Alexander Wang x H&M

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I’ve dipped my toe in-and-out of most exercise fads and wondered whether my absent athletic skills were the result of some less-than-quality footwear or a disdain towards ankle socks.

Being a picky shopper I tend to avoid the unsustainable trends pedalled by most big brands. I follow trends certainly, but I abhor the buy-wear-bin mentality that pervades so many people’s attitude towards clothes.

A few years ago I remember standing in a department store with my mum, who upon inspecting some sports gear told me she was making the move from gym rags and cast-offs to the new, stretchy fabrics which had started to populate store shelves.

I’d seen these products too, mostly in sportswear chains, but incrementally they began to appear in high-street stores, and now sportswear has percolated its way through most levels of the market with practical styles as well as high-end diffusion lines.

But despite trailing off as a leading story on last season’s runways, the “sports luxe” momentum has carried through to the high-street for yet another season, with Alexander Wang’s forthcoming H&M line highlighting the trend’s refusal to to be sidelined.

But while I love high-end, Wang’s dystopian fashion-meets-sportswear line does nothing to assuage my sportswear apathy. The designer once remarked that while he only wears activewear, he doesn’t lead an especially active life, but that his clothing endeavours to straddle the sports-meets-sedentary gap with poise and a touch of panache.

And indeed, the range is interesting: scuba-like neoprenes embellished with skin-effect details make up the body of the collection. While oversized, cocoon-like silhouettes are punctuated by Wang’s inescapable three-dimensional foam logo. But the range, for all its active-meets-inactive talk, is impractical and, worst of all, ugly.

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Nothing straddles the active-meets-sedentary divide like an explosion detonation pack worn with branded long-johns.

H&M are truly my favourite retailer: their marketing strategy, sustainable clothing and subsidiary labels leave me in awe.

The recent Wang x H&M video – an example of H&M’s consistently excellent TV campaigns – drummed up a pang of excitement with its warrior-like women clad in futuristic garb. But this year, for the first time in several years, I won’t be making the pilgrimage to inspect H&M’s once-off range.

My inner-athlete might well be impeded by my dislike towards ankle socks and a wandering eye for high-end fabrics, but something tells me this range won’t give my exercise routine the kick in the butt it needs.

(I love this video: soundtracked by Diplo with a distinct video game-feel, it’s simply phenomenal. Alas, they lost me with the clothing.)

A New Story From My Favourite Brand

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I saw Lykke Li perform in Chicago two or three summers ago, but while I was au fait with her pop songs I had never really engaged with her music until then.

That year a passing interest had turned into active dislike as DJ-after-DJ renditions of “I Follow Rivers” snaked through shops and bars.

So when I finally saw her in a wooded inlet at Jackson Park I discovered her presence (small and witchy) and voice (synthy-soprano) were surprisingly magnetising.

I’d be lying if I said a lifelong interest was forged that day, but I became more forgiving of those trancey remixes which extended Li’s choruses beyond the thirty second mark.

Lykke Li & Other Stories atelier March 2014

As Sweden’s best exported musician (Sorry Jenny Wilson), with an ingress to mainstream and alternative music fans , it seems fitting that & Other Stories would partner with Lykke Li in the run-up to their New York launch.

Last March when Stories announced the collaboration, Li hinted at the utilitarian nature of the collection:

“I’m a nomad and travelled my whole life,” her press release read, “so my style choices have grown out of pure necessity. I need to travel light but still feel empowered, there’s no space for frills or colours.”

The collection, unveiled today in a promotional video and accompanied by grainy black and white images, suggests cool, masculine styles that lend themselves to migrant life.

Launching this Thursday – one week before my two week trip through Scandinavia – tailored pieces for a rucksack-toting nomad sound just divine.

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COS It’s So Nice

A newer, cooler ampersand in the H&M portfolio, & Other Stories has become my go-to spot on the net, but it’s still the crisp white shirts in COS which get me – and my bank account – every time.

When H&M launched its decidedly more fashion-forward concept brand & Other Stories, I was enthralled by the bright colours and unusual shapes. A follow-up to its subsidiary label ‘Collection of Style’ or COS as it’s monikered, & Other Stories wasn’t as directional or easy-wearing as its sibling, instead producing modern silhouettes in vibrant, high-end fabrics.

These last twelve months my wardrobe has become robust, mostly made up of items from these two brands. But while I lean towards the tailored, quirky lines of Other Stories, I still hanker after COS’s simple, structured shape.

Last year, a change in circumstance prompted a wardrobe overhaul and along with several bad habits (like biting my nails, which I started age four and only gave up last June) I disposed of all my old, ill-fitting clothes, choosing simply to start over. The nub of my wardrobe consisted mainly of fast-fashion brands which were repetitive, cheap, and which I harboured no love for (bar one or two exceptional items which were spared the nebulous fate of the black sack), but the process of starting over was entwined with new priorities. I didn’t want to saturate my wardrobe with more clutter, and following the collapse of the Bangladeshi factory last spring I became increasingly concerned about where my clothes were coming from, but also how retailers generate pollution. I needed to dress all the same, and was determined to achieve that elusive ‘capsule wardrobe’ fabled by Gok Wan.

As a kid I remember seeing Vanilla Sky, and aside from coveting Penelope Cruz’s chocolate-y brown hair, I became fixated on this loose shirt she wore in one of the earlier scenes. I went hunting for something similar in A-Wear but only found those close-fitting dobby shirts in shades of pastel and blue (the kind reserved for cheap polyester work trousers with an unexplained sheen).

My dreams of relaxed poplin shirts were scuppered, and aside from secondary school I didn’t own a shirt till last year. But eventually, after battling my wardrobe’s tangled graveyard of knitwear my mind turned to simple, directional separates and once again I embarked on a mission to find the ideal crisp white shirt.

In this age of fast-fashion, the white shirt is the very definition of a wardrobe staple. Buttoned-up or worn relaxed, it has a touch of masculinity to it with tailored trousers, while looking remarkably feminine with close-fitting jeans. COS’s ability to reinvent the iconic shape, playing with proportion, reversing the traditional dipped hem or eliminating the collar sets it apart while small details – a contrast pocket, concealed buttons – give it that touch of luxury which normally goes amiss on the high street.

& Other Stories will always enthrall, but COS just wins me every time.

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.

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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