The phones have been ringing non-stop. The rails have been emptied. Sizes are out. The Regent Street branch of & Other Stories cannot wait for stock replenishment day fast enough (it's a Tuesday by the way, if you've been out of luck with styles/sizes). Suffice to say, it's been a successful first week of opening for H&M's new addition to its roster of fashion chains, one that has been shrouded in mystery beforehand and finally got its big unveil last week. I was unfortunately still in Paris, despite my dying curiosity as to what & Other Stories is all about. Therefore, I delayed my visit and can now happily report that all the hushed-up-hype, Twitter lovin' and customer demand are all quite rightly warranted. & Other Stories creeps into you as you find yourself grabbing hanger after hanger, piece after piece. It's also the first high street chain that from the get go, observes and cleverly lifts aspects of how girls today use the internet as inspiration fodder, and incorporates them into their branding, visual merchandising and aesthetic. I left impressed and eagerly anticipating new stock.
First up, what of the clothes? Well, the ready to wear isn't the main focus of & Other Stories as is the case with say H&M and COS. Even the way it lists out Shoes, Bags, Accessories, Jewellery, Ready-to-Wear, Lingerie Beauty in its brand description shows that the clothes are merely one component of all the acoutrements needed for a & Other Stories lifestyle - a key word when wandering around the store. But the clothes will undoubtedly the primary focus for most people. Currently they are divided up into various stories (geddit, geddit?) - hard-edged industrial gear for Berlin girls, ditzy florals and bobo simplicity for hanging out in Le Marais, directional minimalism from Stockholm and glamourous art deco jewel tones for a reimagined Studio 54 in New York. I'm told by the store manager that Paris is currently leading the way in the sales stakes. I'm veering more towards the stiffened satins of the glamour story, the ocean prints from Stockholm and the leather pieces from Berlin.
There are definite aesthetic similarities with fellow Swedish brands like Acne or WhyRed but that's down to the team, which & Other Stories is quite transparent about. I was sent a press release with the names of the design team, what their previous work backgrounds were (unsurprisingly Acne and WhyRed popped up...) which brings up an interesting point Sarah Sá Couto made on the blog as a comment - that the high street gets penalised and criticised more because they are faceless. Annonymous design teams can take the flack. Here we have & Other Stories being very open about their team - a change in behavioural tact, away from the mass-produced fashion norm.
The comparison with fellow like-minded chain COS is a natural one because that's the aesthetic, which many people were anticipating. The clothes occupy a niche that is perhaps younger than COS, and less austere and rigorous in style. They flirt with forward design, whilst not exactly slavishly adhering to seasonal catwalk trends. The prices are COS-esque, perhaps slightly less expensive and you're imbued with that same feeling that you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. Aesthetically speaking, there's something for everyone, but not in the way that H&M caters to the masses. There's an independent, creative-spirited and slightly leftfield common ground that they've carved out for their customer base - like if i got chatting with the customers there, we'd discover similar likes in art, music, photography and films. At least that's the feeling that I get.
The look and feel of the store has clearly been informed by a giant dose of Emmas Designblogg. It's like walking around a "work-in-progress" space or somebody's creative studio, drawing customers into the intimacy of a behind the scenes process. Lookbook images are tacked up, garments sometimes come with plastic-covered images like you get backstage at a fashion show, room dividers, boxes dot around the room and accessories are haphazardly scattered in their trays. Nothing looks too neat or orderly. The placing of copious amounts of pictures is a nod towards the fact that we are now ingrained with an innate desire to see how "real" people wear it from online personal style sites and blogs. Lookbook imagery therefore is deliberately non-uniform. Some of it even looks a little DIY-ish, self-shot with a remote control perhaps. It's close-range inspiration rather than high n' lofty aspiration.
& Other Stories have immediately introduced collaborations into the fold but they're all done on the quiet. They're "Co-Labs", created with designers who aren't exactly household names but I'm personally equally happy to see on this side of the Atlantic. Abigail Lorick has created lingerie and clothes, The Lake and the Stars has done lingerie and Claire Vivier has done a small collection of totes and clutches. Alyson Fox is up next with a jewellery and clothing collection. Interestingly, they're all fairly small designers from the States and are introduced on the rails with not too much fanfare - a singular hanging introduction and some lookbook imagery. These co-labs are likely to drop in and out without too much press prelude.
If shoes, jewellery and accessories are the sideline areas in high street stores, which are often the hor d'oeuvre to ready to wear's main course, then & Other Stories seeks to change that. Shoes get a spacious section on the top floor with plenty of styles to choose from as well as a selection of Nike trainers - a nice addition that completes the sort of lifestyle overview which & Other Stories has carved out. Likewise, jewellery and accessories are scattered liberally throughout the store as opposed to being relegated to a section, making sense with the nearby clothing. "Endless Styling Choices" says the & Other Stories website. A person who is perhaps less sure of their own style may find the shop overwhelming but for most with a grasp of themselves and what they like will find this pick n' mix scattergun approach heaps of fun.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that & Other Stories was originally supposed to be beauty-only, when conceived in its initial phase, with the other components coming in later when H&M realised this could be more of a lifestyle brand. With that said, the beauty section is surpremely well-considered. They have fantastic collaborators onboard such as make-up artist Lisa Butler directing the cosmetics range and Ben Gorham, the independent perfumer of Byredo, directing the bath and body range. Being a huge Byredo fan, I was so excited that I started testing every lotion and found that !hurrah!, every scent lingers and has Byredo-esque complexity. Beauty fiends will have a ball, if not with & Other Stories' own products then with the cult beauty section, where other brands such as This Works, Stop the Water, W3II, Dr Bronner and Eyeko. None of that means anything to me by the way. You know what I'm like with beauty. Still, a one-stop drop shop like this in town will be useful when I in a daft beauty mood.
I fear this post is only adding to the heap of praise that will drive some people a bit nutty as & Other Stories have been somewhat overwhelmed by its initial success. Like I said, styles are selling out, sizes are running low and both the website and stores are doing brisk business.
Browsing the site might be your best bet, which like the store is a Tumblr-esque mish mash of imagery, looking like a blog that happens to have shoppable links, rather than a slick e-commerce machine.
Of course with all this gushing, I have some proof to back up my words. I was fairly restrained though given that I was *ahem* being profesh and supposedly "reporting" rather than "shopping". Couldn't resist the stiffened nude satin mini-skort and matching jacket (both already gone from the site) along with the navy racerback vest or the green jacquard marble trousers.
Unfortunately the final big dud ending to all of this is that & Other Stories is only shipping to certain countries in Europe and the physical stores are only in London, Denmark and Sweden right now with upcoming openings in Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Amsterdam and Berlin soon. As Fashionista noted in their review, it's something for people to look forward to if they are ever on jaunts to Europe. For those that aren't? Erm... find a friend in Europe who can take parcels for you?