By  on November 24, 2004

LONDON — The customers who waited through the cold, wet night for the opening of Europe’s first Apple flagship on London’s Regent Street Saturday, said it all: Apple is an American brand in a country in which anti-Bush sentiment runs high, but its power transcends personalities and politics.

With products like the iPod Mini, the eMac and a user-friendly retail concept, Apple struck a blow for technology in the ongoing competition with fashion and other sectors in the battle for disposable income in Europe. Apple enters the fray on the heels of another American iconic brand that has staked a claim in Europe: Ralph Lauren, which has continued to draw sizable crowds of its own at a new 16,000 square foot flagship in Milan.

Apple’s European flagship — and largest store at 24,000 square feet — debuted to more than 5,000 people, primarily teens, and twenty- and thirtysomethings, many of whom had slept in tents and sleeping bags on sidewalks left damp by rain.

“I’ve been here since midnight to try and be one of the first 300 customers through the doors so I can get the bag of Apple products,” said 19-year-old Lisa Wilson, who works at a printing company here. “I don’t think people’s feelings about U.S. politics would stop them buying a brand like Apple. You don’t associate Apple with George Bush.”

The temptations on Apple’s opening day were many: The first 300 people to enter the store at 235 Regent Street were able to buy “lucky bags” for $460 (249 pounds) that contained mystery merchandise valued at $1,295 (700 pounds), including red-hot iPods. The first 2,500 people received free T-shirts. On Sunday, the band Steriogram performed live at the store; about 200 people lined up before the beginning of the second day.

An Apple spokesman declined to release sales figures for the opening weekend at the store, which drew some visitors from abroad.

Peter Preac, 26, who works in desktop publishing, traveled from Sweden to shop at the new store. “I’ve been here since 9:30 p.m. [Friday] night….U.S. politics wouldn’t stop me buying Apple products,” he said.The store features the building’s original stone façade with an interior design similar to those at the New York and Tokyo Apple stores: Stainless steel, glass and stone, including a dramatic staircase and Genius Bar, where shoppers can get questions answered by Apple experts.

Apple isn’t stopping at Regent Street: Next year the company plans to open stores in Birmingham and Bluewater, a major shopping center in Kent, outside London.

Market analysts said the company has transcended its American identity.

“If anything, Apple has always been perceived as the underdog to Microsoft, and it has used that to its advantage,” said Simon Dyson, a senior analyst at Informa Media, which publishes business reports on the telecommunications and television industries. “Although, with about 3 percent of computer sales worldwide, Apple isn’t exactly a small player.

“The iPod especially has transcended the whole anti-American thing,” Dyson said. “I don’t think any analyst would have predicted iPod global shipments rising from 860,000 to more than 2 million in the last quarter.”

Rita Clifton, chairman of Interbrand, a London-based international brand consultancy that measures and quantifies the financial value of brands, said Apple’s brand equity has gone through the roof during the past year, fueled by the iPod. “It’s the fastest-growing name in our 100 Most Valuable Brands list and has had the most significant increase in brand equity,” she said.

And while Apple does embody American entrepreneurial drive, Clifton pointed out it reflects a British influence, stemming from Jonathan Ive, Apple’s British vice president of industrial design.

“I don’t think it connects with American-ness much at all,” Clifton said. “One of the joys of Apple is it’s so simple and understandable in its language and its design. The computers suit the human hand, the human eye.”

— With contributions from Nina Jones

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