So Londoners, get ready, get excited, an upmarket, grown up version of H&M is set to open on Friday on Regent Street. ‘Imaginatively’ named Collection of Style or COS for short, it’s supposed to bridge the gap between high street and high fashion. But don’t for one second think it’s going to adopt the quick reaction to catwalks, flash-in-the-pan trends strategy that has made H&M work so well. No no, it’s all about classics, the fashionable essentials – the perfect fitting t-shirt, skinny trousers. Easy to wear. Understated chic. The ad images say it all really.
Lovely jubbly, all very well, but to be honest, I’m not 100% sold. COS could have taken what they have done so incredibly well with H&M and applied the same principles but with superior quality, fabrics and finish. When I first heard about this new venture, I was expecting and hoping for something along the lines of Topshop’s Unique range which in my opinion bridges that gap that COS is claiming they will do. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that one of the biggest problems of high street fashion is though everything is very on-trend and very affordable, it all comes off looking too watered down and when fashion weeklies tout certain things on the high street as ‘must have’ items, you know you will bump into someone else wearing it. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking but I’m after distinctive, edgy design with quality on par with designer ready to wear at prices that are affordable but not ridiculously cheap. Something that is a little on the niche side design-wise but to be honest, with the number of people in London that are catwalk/high fashion-savvy, I wouldn’t say it’s a completely suicidal business proposition. I imagined something like Topshop Unique but on a larger store-wide scale. Something for the people who appreciate design and are catwalk-observant but cannot necessarily afford to buy designer ready to wear all the time. Someone like me? I suppose that is the crux of it. My desires don’t correlate with mass market demand yet somehow, I see it working on some level.
The gripe I have is that I think the UK is becoming a little saturated with ‘high quality basics/classic fashion.’ We have always had access to the French answers to fashionable basics APC, Petit Bateau etc and now Comptoirs de Cotonniers has got four stores in London, with more to come. Bananna Republic, whose clothes bear a lot of similarity to what COS are trying to achieve (judging from the initial press images) is also coming to London next year. Then we have Muji and Uniqlo for the more utilitarian but still chic basics. I just feel like I have the ability to find the perfect t-shirt, the skinny trews for around the same price brackets of COS and if it’s a little more expensive than perhaps there lies the connundrum. If you spend a little more on those basics/essentials/classics that count and need to last, what is left of our clothing budget can go on the ‘different’, ‘unique’ and ‘trend-led’ fashion. Well for me, that is basically how my wardrobe equation works and thus makes COS a little redundant for me.
COS are probably completely on the ball with their strategy and I suppose it will become a raving success with stores planned for Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. I just can’t help but wonder at the could-be potential of taking what H&M have done so well with fast reactions to trends and design and taking it to a higher more exciting and aspirational level.