If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll never find Lululemon’s latest store. There is no sign out front, just the brand’s logo — a stylized “A” — which subtly signals to the right people that they have arrived in the land of $98 leggings.
Lululemon is not the first upscale exercise apparel (or “athleisure”) store to open on the stretch of Fifth Avenue just south of the Flatiron building; the area is so crowded with them that Well + Good magazine dubbed it the “Fitness District.” But at 11,500 square feet, this new flagship store is the brand’s largest, and it offers more than just highly designed sportswear.
On the first floor, a “fitness concierge” can help book you into whatever exercise class you want (when I was there, she was helping a couple get into a popular SoulCycle class in Soho). Plenty of athleisure is also for sale here, tucked neatly into dressers and swinging from racks. Elaborate sports bras with more straps than necessary are $54; a “Think Fast” hoodie was $98.
Downstairs is a type of fitness-oriented WeWork space called “Hub Seventeen.” Fit millennials clacked steadily on their Apple laptops on large desks, enjoying the store’s free Wifi and sipping complimentary tea and water. A huge studio space behind the tables will soon be used for yoga classes.
On a Tuesday afternoon, the store was packed with shoppers grabbing at the wares. This heavy traffic during the week may seem unusual, but the Lululemon customer is someone who can spend her Tuesday afternoons shopping for her Physique 57 classes. She does not work; she works out.
I own exactly one item of clothing from Lululemon; a very flattering top I bought on sale that I hoped would make me want to exercise. The one time I wore it to barre class, though, I felt supremely uncomfortable. The shirt bestowed upon me an identity I did not deserve, that of a person who spends her free time lifting weights. My unfit body did not live up to the shirt, a secret that became obvious the moment I failed to do a plank. It was doubly embarrassing: I wasn’t good at exercise, but I was wearing clothing that said I took it seriously.
On the other hand, my boyfriend was a varsity cross-country runner in college, and when he exercises, he throws on a freebie T-shirt and an old pair of shorts. He doesn’t need athleisure to feel fit because he actually is fit.
Lululemon is not for people like him, it is for people like me. People who don’t like to exercise but for whatever reason feel like they should. The brand allows anyone to buy the feeling of being fit, and it works wonderfully up until the moment you step foot into a gym.
Because no matter what logo you’re wearing, it’s not going to help you power through 90 seconds of chair pose; for that, you need real muscle.