Magazine editorials have been showing us for years how to put together outfits. ‘Editor’s Picks’, ‘1 Dress, 5 Looks’, ‘Stylist Recommends’… the list of familiar article headings go on. There are not many shoppers, fashionistas or beauty addicts that do not like seeing how catwalk looks or even celebrity trends can be ‘copied’ or ‘inspired’, particularly those articles that pull together such looks on a high street budget. So why stop at the static publication? Why not bring these to life? And I don’t mean virtual life. Don’t get me wrong, I believe E-Tailers are truly powerful in making online shopping experiences more and more ‘real’ with virtual fitting rooms and video streams of models wearing the outfits, making online clothes shopping easier and more enjoyable than ever before. However, I’m talking about translating this concept into a physical retail store. Why not, place that pillar-box red lipstick by that military jacket, next to a stack of rose gold arm candy? And let’s not forget those suede, over-the-knee boots with that cute, studded, leather satchel to accessorize.
That’s exactly what & Other Stories, the latest venture from Sweden’s retail giant Hennes & Mauritz Group, has done. I can’t express how refreshing I find this. To me, the stagnant retail industry has been crying out for someone to be daring enough to take this risk and put a spin on the traditional retail model. Since the 2008 recession, the government has been trying to revive the UK retail industry with initiatives spear-headed by retail expert Mary Portas herself. I am a huge fan of the Portas myself, but honestly I think what the industry needs, is to see a large enterprise really take the leap and step out of the ‘comfort zone’ first, before making any changes themselves.
The Regent Street store in London opened in March this year and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to pay my first visit. If you haven’t had the chance to check out & Other Stories yet, you can expect to be quite overwhelmed when you first step in. There are so many ‘concepts’ presented to the shopper upon first glance, I found it rather difficult deciding where to look first! However, as I made my way through the store it became apparent that it is the many individual displays, collections and ‘stories’ with ‘navigation signs’ that made shopping in there such a captivating and exciting experience. What story am I going to stumble upon next? What nail polish does the store recommend I use with this look? Oh, and there’s a his and hers bathroom sink where you can test toiletries and cosmetics. This really is visual merchandising on another level. Displays that invite you to touch, test and team together different pieces. Even the fitting rooms are filled with quirky displays and more ‘stories’ (I guess in case there’s something there you think could go with the maxi dress you’re trying on).
Think Anthropologie meets Muji with stripped-back Scandinavian cool. The clothing echoes the billowy shapes, clean structures and strong fabrics of top designers such as Phillip Lim, Proenza and Isabel Marant. Imagine Cos classics and minimalism designed through the eyes of a style blogger. It’s how I would imagine Jessica Stein (of Tuula Vintage) would be if she was a pop-up store. Prices aren’t too bad either. Nail polish starts at £5, buttery lipsticks at £12 and a whole range of colours to give Dulux a run for their money too. Leather belts from around £19 and suede jackets go up to around £140. Most knitwear is around the £35-£60 mark, which is not far off from what you would find in Zara or Topshop.
I would say however, that the general styles are probably not to everyone’s taste. As you can imagine, whilst ‘model-like’ style bloggers can carry off fringed leather boots and make any shift-shaped outfit instantly cool with a floppy fedora – I’m not too sure the design of the clothes will be easy for everyone to wear. Having said that, it’s definitely a haven for finding those unique jewellery pieces that are often only available at expensive, independent boutiques or inaccessible American brands like Anarchy Street. New, up-and-coming young designers are also given their own showcase areas with a short bio on display. It’s great to see a retailer pushing the boundaries on the shopping experience with a bit of re-organisation, good old ‘pen-on-paper’ signs, a few clip-board pegs to pin up fashion looks (just like we did at school for mood boards and now as grown-ups on Pinterest) next to each concept. Whilst other retailers are championing the digital push in-store (i.e. Nike and Burberry) to transform the retail model, & Other Stories is making a shift through more understated means. These ‘stories’ change regularly in the store, which is more than enough incentive for me to visit every time I am in London town. And with H&M’s Isabel Marant collaboration about to launch in November, I predict a nice and steady rise in some Hennes & Mauritz stocks…
Have you been to an & Other Stories store? What do you think?