No-one does the high street better than the Brits, except possibly the Swedes! Well, H&M in particular. Launching today is H&M’s new brand, & Other Stories. Here’s the verdict from guest contributor, LSN Global retail editor, ALISON BISHOP
So, the new retail concept & Other Stories by H&M has finally launched (in London first, natch), and it seems there is room for another fashion retail concept on the high street. & Other Stories lives up to its premium product pitch in terms of ‘style over fast-fashion’. The aim, the company says, is to design lasting wardrobe treasures within a wide price range. “Diversity is a key word,” Samuel Fernstrom, head of & Other Stories told me at the launch last night. “We wanted to have four key themes – minimalism, romanticism, glamour and industrial-chic – that remain each season, and then we just update the themes with current trends and looks. The idea is that women will probably fit into one of the four styling themes and they can find pieces that work for them, to wardrobe build and update their look,” says Fernstrom. “The collection is for women who know their own style and are not necessarily fashion followers, it’s a more individualistic aesthetic.’
Apparently, & Other Stories has been in the pipeline for three years and it all started with the beauty range. “The concept started out as just beauty but as the idea behind the brand developed, we realised we needed to include fashion to complete the collection offer,” says Fernstrom. A touch of serendipity kicked in when the H&M research team bumped into legendary street style photographer Bill Cunningham in New York. They got chatting and shared a mutual admiration for confident, stylish women who know their own look – it’s what inspires Bill to shoot his fashion stories for the New York Times.
The street style theme is part of the brand’s DNA and has manifested itself across the store fit and visual merchandising display. So in keeping with this the interior is all exposed brickwork, rough around the edges industrial-style ceilings and the two floors are mostly open plan, almost like a flea market. Fernstrom says they like the idea that the store has imperfections, it’s all supposed to be mix-matched. There are austere looks that sum up what might appeal to the minimalist customer or more floral feminine pieces for the romantic customer etc, but in dedicated stories. Style photography – to show how the pieces should or could be worn – is littered all over the place for inspiration. It’s quite busy with lots of different looks going on in vignettes around the store, but the fact that there’s a lot to take in visually stems from the real life styling inspirations we are used to seeing now from street style blogs and the circus of fashion weeks coverage. Call it a fashion brand inspired by street style and the behind-the-scenes imagery of fashion shoots.
What I like about the concept is that you can shop across the four themes or stick to the one that you find most represents your style. I think I’m probably a mix of minimalist and industrial. It’s a case of wandering around the store and discovering all the different stories being told from display to display.
And back to the beauty range that kick-started it all. I love the backstage-at-a-fashion-show feel to the make-up ranges – with lots of inspirational photos – and messy overflowing look about the rows of eye-shadows, lipsticks, blushers and myriad brushes. It’s a proper beauty department too – there’s quite a large space dedicated to a great range of external brands such as This Works, The Balm, Wash With Joe, Dr Bronner and Eyeko.
A key point of different for & Other Stories is that the design teams are based in Stockholm and Paris and include a roster of designers from houses such as Why Red, Lanvin and Sonia Rykiel. The team also comprises a rolling list of co-collaborating designers such as The Lake and Stars, Clare Vivier, Abigail Lorick Im and Alyson Fox. Fernstrom describes these Co-Lab collections as temporary collaborations with creative friends. ‘Working with a mix of both new and more established talents adds to the diversity and becomes a surprising element for the customers,’ he says.
There’s that word again: diversity. & Other Stories is diverse and democratic – with value-focused price points to match, it seems there is something for everyone’s style and budget.
& Other Stories launches online today and at 256-258 Regent Street. More stores will open across Europe in the next few weeks. Find more inspirations and behind the scenes imagery across the brand’s social media feeds.
[Images: Polly Braden/Alison Bishop/Disneyrollergirl]