You’re going to want to shop here for shoes and accessories, true story.
Since March, H&M’s newest brand &Other Stories has opened a total of 7 shops in London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, Milan, Barcelona and Berlin. Aggressive much? You bet. I recently visited the Paris location (which opened in April) excited about the new push, especially since COS has blossomed into a sought-after retail destination.
Located at 277 Rue Saint Honoré, the address alone commands attention, just a short walk from Colette and the who’s who of luxury brands. The neighborhood attracts a great deal of luxury tourist traffic, so launching the brand here means business, especially considering that the first COS store in Paris was in the more casual le Marais neighborhood. The two-level &Other Stories boutique feels HUGE. Smaller than H&M yet bigger than COS, there is an airy yet industrial feel about it, and a sort of scrapbook-y aesthetic across all product lines.
The merchandising feels smart and the racks that line the walls are displayed with just enough product for you to comb through – a stark difference from H&M which is sometimes too jam packed. What’s also great here – probably my favorite part – is that above racks, photos of models (close enough to real people) are displayed wearing the garments. This makes a lot of sense and certainly helps out those items which have poor hanger appeal. Those product photos, shot very much ‘blogger-style’, are also the same ones that you’ll find on the &Other Stories website. It must be said that the brand made a strong digital and social media push prior to opening any stores, through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr. While the product shots are displayed prominently, I was a bit surprised that there weren’t more cross-overs between the digital and physical worlds.
Another key element to take away is that the store is merchandised with lifestyle in mind – not unlike how if you walk into a J.Crew store, there’s a pile of sweaters sitting next to nail polish. Accessories like jewelry and handbags are scattered throughout the store, and although there is a sprawling selection of shoes on the lower level (with a gorgeous courtyard view, by the way), by the time you get there you’ve probably already seen several shoes displayed with mannequins or on shelves next to apparel. Lifestyle books and magazines are also on hand. This approach keys into &Other Stories’ mission, which encourages women to shop into their own existing wardrobes. The “story” concept also refers to four different product universes or themes. That part may not be as obvious in the store, but it is easy to shop nonetheless.
The product itself was somewhat disappointing for me, or perhaps it was just that I’m not quite the target market. Compared to its other brands, &Other Stories isn’t trendy and fast-fashion like H&M, though I could see cross-over between the &Other Stories and COS customers. I would estimate that the target customer is a slightly older woman, perhaps in the 35 – 45 age range. Even taking my own preferences out of the equation, my critical eye says that there was just something dull about the apparel. The assortment featured more classic staples – like a sheath dress or cardigan, but the updates in terms of color, print or detail didn’t seem to offer enough point-of-difference to encourage a purchase.
Shoes and accessories however, were another story (pun fully intended). Even though I walked away empty handed, I found the selection of both to be enticing, and would gladly return for a browse in those categories. The shoes in particular were much more edgy and forward – while not exactly trendy fast fashion – and I could see footwear appealing to a wide range of customers. Another product range of note is the &Other Stories brand of bath and beauty products. While I didn’t spend time in this area, it was in a prominent location and seemed to feature a wide range of goods.
Of course we can not address product without mentioning pricing. I would put &Other Stories in the same price range as COS, perhaps slightly higher. Most apparel separates were around the €50 range while more expensive pieces could go above €200.
Thinking about the product offerings – as well as the competition, a-hem, Inditex, going after a slightly older market in apparel makes sense and broadens H&M’s reach. Perhaps as the brand develops it will be more on par with Zara’s Woman collection. One thing &Other Stories has going for it from the get-go are the vast footwear and accessories assortments, which will surely get customers, myself included, interested and coming back.