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H&M

The lowdown on H&M’s designer deals

Swedish fashion giant Hennes & Mauritz has seen brand awareness soar in recent years with its one-off offerings of designer clobber. The Local's Victoria Hussey delves into the brand's past partnerships and what the future holds for its cheap and chic collaborations.

The lowdown on H&M's designer deals

Elbow-bashing consumers, social media bursting at the seams and queues bigger than those for Håkan Hellström concert tickets can only mean one thing: a new H&M designer collaboration. Over the years, the retail superpower has partnered with twelve top fashion designers including Roberto Cavalli, Comme des Garçons, Stella McCartney, Lanvin and Versace.

The always uncompromising Karl Lagerfeld was the first high-fashion designer to crossover into high-street with H&M back in 2004, although it’s fair to say, it was a shaky start. The collection was revered by fashion editors but the German-born Chanel designer caused controversy by suggesting his designs were not intended for ‘larger-sizes’. He later told German magazine Stern that he would never work with H&M again after they failed to produce enough of his designs to fulfil an expectant audience.

Subsequent collections from British designer Stella McCartney and an accessories range from Vogue Japan’s editor-at-large, Anna Della Russo, hit bum notes. It appeared the retail group failed to promote the offerings with as much gusto as Lagerfeld’s and were consequently down on bringing in the punters.

IN PICTURES: Top H&M designer collaborations

Roberto Cavalli and Viktor and Rolf certainly stirred up a pre-launch storm but neither delivered on quality and simply failed to live up to design expectations.

Despite the negative results, Dutch design duo Viktor and Rolf apparently earned investment from Diesel and holding group OTB owner Renzo Rosso after the PR boost gained from their 2005 H&M collection.

With the potential for increased brand awareness, possibility of investment and large design fees (reported to be in the millions of dollars) it’s not difficult to understand why fashion’s biggest names are happy to join forces with the Swedish brand.

Maison Martin Margiela – the Belgian design house with its all-white labels, reticence and careful design – a designer’s designer, did the unthinkable and partnered with H&M in 2012.

Many were excited; others were horrified; their favourite toy had been stolen by a bunch of young, nerdy high-street kids. Either way, the collection is not considered one of the retailer’s most successful partnerships.

As a student at the time this particular collection came out, I laughed at the thought that this was fashion for the masses. At 1,799 kronor for a pair of invisible wedge ankle-boots, owning anything from this collection would have been do-able had I not eaten for six weeks. Cheap in comparison to a designer’s mainline collection, sure, but if this is ‘democratization of fashion’, I’m not sure I’ll bother voting.

And it appears I’m not alone. Big sales figures do not always follow big collaborations. During the 2011 financial year, the H&M group saw total profits fall by 3 percent in the same year that Versace, one of the most hyped and worldwide collections, launched its spring/summer range with the retailer. Profits rose again in the first part of 2013 but designer collaboration was not the cause; its last was with Maison Martin Margiela in October 2012.

Perhaps Parisian designer Isabel Marant will bring in the crowds and boost sales. Her collection for Hennes is due to be launched in November, despite an announcement reaching customer’s ears in June. Five months for excited customers to stew in anticipation.

“Don’t go online, it might crash,” says one H&M customer advisor. Good advice considering the company’s website buckled under the pressure of millions of impatient buyers wanting to claim a token of Versace/H&M in 2011.

When asked if Marant’s range will be as big as its predecessors, another H&M representative suggested it might not be.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a crazy rush,” she adds and insists big queues are expected so its best to get there early. Considering this next collection will only be available in 250 stores worldwide (out of around 3,000), with only H&M’s biggest stores getting the goods, increased exclusivity may mean more public attention, but is unlikely to yield record-busting sales.

Add to this, the fact Marant has a lower profile amongst high-street shoppers than Chanel or Christian Dior mean H&M will have to rely on its younger, impressionable audience to buy into ‘brand designer’ as well as its more die-hard fashion fans.

Many of whom would have been impressed to see H&M becoming an honorary member of the fashion gang in February 2013 by showing their autumn/winter collection at Paris Fashion Week, their first catwalk outing for eight years. The show, which included garments costing as little as 99 Swedish kronor, took place at the Musée Rodin, a venue normally reserved for fashion royalty such as Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.

Elitist fashion experts may like to believe H&M’s crossover into high-fashion is about to end; Paris Fashion Week may have been a one-off, a friendly gesture.

But it seems unlikely that H&M will give up a venture that has played a part in growing the company from a European clothes store to a truly global brand. With stores now in Asia, America and, from 2014, Australia, H&M’s access to millions of cash-ready customers with a love for fast-fashion is quickly widening.

Victoria Hussey

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SHOPPING

The unmanned supermarkets rescuing Sweden’s rural areas

One after another, grocery stores are shutting down in rural Sweden, leaving villagers to travel miles to buy food. But a new type of shop has sprung up in their wake: unmanned supermarkets in mobile containers.

The unmanned supermarkets rescuing Sweden's rural areas
Store manager Domenica Gerlach enters the Lifvs unmanned supermarket store in Veckholm, 80km outside Stockholm. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand /AFP

In Veckholm, a village of a few hundred people 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Stockholm, the last grocery store closed more than a decade ago. Then, a year-and-a-half ago, even the little convenience store at the only petrol station locked its doors.

Villagers were left with no choice but to travel a half-hour by car to the closest supermarket.

But in July 2020, an automated, unmanned grocery store came to town. In a container dropped in the middle of a field, open 24 hours a day, the 20-square-metre (215-square-foot) supermarket sells hundreds of items — and there’s no cashier in sight.

“Since a while back, there has been nothing in this area and I think most of us living here have really missed that,” said Giulia Ray, a beekeeper in
Veckholm. 

“It’s so convenient to have this in the area,” she told AFP, doing her own shopping and restocking the shop’s shelves with her honey at the same time.

Shoppers unlock the supermarket’s door with an app on their smartphone. “We come here three times a week and buy stuff we need,” Lucas Edman, a technician working in the region for a few weeks, told AFP. “It’s a little bit more expensive but it’s fine. It’s a price I can pay to not go to another store.”

He scanned his pizzas and soda on the app on his phone, which is linked to his bank account and a national identification system — an added anti-theft security, according to the store. And it’s all done under the watchful eye of a single security camera.

Keeping costs down

In Sweden, the number of grocery stores — everything from superstores to small convenience stores — has dropped from 7,169 in 1996 to 5,180 in 2020, according to official statistics.

While the number of superstores has almost tripled in 24 years, many rural shops have closed down, often due, like elsewhere in Europe, to a lack of
profitability.

Daniel Lundh, who co-founded the Lifvs, has opened almost 30 unmanned stores in rural Sweden and in urban areas with no shops in the past two years.

“To be able to keep low prices for the customer, we have to be able to control our operation costs. So that means controlling the rent — that’s why
the stores are quite small — but also controlling the staffing cost,” Lundh said.

He plans to open his first unstaffed supermarkets outside Sweden early next year.

Domenica Gerlach, who manages the Veckholm store, only comes by once a week to receive deliveries. She also manages three other shops, all of them mobile containers.

Peter Book, the mayor of Enkoping, the municipality to which Veckholm belongs, has only good things to say about the three container stores that
have opened in his patch. And he’d like to see more.

“It makes it easier to take a step to move there if you know you have this facility,” he said.

Meeting place and ‘salvation’

In Sweden, one of the most digitalised countries in the world, Lifvs, like its Swedish rivals AutoMat and 24Food which have also popped up in rural
areas, benefits from a very wired population.

In 2019, 92 percent of Swedes had a smartphone. Ironically, the unmanned shops — plopped down in the middle of nowhere — also play a role as a “meeting place” for locals.

“You come here, you get some gas and you go inside and get something, and maybe someone else is here and you can have a chat,” Ray said.
Mayor Book echoed the notion, saying the stores make it possible to connect society”.

The pandemic has also proven the stores’ usefulness, since no contact with other people inside the shop is necessary.

Because of Covid-19, only one person at a time is allowed inside the Veckholm store.

“My mother lives nearby as well and … this has been a shop she could actually enter during all this time. She hasn’t been (able to go) anywhere,”
Ray said of her 75-year-old mother. “This has been a salvation for her.”

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