25), which is machine-washable, available in a variety of colors and has matching coasters. Packages of 12 miniature candles ($5.25) come in several dual fragrances, including a soothing eucalyptus and lavender. Each candle lasts 4 to 5 hours. MUJI’s comfortable clothing includes this women’s cotton stretch shirt with decorative buttons ($12.25). Finally, 2008 is just around the corner, so start planning ahead of time with an olefin cover schedule ($9.75) available in white, black and red.
photo by Yuan-Kwan Chan


This lightweight sponge soap dish ($3.50) has to be one of the coolest designs in the store. The sponge sits on top of the plastic tray and curves inward to hold a full-sized bar, avoiding what used to be the inevitable soap scum.
photo by Yuan-Kwan Chan

And finally…

If you make your way out to Tokyo, go straight to the multiple-floor MUJI Mothership in Marunouchi, part of which is pictured here. Good luck getting that bike through customs…
photo by Yuan-Kwan Chan