LONDON, United Kingdom — On Friday, Swedish fast fashion giant H&M debuted its new retail concept ‘& Other Stories,’ steps away from sister stores H&M and COS on London's Regent Street, as part of an ambitious Europe-wide launch, with additional locations in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, and Berlin.
When rumours began circulating about the new brand, last November, many speculated that the forthcoming stores would be H&M’s luxury play, positioned above the mid-priced COS, which was itself a step up from the company's core H&M fast fashion chain.
But when BoF visited the store, a two-storey space near the busy intersection of Oxford Street and Regent Street (with a respectable number of shoppers browsing the rails for a chilly Monday morning) we saw that & Other Stories was, in fact, H&M’s take on a lifestyle store, much like Anthropologie, with displays that integrate beauty products and accessories along with clothing. Necklaces and nail polish, for example, are displayed on simple wooden shelves with corresponding pairs of shoes alongside a rail of clothes, much like the way a woman might organise her belongings at home.
Despite the clunky name, taken from a traditional literary publishing practice, & Other Stories has a novel concept that reflects the way modern women shop and dress today: mixing and matching, buying high and low, and embracing distinctly different looks on different days. “It's for women who are interested in fashion and who feel differently every day,” Behnaz Aram, head of design in Stockholm, told The Independent. “Some days you want a romantic dress, the next day jeans and a T-shirt. You feel different and that's what we're trying to reflect.”
As such, & Other Stories’ initial range offers four mini-collections comprised of clothing and accessories that women can dip in and out of to “create their own stories through their personal style,” said creative director Sara Hilden-Bengtsson in a statement.
One such collection is minimal, with on-trend leather and marble print pieces; the other three are sculptural and sports-inspired; hip and industrial; and preppy.
“It felt like customers want to be creative today,” said Aram. “That's the thing about the internet and the whole street style thing. So if we could create a brand that had four different directions, they can mix and match.”
But does the offering live up to expectations?
Despite language that would suggest a more upmarket line — “ready-to-wear” clothing designed in “creative ateliers” in Paris and Stockholm — & Other Stories remains true to H&M’s “quality at an affordable price” philosophy. Indeed, prices are featured prominently on the rails. But even though the price range is decidedly more high street than high-end, with the majority of items under £100, the garments are well constructed, with no loose threads or flimsy material. Standout pieces include a simple leather biker jacket at £195 - the top end of the price range - and a sateen blazer in a Spring-appropriate shade of peach, £79. We also found eye-catching, iridescent crystal hair clips and rings for £7-10.
Importantly, a significant portion of the 1,000 square-metre space is dedicated to & Other Stories self-branded body and beauty products, which shoppers can sample themselves at the functional sinks that line the wall. High fashion magazines like LOVE and AnOther are displayed at the tills. But given the new brand’s conceptual link to the Internet and social media, there is, surprisingly, no evidence of digital integration in the store.
What & Other Stories really has going for it, however, is the scale and tremendous retail experience of H&M. And where the store succeeds is offering a wide range of women a complete lifestyle brand that they can afford, delivering on the formula that has served the company and its stable of brands so well: “fashion and quality at the best prices”.