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Cheap Monday, Carnaby Street

The H&M-owned brand picked London for its second store, and the location and pricing suggest it will do well on any day of the week.

Post-Alexander McQueen, the move to put skulls on almost anything that moves continues seemingly unabated, so it comes as little surprise that a shop with a logo that looks like the skull of a great ape should have just opened. The store is Cheap Monday, the location is Carnaby Street and the fashion crowd was out in force when it flung open its doors on the first day of London Fashion Week (February 17, dahling).

For those unfamiliar with the brand, this is wholly owned by H&M and has been since the end of 2010, when the Swedish giant added the remaining 40% of parent company Fabric Scandinavien to the 60% it acquired in 2008. And this is only the second standalone Cheap Monday in the world – the other is in Copenhagen. To date, the brand has been largely distributed via sister retailer Weekday in Scandinavia and by sundry stockists (including Selfridges) in the UK.

Something of an event therefore for both Cheap Monday, with its distinctive logo, and for Carnaby Street shoppers, as this gives the thoroughfare a real point of difference from most other European fashion destinations. The pricing is also significantly lower than many of the other merchants on the street. 

Key looks and merchandise mix

First and foremost, Cheap Monday is about denim and, as the store’s visual merchandiser remarks: “Many of the styles are unisex, so it doesn’t really matter which bit you choose to shop when it comes to the jeans.” The price of having a back-pocket plaster on your jeans with an image that looks like a cross between a monkey and a skull is around the £50 mark for the most part. This means that if Cheap Monday is your thing, then demonstrating brand loyalty is going to be significantly less costly than shopping Diesel or Replay nearby.

This is an extremely casual take on denim styling and there are none of the fit guides and body profile images you normally associate with the category. Instead, basic blue denim in a variety of washes is supplemented by pastel-coloured basic jeans. For women there are also denim hotpants with flap pockets and, if the mood grabs you, transparent plastic ankle boots – it’s an unusual range.

For both genders, aside from the denim offer, it’s about checked shirts, logoed sweats and T-shirts and Converse-style footwear. Pride of place, however, probably goes to the packaging for the men’s underwear, with each pair of pants sold in plastic sachets bearing an outsize version of the brand logo.

This is a well thought through offer where if you like one aspect, the chances are pretty good that you’re going to approve of almost everything else.

Score 8/10

Visual merchandising

If you’ve got a good logo, make the most of it, seems to be the modus operandi at this store. Whether it was the bags for the men’s underwear or the white boxes with the logo printed on them found around the perimeter, the monkey-cum-skull was everywhere. This also coincided with an uncompromising decal that had been applied to the window – another iteration of the logo.

The other point about the store is the pyramids. These are, in the main, the mid-shop display fixtures and are spread across the whole of the store, used, in the main, as a vehicle for laid or draped merchandise and giving the interior an instantly individual appearance.

Worth noting too is the faux catwalk in the basement. This takes the form of a small glass room set into the perimeter with a mirrored back and a catwalk in its middle. Either side of this are wooden chairs with Cheap Monday goody bags on them (just the kind of thing London Fashion Week veterans tend to moan about – at least when the contents don’t measure up) and the floor-to-ceiling mirror at the back of all of this means the catwalk appears to extend away into the distance. It’s a simple but effective trick and one that is immediately eye-catching.

Score 8/10   

Service

There are never many shoppers in Carnaby Street in the morning, but the few that were in Cheap Monday were well attended to. A young man with a skateboard, which he took into the fitting room with him, was being advised on the ins and outs of a pair of jeans and their fit, and the approach, while informative, was anything but hard sell. Given that this is a relaxed brand, this seemed to match the offer – shoppers were left alone, but help of the kind more readily associated with a bespoke outlet was on hand if required.

Score 7/10

Store appeal

This is a two-floor store that is much bigger than its fascia might lead you to expect. The ground floor is industrial, with concrete pillars, black spotlights and breezeblock walls. It also has a curious sort of rough-hewn glamour, courtesy of the wire mesh and steel pyramids that rise from the floor and descend from the ceiling – stalactite and stalagmite-like.

The floor is a highly patterned vinyl that gives the impression of knowing faux-marquetry – almost a kind of store design in-joke. Downstairs, the basement continues the theme and the stable-style fitting rooms towards the back use the wire mesh as a trim on the doors to pick up on what’s going on in the rest of the shop. For anyone who’s been to a branch of H&M’s Divided, this is recognisably from the same hand, but it is clear that both stock and store are in close accord.

Score 7/10

Does it work?

It does and the price architecture is likely to give things a nudge in the right direction when set against the norm for the area. H&M now has multiple brands with Cos, Weekday, Monki, Divided and Cheap Monday all attempting to be different and to a large extent it succeeds in keeping them a fair distance apart.

Fashionable grunge enthusiasts will find much to admire.

Score 8/10

Verdict

Cheap Monday arrives in the UK as a standalone shop with a flourish. This is a complete offer that will provide a new reason for taking a stroll along one of London’s best-known streets for the fashionably modish. The prices also happen to be within reach of the majority of shoppers.

38/50

Essentials

Address 39 Carnaby Street, London W1

Opened February 17, 2012

Parent company H&M

Other Cheap Monday store Copenhagen

Reason for visiting There’s nothing else like this in the area

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