Famima!! The Premium Experience??

Famima!!Famima!! is this space age general store that is making its way out west–somewhat literally: the first one in the area was in West Hollywood and the Westwood one just opened. Apparently, it’s the first U.S. wave of a popular Japanese mart and it is destined to be a cult hit as a lifestyle store if they play it right. To experience it, though, you’d think it was a Western ironic take on Japanese pop; it’s perfect–a little too perfect. It has that non-threatening Sanrio aesthetic with iconic hieroglyphics, neon green trim and mellow sans-serif fonts. The signage tends to that wacky awkwardly translated cross-cultural stuff that was funny for 5 minutes in the 80’s (think Yakov Smirnov or Michael Keaton’s classic paean to the House of the Rising Sun, Gung Ho). The Famima!! U.S. website certainly feels designed for maximum Engrish laughs, with crude robo-speak descriptions and crass financial aspirations on display. But even after squinting at it intently, I can’t be sure that it is in fact a take or the real thing. (I went so far as to confirm that the domain is registered in California.) But these are the times we live in; serious information slipping in as an ironic take on serious information. Or is it that these times are so cynical that the default posture is to assume irony is in play first and always? Always checking the palm of the hand that is extended to us for shock buzzers before shaking it. Damn, you Graydon Carter! You promised irony was dead! But enough angst. On to The Premium Experience of Famima!!

Panini + CiggiesThe bricks & mortar itself is some kind of 7-11/Urban Outfitters hybrid, targeting hipster consumers with disposable cash. Design is the emphasis; utility is secondary; customer service, a distant third. The fixtures are that dark wood/stainless steel combo moderne that is quickly becoming cliche. There aren’t so much aisles as there are rectangular product droids arranged at right angles. Golden signs dangle atop of each of these clutters beaming abstract iconography that clarifies nothing. The product selection is a calculated cross-section of eccentric urban hipster tastes. (I can’t help but think of some monster computer somewhere in a dark corner of Silicon Valley outputting consumer habit data that says Customer A who buys X also buys Y) The prepared foods (panini sands, pasta plates, sushi six-packs) in their see-thru containers are upfront, but look unappetizingly perfectly formed, as if stamped out of gummi candy. Blue chip Americana (Heinz, Listerine) anchors a haphazard product assortment of imported novelty products, both eatable and non-eatable. Cool Eurostyle note pads, Che Guevara lip balm (for the revolutionary with chapped lips, I guess), incense, Lays, Mochi ice cream, Marlboros, individually wrapped slices of breads. One of those Kodak digipic stations. And a wall-length cooler with a veritable psychedelic tapestry of all manner of cooled tasty beverage, domestic and imported, fizzy and flat, energy drinks, green teas coolers, vitamin waters, coffee blends, diet papaya pomegranate guarna Vitamin C enriched green tea protein energy liquid food. You get the idea.

’"Aisles"’ Famima!! calls itself as The Premium Experience, but really is anything but. In fact the over(mis)use of the word feels starts to feel like a running joke. (Reminds me of the young Ukrainian guy in Everything Is Illuminated who drops “premium” as his choice English adjective for all things good.) The newly hired help is understandably finding their way around the corporate protocols, but I don’t see how they can enhance the experience to the premium level unless they carry your damn basket for you while you select items. soupandsand And how does a consumer contest whether or not they received an experience, much less a premium one? Is this the new bait-and-switch? If we say it, then it is. The food then. The lunch was fairly unpremium: passable turkey panini that’s on par with your better hospital cafes with a soup (Tomato Roasted Garlic, theoretically) that’s some sub-Campbell’s flavorless gruel. I didn’t go for any of the prepared food modules, but I am pretty certain they will not result in a premium experience, unless, of course, ironically.