H&M, COS, & Other Stories

August 26 2014

Did any of you know that H&M has launched yet another sub-brand? I was having a meeting with two very chic photo agents, both of whom happened to be wearing the same jumpsuit (they had gone shopping together at & Other Stories on Regent Street in London, and hadn’t checked in with each other that morning before going to work. Hence the twinning element in their clothes that day).


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Anyway, I loved that pantsuit, and so they both fervently suggested that I go shopping at the store, and described it as the mid-range brand between COS and H&M. I wonder if they knew that it is owned by H&M. On their corporate site, H&M states that, “& Other Stories was launched in March 2013, offering an extensive selection of clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery and cosmetics. The brand is all about fashion, with particular focus on quality and design details as well as personal expression and styling.” And they describe COS as “Modern, timeless, tactile and functional. Exploring the concept of style over fashion,” and "high-end design and quality that lives beyond the seasons is available for women, men and children.”


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What I get from their communications writing is that COS sounds more expensive, and has more design integrity than its sister sub-brand. In reality, the clothes are beautifully conceived, well-cut, restrained and chic. The store design feels deluxe and sleek, reinforcing the clean lines and clarity of the design palette. It’s hard to leave the COS store without purchasing something, no matter how small. The retail experience at & Other Stories, on the other hand, felt decidedly down-market, despite the prices. Sharp lighting, cheap display, strange stand-up price markers on the metal, free-standing racks. I was completely underwhelmed, yet the brand is building up speed very quickly. It’s not quite fast fashion, as it’s too pricey, and that position is held by the parent brand in the H&M structure. I can’t even put my finger on their brand, which either means I’m not the target audience (shouldn’t make a difference, as I don’t drink coffee but I understand what the Starbuck’s brand is about) or that all the pieces haven’t yet been knitted together between the clothing design, store design, signage, variety and quality of product. As a self-respecting shopper, I’m happy to stay tuned to see how the holes in their brand are resolved.

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Go Forth! Mercurylab in London (Part Three) | The Conran Factor

August 05 2014

Sir Terence Conran’s influence on the way the British live has been immeasurable. It wouldn’t be possible for me to list all of his contributions to the design and comfort of British life, but he has been at it since the 1950s, and The Conran Group continues to be a vital force in British culture.


Signage at the new Design Museum

For those of you who haven’t been there, try visiting the original Design Museum in Shad Thames before it moves to the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington in 2016. This famous building is considered to be one of the major post-war buildings in London, and as such is a fitting home for the expanded and continuing conversation and influence of design in all aspects of our lives. Conran has donated £17.5 million to fund the new museum. Meanwhile, the new Design Museum is already showing its influence, creating brand awareness through their presence in the current windows at the John Lewis and Peter Jones department stores, where many Londoners go to get their housewares, drapes, clothes, and of course, to visit the “foodie” Waitrose food hall in the Oxford Street John Lewis.


Design Museum curatorial expertise at John Lewis

In any event, the Design Museum curators have given their imprint from a historical or contemporary design perspective to items sold at John Lewis, a heritage brand that is currently 150 years young. It’s a great way of creating high street awareness and appreciation for good design. Conran furniture and objects are also sold as part of the Conran collection for Marks & Spencer, and the upscale Conran Shop is still a destination for excellent mid-century classics as well as modern and contemporary design. And now in another venture that shows he still has his finger on the pulse, Conran has conceived of the Albion Cafes.


The Albion Café's delicious offerings

Ahhhhh, Albion. There was an hour wait at the café in Shoreditch, but we luckily stumbled in the door at the café behind the Tate Modern. The market itself is a perfectly curated (but not twee) and surprisingly affordable mixture of goodies from the Albion kitchen (massive jars of homemade raspberry preserves; tomato chutney; homemade baked goods); vegetable, cheese, smoked fish, and a good selection of specialty teas, biscuits, Guernsey yogurts et al. And to make it even better, there’s a 15% discount if you have expanded your mind at the Tate in preparation for expanding your stomach at The Albion. I’m gushing, but dinner was delicious. Conran’s idea worked as usual – feeling that upscale pretention was not the way to go, he conceived of something homey (it is), and relaxed, where you could eat and do a bit of shopping for things you really need, and those you simply want. Now that’s the mind of a visionary trend-reader and trendsetter at work. I’m going to appreciate him yet again today when I have some of that delicious chutney with my fish for my lunch!

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