It’s not often that a brand new format opens, and when it’s an overseas retailer it’s unlikely London will be the chosen destination.
Address 256-258 Regent Street, London W1B
Opened March 8
Ambience Backstage at a fashion show
Reason for visiting Cut-price design
Yet in spite of its Swedish headquarters, H&M seems to be making a habit of choosing the UK capital to unveil something new. The last time this happened was when Cos, the grown-up format from H&M, arrived on Regent Street, and since then Cos has become a relatively common sight in big European cities.
And just a couple of weeks ago, H&M chose Regent Street once more as the destination for something new and this time it’s called & Other Stories. For those who thought that naming a store after a lettuce was idiosyncratic, this must appear an even stranger choice of name, but at the opening night party on the 8th of this month, it seemed to have little effect on the number of people eager to get through the doors.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
Like Cos, & Other Stories flatters to deceive. At first glance this looks like the kind of place where the VM has been carried out almost as an afterthought, such is its rough and ready nature. However, on close inspection this is a very carefully constructed piece of interior landscaping with nothing left to chance, from beauty ranges at the back of the ground floor to the multiple runner rails around the perimeter walls with signage and price tags attached by clips. There are formal displays in the windows and mid-shop, but they are simple body forms arranged in groups on louvred plinths. Creating this kind of artful simplicity is not straightforward and making it appealing is even more difficult, but & Other Stories does it well.
02 - CONCEPT
The underlying idea shoppers are presented with is that they’ve stumbled backstage at a fashion show and there are rails of clothing to change into scattered around, and a workshop feel to the beauty displays. There is an additional element insofar as the ranges are split into four discrete parts: Stockholm, Berlin, Paris and New York. Whether the customer is aware of this division is a moot point, but the rough-and-ready nature of a before-curtain-up interior does seem apparent.
03 - SERVICE
The service is almost invisible until you reach the cash desk and there isn’t much wrong with this as a modus operandi inasmuch as it’s pretty much the H&M way. If you do need help, it is on hand if you can find a member of staff, but although the prices on the tickets may be higher than H&M aficionados are used to, the low-cost service model is still applied. This does mean the occasional sense of frustration, but it also carries the benefit of being able to browse in a relatively uninterrupted manner.
04 - PRODUCT
And here’s the rub. Most of the items in this store are very good, not just in terms of styling but also value for money. The problem comes when you are told that certain areas of the shop represent the style and attitude of a particular city. On enquiry, a number of shoppers were quite unable to discern anything that made, say, a particular pair of shoes, represent the kind of thing that might be worn in Berlin, rather than New York. That said, a strong design element runs through most of the offer.
05 - COMPETITION
The question that has to be asked about & Other Stories is who is it for? Sitting somewhere in the H&M order of things between Cos and the core chain, this is an offer that may be curious in terms of targeting, principally because it is so niche. Whichever spot it does occupy, it has plenty of competition in and around the Regent Street/ Oxford Street area with Zara, Topshop and perhaps even elements of Urban Outfitters all vying for a slice of the same cake. There is a sense that this one might not be quite clear cut enough in terms of its offer to see off all comers, although it is attractive.
06 - VERDICT Hard to pin down
This is an interesting departure for H&M and is for a young(ish) customer who probably likes brands such as Acne or even Comme des Garçons but perhaps finds the prices a little steep. It will probably do well and the stock is different at this price level from that available elsewhere. And much thought has been given to the story behind the concept, although whether this succeeds is debatable. A mild quibble might be the name - one of the least helpful of any fashion outfit around. But as already noted, curious naming hasn’t stood between success and Cos.