It’s 9.45am on a crisp Friday morning and there’s a line of people snaking around the block on London’s Oxford Street. Queues in London aren’t unusual, every other week you’ll spot a gaggle of sneakerheads camping out for an exclusive line to drop, or fans of a mega YouTuber gathered outside a bookstore for a meet and greet. But this one is different. There’s no mega ‘Black Friday’ discount being offered nor celebrity selfie opportunity. Instead, this crowd, a mix of 20 something women in smart workwear and tourists in puffa jackets gripping red cups from Starbucks are simply, patiently waiting for the latest London edition of & Other Stories to open its doors for the very first time. The Swedish brand, that is owned by the H&M group, has quickly become the hottest store not only the London high-street (the Oxford Street store is their third in the city) but also on European and soon to launch LA streets, giving its sister brands Cos, Monki, Weekday and Cheap Monday some serious sibling rivalry.
A quick walk around the store and you can see why in this Insta age it works so well. & Other Stories is like the ultimate curated Tumblr/ Pinterest/ Instagram IRL. Similar to how a whole generation of slashies (think someone who describes themselves as a blogger/ brand consultant/ DJ) don’t have one set job, & Other Stories isn’t focused just on the clothing. Walking into any of their stores, feels more like wandering into a cool NY loft apartment – think exposed white brick walls, lighting and piping, plenty of cacti and staff that ask how you are, rather than if you need anything. And then there’s the merchandise. Offering a selection of bags, jewellery, shoes, ready-to-wear and beauty products, you won’t find it all in once section. Instead, in their Oxford Street store you’ll find it spread over three levels, again it feels like rooting around someone’s home, with necklaces layed out in open glass jewellery boxes, bags dotted along wooden shelves, with stacks of filing boxes beneath them and jeans placed next to t-shirts, jumpers and coats meaning you can easily create one full look from rail to rail. Then there’s the entire beauty section, with pristine marbled sinks so you can actually try the product, plus at the checkout areas you’ll find niche coffee table style magazines, the impulse buy fashion equivalent of a bag of Percy Pigs. Petah Marian, a retail editor from trend forecaster WGSN says: ‘What was interesting about & Other Stories when it launched was the way that it displayed merchandise in a more inspirational way, with products set out as though on a magazine page or Pinterest board. When it launched, this was a new concept, but many other retailers have followed suit. Where they do diverge is that they create more classic products with a twist that while still fitting into trends, and carry from season to season.’
With the high street having a reputation for being able to churn out runway copies faster than a model changing looks backstage, what makes & Other Stories stand out is ability to create its own unique identity while still being totally desirable and most importantly affordable. From brand descriptions (collections are called stories and their design team are based in ateliers in both Paris and Stockholm) to fabrics and even packaging (each paperbag comes stamped with that store’s address) everything looks and feels high-end rather than high-street.
Samuel Fernström, Head of & Other Stories explains the brands aim saying; “Our ambition is to empower women to create their own personal style. We believe that our customer is ageless with a big heart for fashion and wears things that she feels are right for her. Our diversity comes from having influences from both our ateliers in Paris and Stockholm. The Paris style is very bourgeois bohème, Stockholm brings tailored and innovative pieces.’ And it appears that this clever combination really appears to real women of all ages. A couple of minutes after the doors to the Oxford St store open, the contactless card machines start buzzing. I meet Hannah, a twenty something year old who is shopping with her friend Hayley. They explain how they’ve had the opening date penciled in their diary and have taken the morning off of work to be here. ‘I went for this soft grey jumper and a pair of silver hoop earrings,’ Hannah explains proudly pulling them out of the purchased bag. ‘I’ve shopped online from the brand before but I love the whole lifestyle aspect of coming into the store. I definitely would spend more time here, taking photos for my Insta and Snapchat.’ Blogger and mum of two, Erica Davies is also a huge fan, saying it’s her go to for ‘flattering, chic dresses, great knits and their leather goods are amazing, especially for the price.’ Although, she shops a lot online, the former fashion editor explains that when she does hit the pavements she does appreciate a store that make an effort. ‘I want it to have a sense of itself mixed with a lovely feel, rather than just piling merchandise high. Stories have bridged the need to be commercial with a really beautiful shopping experience – the stores are well laid out, plus they are big fans of green plants, which makes it feel more like a boutique.’
Another key part of this creating boutique feel, is the use of smart collaborations with other designers. Dubbed co-labs they’ve created a buzz with both established labels think Rodarte and Clare Vivier and more under the radar names to drop like Sadie Williams and Vika Gazinskaya. Their most recent sees them team up with Wool & the Gang on a collection featuring knitted sweaters and pouches alongside D-I-Y knit kits. Fashion blogger Brittany Bathgate says it’s the combination of all the different aspects that really attracts her to the brand. ‘I can't think of another retailer when I can walk and buy such a diverse range of things that are all to my taste! I like being able to walk and shop a mix of high and low price items for different aspects of life. The experience also always feels surprising homely.’
With all things Scandi trending and everyone trying to hygee-ify their lives, unsurprisingly the brand is quickly expanding. Next up are two store openings in LA and a highly anticpated launch in Dublin. Situated on Grafton Street, the opening not only offers a much needed fashion boost to the Irish highstreet but also economy. Joolie Coolier, an Irish stylist based in the UK says prior to the news she has been acting as ‘a one woman Deliveroo for every female in my family. The "when are you home next" texts were not in order to ascertain when they would see me but to schedule a purchase from the store that I would then squeeze into my Ryanair carry on.’ Joolie thinks just like Cos, & Other Stories will be warmly welcomed by the Irish fashion crowd. ‘It’s like a taste barometer for everything from what we should be reading to a small mix of specially curated branded footwear that has been given the & Other Stories seal of approval. It is fashion forward without force feeding trends.’ And maybe that’s the ultimate secret of the brand. It’s totally cool, but in no way try-hard.
The & Other Stories Wool and the Gang co-lab launches worldwide on December 1st. For more see stories.com