It’s been a busy week for the H&M group in London: the opening of the much-hyped & Other Stories store on Regent, followed by the relaunch of the H&M flagship a stone’s throw away at Oxford Circus.
& Other Stories is in some respects the more exciting *ahem* story for the H&M group - a brand new offering that seems designed to sit somewhere between H&M/Monki and the more expensive Cos, in terms of pricing, product and store aesthetic and merchandising.
H&M and Monki are clearly aimed at a younger, ‘cheap and cheerful’ audience (in which I include myself), with Cos representing a higher end high street with a style aptly described by Susie Bubble as ‘austere and rigorous’ (in my dreams) - but all three brands (four if you include Cheap Monday, also part of the H&M family) are hugely popular across the board, leading the H&M family to be the second largest fashion group in the world. So expectations of & Other Stories were understandably high.
An intriguing part of & Other Stories’ offer is it’s openness about how it’s been influenced by blogging and social media. In an interview with the Guardian, the brand’s creative director Sara Hilden-Bengtsson said:
“We went to different cities and looked at how the impact of social media, street style and bloggers has made women more fashion savvy. Women create looks differently than they did 10-15 years ago. They create their own stories through their personal style and they know fashion.”
This approach is evident in the decisions made in the in-store visual merchandising. The displays focus around editorial ‘stories’, with customers able to shop an entire look at once, from clothing to accessories and even beauty products. Every rail is also adorned with street style-esque images of the garments being worn out and about. With images taped to surfaces or hanging from bulldog clips, the aesthetic of the displays nods more to a mood board or design studio than a high-street chain.
In her write-up, Susie Bubble also rightly notes that where & Other Stories really shines is the equal emphasis it places on all the elements of its offering: ready to wear, accessories, and beauty all take equal place in the spotlight. For me, a real strength is the footwear - where H&M particularly chases price rather than style, & Other Stories has produced a range of footwear that’s stylish and completes at price point with Topshop and the like. My favourites include some particularly hardcore sandals that seem appropriate for a London summer tube ride. The jewellery and beauty offering also provides a price point that’s even more accessible.
This egalitarian approach to product is also visible online: each ‘story’ gives attention to various elements of a look, rather than concentrating on the clothes to the exclusion of all else. In store, shoppers are directed back to www.stories.com, completing the cycle of influence and inspiration from online to IRL and back again. Following the example of brands like Proenza Schouler, mirroring a digital presence with an overarching brand strategy as well as a great retail experience can pay (metaphorical) dividends if executed correctly. If the daily emptying of rails at the & Other Stories store is anything to go by, it certainly is right now.
The venture between Lane Crawford and SHOWstudio has been on my list of things to share ever since I saw the amazing video created by Nick Night and the team for the SS/13 collection. Using a combination of 3D scanning and motion capture, the melding of some futuristic tech with some elements (namely some of the repurposed and distorted shots that reminded me of glitches in video games from childhood) quite frankly blew my mind.
To follow up on the video itself, Lane Crawford have launched a competition where participants have to create new content using stills from the original video. Simply clicking on a specially created canvas reveals multiple layers of imagery (like a reverse eraser tool). Different brush sizes and hardnesses allow you to be as creative as you like (don’t take my terrible attempt as an example - check out the gallery here).
This project struck me as a great way to use content from a creative project to creative a connection between creator and audience. Not only is SHOWstudio a respected outlet for fashion film content, but the core audience of that site must be made of of at least some some serious aficionados of fashion and fashion film - therefore much more likely to care about such a competition and enter it. The interesting thing to watch is how content like this actually works when it leaves the production studio and goes into the world of t’internet.
Firstly, it’s interesting to watch how branded content reaches the relevant audience for the brand, but more importantly how these people interact with it - how it becomes relevant to their lives - why they should care. To me, this competition is a great example of getting it right - serious fashion fans are more likely to be engaged than the average punter, which is why they visit a site like SHOWstudio in the first place. Also, the chance to show off their creativity to a panel that includes SHOWstudio team members as well as Lane Crawford would draw a lot of young, fashion-conscious creatives, even without the cash prize. A much better interaction with a brand than ‘post this link to your Facebook and win a voucher’ in my book. If all brand interactions are about a transactional relationships (and they are), this feels more authentic, with both sides getting value other than monetary out of it.
This idea of contributing for the love as well as for the cash prize reminds me of an excellent talk by Aaron Koblin of Google Creative labs at Dazed Live a few years ago. Amongst many inspiring works he showed, one that stuck with me was The Johnny Cash Project (http://www.thejohnnycashproject.com/). Using a custom drawing tool, fans were asked to recreate archive footage of Johnny cash frame by frame. The images would then be composited to form the music video for his last single ‘Aint no Grave’. That the video not only got made, but that there were enough frames to recreate the video many times over is testament to the project’s success in engaging its key audience. These fans were inspired by their idol to express themselves creatively - and seeing their frame in the video was enough, no cash incentive needed.
Business of Fashion ran a great piece today on new media models springing up within the fashion industry. I would recommend anyone interested in the future of media models to have a read as it will get the brain juices flowing I imagine (in agreement or not), so I won’t regurgitate the whole thing here. Instead, I’ll focus on a few things that specifically caught my attention:
- Advertising spend in print media is forecast to decline by 4% in 2013
- Curation is set to be massive in terms of the hierarchy of online information, and not just in the fashion industry. I’m not the first to say that of course (here, here and here are much better ways of talking about that), but in Vfiles the BoF piece gives a nice example of a site where respected industry figures curate content to give it another layer of value to the readers.
- Social. Following the success of Pinterest and the like, there are going to be more and more places that act as, in the words of the BoF piece, like when you used to keep “your favourite things in a box under your bed”, just digital.
-Video. Online video accounted for 56% of all consumer internet traffic in 2012. It’s not going away.
- Looking beyond ads for revenue. The BoF mentions a few smart sponsorship deals between brands that they term ‘deep partnerships’ - long term project that go beyond just signing a cheque and having your name on the website. Brands making smart choices about how to connect with increasingly media (read: advertising) savvy audiences, particularly those creatives who are ‘influencing’ (yuck) a wider mass of people.
All of these are interesting ideas that aren’t answers in themselves, but are examples of perhaps where brands should be beginning to explore when looking to connect with consumers, and spend a little less while they’re doing it. Watch this space.