Upscale Selfridges is a strange location for the UK debut of a quirky Swedish retailer known for its cheap fast fashion, but this shop-in-shop is a success.
Think of a retail proposition that is posited on the idea of small, black, silhouetted creatures called Monkis and then use this as the basis of selling value-based fashion. Sound promising? Probably not, yet Monki has been a major success in Sweden and to an extent Denmark, with outposts in Germany and a soon-to-be solitary store in Hong Kong. Since last week, it’s been in the UK as well, as Selfridges on Oxford Street welcomed it into its ground floor young fashion area in the form of a 950 sq ft shop-in-shop.
This is a retailer that is actually very hard to define, but as chief operations officer Henrik Aaen puts it: “Monki is about Swedish simplicity and it’s a little bit mixed up with Japanese quirkiness.” This is not terribly helpful, but on the other hand what it does say is that there is probably nothing like this on UK high streets anywhere.
It’s also worth knowing a little Monki business in order to understand the large space that has been devoted to a retailer that is almost unknown in this country.
In Selfridges, it is located adjacent to the world’s first H&M concession, which opened in the store at the end of last month. This is no accident. H&M appears to know a good thing when it sees one – in 2008 it snapped up 60% of the holding company that includes Monki among its stable of interests and mopped up the remaining portion at the end of last year. This immediately explains the position in Selfridges and how a business of this kind can be given prime position within the store alongside the likes of All Saints, Diesel and Karen Millen.
Key looks and merchandise mix
This is Selfridges, the sort of place where you’d expect to hand over a few crisp banknotes for almost everything. And yet visit any of the Monki stores in Sweden or Denmark and in spite of a pretty poor rate of exchange, the product is inexpensive. This is a value retailer and in the UK it’s been placed in the heart of a luxury emporium. Yet it works, principally owing to the fact that the merchandise doesn’t look cheap and the styling is up-to-the-minute.
T-shirts serve as a case in point. If you want a black top with the faux-handwritten legend ‘The impossible just takes a little longer’ sprawled across the front, it’s just £8. At the other end of the scale, a pair of lace-up brown leather booties are yours for £65 – probably lower than any comparable pair of shoes in this part of Selfridges, other perhaps than in the H&M concession.
A price-conscious collection therefore, and according to Aaen the whole of Monki’s autumn collection has been squeezed into this small space, so no real editing has been necessary to get this one up and running.
In terms of styling, Monki covers the bases with everything from ecru denim short shorts to unlined light brown twill coats. And when it comes to colours, think autumnal (brown, grey, black, dark yellow and teal, with some highlight neons) and then take them as single colours or Aztec-influenced patterns and you’d not be far away.
This is an idiosyncratic range and may not appeal to everyone, but nobody can accuse Monki of failing to plough its own fashion furrow.
To make a proposition of this kind work in an environment such as Selfridges, there is a requirement to merchandise at the fuller end of dense if the space is going to show any kind of return. With this in mind, the space between the display units is actually quite limited, but on the other hand, this does help to promote the sense of a feast of plenty.
Much of the stock is laid on low tables and as there is very limited perimeter space – the bulk is used to form the backdrop to the cash-taking area – garments are piled relatively high or side hung in the mid-shop. That said, there is little feeling of overcrowding and the repeated Monki motif helps to add interest as you look around.
On opening day, three unfortunate models were made to stand still with silver globes on their heads. Hard to tell what purpose this served, if any, but it was certainly eye-catching.
As it was opening day, there is little point in discussing the merits, or otherwise, of the service that was offered to Monki shoppers, as it was too early for there to be any. A default mark therefore for the pleasant young people handing round the breakfast canapés and in particular for the long-suffering models. The latter may have been serving nobody, but their stamina was certainly tested.
In Scandinavia, Monki stands out and you’ll want to take a look. As space is at a premium in Selfridges, the shopfit that characterises those stores has been somewhat watered down. However, there are still lightboxes, a lot of perimeter mirror work and shelves with scalloped edges to remind you of this shop-in-shop’s provenance. Aaen says he feels the spirit of Monki has been captured and that if this one works there will be more outlets in London, with Birmingham and Liverpool both further possibilities.
Meanwhile, Selfridges has something that doesn’t feel quite as avant garde as back home, but is sufficiently different to make shoppers stop and take a look.
Would I buy?
When the average transaction value for clothing in Selfridges is taken into consideration, you’d be hard pushed not to buy something if you were part of the target market. Much of the offer is at semi-pocket money prices and the quick, disposable nature of it all should mean this won’t be Monki’s only UK venture.
Monki arrives in the UK in somewhat unexpected surroundings. As its parent, you might have expected H&M to set aside space in one of its stores in the area, but this does seem to work as a standalone shop-in-shop in the context of a fashion-led department store.
Address Selfridges, Oxford Street, London W1A
Country of origin Sweden
Countries with Monki stores Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong (due on September 30), UK
Ambience Scandi simplicity with Japanese intricacy