Hot on the heels of the Cheap Monday store opening on Carnaby Street comes Monki. It’s from the same H&M stable and sits next door.
New brands come and go all the time, but it’s not often you’ll come across a retailer that launches two of its fascias in a new market next door to each other within a seven-day period. Yet this is what has happened on Carnaby Street. Regular readers may have noticed that Cheap Monday was in the last issue and as Monki stems from the same H&M stable, it made sense to cover it this week as it welcomed shoppers a week after its sister brand made its UK debut.
There is rather more of the common touch about Monki. This is a brand that has a bigger presence globally, being available in standalone stores or shop-in-shops in Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and Hong Kong.
Until now, its UK distribution has been through Selfridges, where it opened a shop-in-shop last year. Now it looks as if it’s here to stay (or at least until the lease runs out) with this two-floor store that is among Carnaby Street’s larger outlets.
And even if you know nothing about Monki, it would be hard to pass this one by as both the window and the interior are quite unlike anything else. Worth noting too are the Monkis. These are amorphous soft toys that are found scattered around the store and which form part of the brand’s identity. There are a whole series of cod-stories attached to these that may sound outlandish, but they add a pleasing element of strangeness to the stores.
Key looks and merchandise mix
There are only three things you need to know about Monki merchandise. First, it’s for young women, but to judge by the shoppers in-store on its second day of trading, this is a broad and inclusive church where those of more mature years will still find plenty to consider.
Second, if you don’t like bold colours, you may struggle. Stripes and solids form the basis of much of the offer and shapes are generous with an emphasis on free-flow, rather than body-hugging profiles. Much of what is on display could be termed ‘fashionable’ rather than fashion, although the wedge-sole ankle boots look decidedly adventurous.
In one corner of the first floor these are displayed beneath a light-box bearing the message ‘Dance on air tonight’, a command that is unlikely to be followed if you’re wearing a pair.
Monki is pretty close to being a value-led range. There is almost nothing in this store that is above £50, and £45, for instance, will secure you a lined, bright yellow ochre bolero-style jacket in a bouclé fabric. Jeans, always a good benchmark for understanding pricing in a fashion store, are yours for £25, which really does put Monki at the lower end of the mid-market. The strategy is low price, and should be sufficient to ensure a steady stream of shoppers.
Monki Carnaby Street has been targeted to take more money than Cheap Monday in its first year and there seems every reason to suppose this ambition will be realised. Oh yes, and if you want to buy any of the Monkis that are on display, they’re yours for £8.
Whether it’s the peculiar mannequins in the window, sporting giant silvered Christmas baubles on their heads, or the carousel display feature on the first floor, once you’ve seen this shop, you’ll know what the Monki brand looks like for evermore.
Much of the perimeter is about side-hung stock displayed on rails that have a scalloped metal trim. This feature is picked up at the cash desks on both floors, where the counters and the walls behind them are also covered in scallops.
In the mid-shop, it’s a mixture of low, nested circular tables for laid displays and strings with hooks at their ends suspended from the ceiling, allowing hanging displays at different levels.
And breaking more or less every rule about how you should show off lingerie, bras and knickers are for the most part displayed on a perimeter module that uses trumpet-shaped protuberances as arms.
This is not subtle stuff, but on the other hand that is certainly part of the appeal and Monki is good at merchandise storytelling.
Pleasant and straightforward. That’s all there is to say about an approach that speaks of Scandinavian freshness and a willingness to help. On the day of visiting, Drapers was asked only to photograph the bits that “looked tidy”, but to be honest, the injunction need not have been forthcoming as there was hardly a rail, table or hanging display that hadn’t been scrupulously attended to.
This really is a Marmite store and while the chances are pretty good that it will appeal to the great majority of shoppers, there will be a small number for whom the highly distinctive interior is something of a turn-off. That said, there is nothing like this anywhere else in London (except perhaps the watered-down version in Selfridges), which puts Monki in a class of its own.
There is a consistency of approach to what has been done with the all-pervasive scalloped motif used to create patterns on the carpets, along with the many perimeter light-boxes telling the Monki brand story again and again. And yet in spite of the idiosyncratic nature of the shopfit, the store design is highly modular, meaning it can be replicated with ease in other locations.
Does it work?
The store does work on several levels. In terms of price, this has immediate appeal on a street where investment purchase is probably a term that might be frequently used. It will also draw shoppers owing to the sheer unfamiliarity of what is on show – although whether this will be sufficient to maintain its pulling power in the long term is a moot point. It’s a good shop, however, and a welcome addition to central London retailing.
For Monki’s owner H&M, there must be moments when it’s a case of another day, another format. Nonetheless, the arrival of a standalone Monki in London will find favour with shoppers and locals alike.
Address 37 Carnaby Street, London W1
Opened February 24, 2012
Parent company H&M
Number of floors Two
Ambience Magic Roundabout meets bug-eyed punk
Reasons for visiting Price and interior design