Blurred Lines

I spend a significant portion of my day scanning online clothing stores, digital consultancy sites and the Sunday Times Style mag, plucking headlines and copy ideas while trying to get my head around key styles for the season at hand.

I’ve become relatively intuitive to good marketing and wary of savvy product endorsements, but what irritates me is the increasingly obvious, frequently banal hard-sell across different platforms.

NET-A-PORTER and Mr. Porter offer the most cohesive Internet experience in my opinion, creating a clear-cut pathway between inspiration and transaction.

The Edit, NET-A-PORTER’S digital magazine, offers users an integrated experience by combining new and traditional media and creating a product that’s unique but inherently familiar. By comparison, GQ.com runs weekly Mr. Porter style edits with press shots and copy, which serves as quick and effective click-bait.

That a print magazine has lapsed into limited content marketing, where its source has moved into quality content production, is remarkable but perhaps not surprising.

Last week, NET-A-PORTER launched Porter, its new global publication featuring bespoke fashion and lifestyle features, which can be shopped via your phone. Porter’s effortless amalgam of content and commerce underlines a desire amongst retailers to utilise media in new and creative ways that promote the brand and give it a lifestyle dimension.

This is something that H&M and its subsidiary brands do this with aplomb (how cool and gimmicky is t-commerce?) Earlier this month, the company teamed up with Bauer Media to launch a new website for 20-something women called The Debrief. Using tailor-made native advertising (read: undercover adverts dressed up as genuine editorial content), the company encourages readers to click through to the online store and shop the looks that inspire them.

Meanwhile, H&M’s sibling brand Cos launched its fourteenth bi-annual magazine last week. Free in-store, it pursues the brand’s minimalist aesthetic through typography and design, with articles featuring well-known figures in Cos clothes. It’s not quite as understated as Porter but it’s the same idea at heart.

These endeavors, all funded through Internet shopping, show an ability amongst retailers to adapt to the digital sphere, transcend our expectations, and create brand identities which readers can instantly explore online. What this means for journalism is intimidating, but what it signifies for retailers seems pretty exciting.

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Stockholm Syndrome

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I visited Stockholm last week, confirming my suspicions that Sweden is the glacially cool epicenter of Scandinavia.

Small and easy to travel, the city’s medieval architecture unfurls like a fairy-tale town in a children’s pop-up book. The temperature was a brisk subzero, but I couldn’t appreciate the sights or fresh air on my first day. Instead I was plodding along feeling hopelessly lost.

I had set out early that morning for the Royal Palace, blissfully unaware that Stockholm’s museums and shops don’t stir till 10 or that my iPhone (and by extension my Google maps) would go temporarily AWOL.

Freezing and slightly frantic, I suddenly had no idea where I was. I couldn’t see a street name and even if I had found one I can’t read maps. So I walked. I walked down the river past clusters of boats towards a beguiling Renaissance castle. This had to be the Palace I told myself. Surely I was in Gamla Stan? A signpost confirmed just how geographically challenged I was: this was Djurgården, two islands beyond my destination.

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I decided to start at the rustic castle I had followed down the river, pushing my way through a large door into the rectangular hall of the Nordic Museum.

A remarkable building with a collection to match, it featured a temporary exhibition on the role of stripes in Swedish culture. Gimmicky, yes, but very intelligent, it was a lot of fun and a solid introduction to the city’s cultural heritage. Afterwards I braced myself for the cold once more, turning my back on the city’s ABBA Museum in favour of the Vasa ship.

A solemn presence against the Stockholm harbour, the Vasa Museum is a one-of-a-kind structure designed to look like the 400 year-old Vasa ship salvaged from nearby waters. Despite its imposing masts and steel roof, this charming building integrates seamlessly with its harbour surroundings.

Inside, Vasa’s all-encompassing education centre was outstanding: blending six floors of interactive history and culture, it created a rich, faceted view of this remarkable ship and its passengers. The Vasa itself is displayed in the central hall, its high stern and oak timbers glimmering on glass surfaces while several of the ship’s passengers are meticulously recreated using scientific reconstructions.

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The following day – and several cinnamon buns later – I visited The Modern Museum, trudging up-hill through snow in search of some Swedish avant-garde.

A spectacular site met my pilgrimage: four contorted sculptures by Alexander Calder stood in stark relief against the grey Skeppsholmen sky. Beyond these stood the museum whose austere glass shell shielded the city’s preeminent collection of modern art.

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Presented chronologically, the permanent collection drew parallels between Swedish art and the European avant-garde. Moving seamlessly from the turn of the century to the inter-war years, it displayed photographs, prints and painting by neue sachlichkeit artists including George Grosz and Max Beckmann, creating a clear trajectory across the different cultures and countries.

A Futurist and Kraftwerk installation ran alongside the permanent collection, underlining a century-long fascination with industry, mechanics and the potentials of the machine.

Meanwhile, in the basement, Marcel Duchamp’s silly, conceptual artworks were concentrated in a custom-built space, his surrealist contemporaries lining the walls and Luis Buñuel sound bites drifting from nearby video cubicles.

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Of course I visited other sights while in Stockholm: I finally made my way to the Palace and its accompanying museums; had what can only be described as a bucket of hot chocolate; did the Architectural Museum; found Acne Archives, and ate a fancy geometric Semla in bed, slathering whipped cream over my face like a recalcitrant little kid. But it’s The Photography Museum that stands out as my final highlight.

Several exhibitions ran simultaneously at this museum but the Elliot Erwitt show caught my eye. Erwitt’s images were eloquent but juxtaposed and imbued a one-liner quality. I took out my phone to snap this would-be romantic scene of Paris. Definitely the first photo-bomb, I thought.

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Cool Story, Bro

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Fashion after college was a slight whirlwind. I started working in an art gallery shortly after, then moved into an e-commerce business where I was asked to waive my rights to blue jeans and unusual hair colours. I started my first month with a remarkable collection of black clothing collected over several years and built on these with new structured separates from Cos.

Through my new job I became interested in online retail and began to study my favourite brands (all Swedish), observing their social media platforms and checkout processes while carefully honing in on their online image and its role in creating a strong brand identity.

The process began with Cos, moving through H&M’s remarkable catalogue of celeb collaborations, with a stop-off at Acne, before landing on H&M’s new sub-brand & Other Stories.

& Other Stories’ website is remarkable: playing on the concept of Pinterest, it is a high concept brand that combines the austerity of Cos with the brand’s vibrant, mischievous aesthetic. The result, like Pinterest, is addictive, and the site’s assertive merchandising strategy constantly pulls you in with more shoes, more jewellery and more make-up.

I visited & Other Stories in Stockholm last week where their store was adorned with mood boards, tables of leather, wool and cashmere accessories, a make-up area with light wood counters and a second floor dedicated to shoes.

Naturally I more-or-less bankrupted myself in that little space on Biblioteksgatan, but my heart also skipped a beat when I read this morning that & Other Stories will finally ship to Ireland.

Until then however, I think I’ll stop off at their Regent Street Store when I visit London in March. If only to cash in on this Simone Rocha-esque workwear line.

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