For the next big thing on the British high street, the & Other Stories headquarters in Stockholm are surprisingly low-key. Located on a quiet, snowy street in a residential part of the city and permeated with the smell of something delicious cooking for lunch (the team in the atelier all eat together every day), it's a far cry from the vision of ultra-hip Swedish cool we have come to expect from the brands this region keeps sending to invade our shores.
It feels deceptively homely, despite all the fierce-looking, articulated platform shoes, armour-plated bags and sharp silhouttes nestling in the workroom. But then its owner is well-versed in putting us at our ease when it comes to being fashion-forward.
& Other Stories, which launched last week simultaneously in London, Berlin and Copenhagen (how's that for cool company?) and online, is a new concept from the megabrand H&M, which last month dressed Best Supporting Actress nominee Helen Hunt on the Oscars red carpet and presented a collection in the French capital to coincide with the international collections. Which, all in the past few years, has given us COS, Monki and sell-out collaborations with Versace, Marni and Maison Martin Margiela.
It's just another fashionable coup for a company that, seemingly, can do no wrong.
“& Other Stories is about bringing everything a woman can wear into one place,” explains creative director Samuel Fernstrom. “About focusing on the whole look. We believe shoes, bags, accessories, jewellery, lingerie and beauty are key for styling, and just as important as clothing.”
The label began life simply as a beauty brand, practically the only industry pie H&M doesn't yet have a finger in, with international make-up artist Lisa Butler, who has worked alongside Inez and Vinoodh, as well as labels such as Prada and Hemut Lang – as a consulting colour director. In charge of the fragrances is Ben Gorham, the nose at cult Swedish perfumiers Byredo. The beauty range includes skincare and sweet-smelling body lotions, as well as a Pantone-breadth of shades, such as pistachio and midnight blue nail varnish; coral and rose blushes engraved with a quote from Romeo and Juliet, and cobalt metallic eyeshadow. Everything is packaged in clinical white with black lettering, unutterably cool and “something we'd like to have on our shelves,” according to the similarly cool beauty collection manager Frida Fagerholm.
But from the focus on beauty, the label blossomed into an innovative and idiosyncratic lifestyle concept that those working on it are only too excited to unveil. “We felt women shop differently today compared to how they used to,” says Behnaz Aram, head of design, who works out of the Stockholm atelier (some of the team are based in Paris). “They mix and match, and buy high and low. They don't want to pay too much for a hairclip, but they're okay with paying more for things that will stay in their wardrobe. We felt that customers want to be creative today – and that was the idea with the different directions.”
& Other Stories is made up of four carefully considered mini-collections, each one a coherent vision of a specific aesthetic that takes in ready-to-wear, shoes, handbags, jewellery and a number of suggested beauty looks. “Contradiction and minimalism” is all swirled marble prints and geometric shapes on strict and severe silhouettes and tailoring, topped off with understated and upmarket accessories. “Industrial and effortless” speaks more of glamorous grunge, in biker jackets, chunky metallic jewellery and sheer-panelled minidresses. “Sophisticated and architectural” combines swoops and drapes of fabric with sporty touches and Art Deco flourishes, while “Poetic and dandy” is something more recognisably hip, slightly preppy, with leanings toward vintage.
“All our lines are diverse,” Samuel Fernstrom continues, “ranging from masculine tailoring to feminine chic and are designed to provide endless styling choices. We aim to design lasting wardrobe treasures, within a wide price, for a woman who wants to wear thing that feel right to her and reflect her personality.”
If it sounds like shopping by numbers, it isn't. The design of each pathway has been carefully considered so that each stands alone – and looks characterful – but will blend easily with another.
It feels modern, reflective of the fact that latterly women don't necessarily fall for every trend that comes their way anymore or, conversely, their tastes fall into different camps on any given day.
While the stable's other prize COS offers a mainly minimalist mid-range take, & Other Stories will provide the brighter and more feminine pieces that other fashion-forward shoppers have been waiting for.
“It felt like customers want to be creative today,” adds Behnaz Aram. “That's the thing about the internet and the whole street style thing. So if we could create a brand that had four different direction, they can mix and match.” The name comes from the nostalgic publishing tradition – there is a copy of Antony Trollope's The Parson's Daughter & Other Stories lying on one of the benches in the airy atelier (it's an exposed brickwork number) and the concept, while strikingly modern in feel, also comes from a certain sort of heritage: that of the couture houses, winning and welcoming customers with fragrances and cosmetics during the late Fifties – perhaps the last time there was such a concerted democratisation of fashion.
The look of & Other Stories is decidedly fashion-forward too. There are bags here that might not look out of place in the Parisian showroom of a hyper-luxe brand and shoes that could have come straight from the workshop of an avant garde stalwart. These are not the sorts of pieces generally available on the high street and for that, shoppers will flock to & Other Stories. The prices reflect the complexity of design – they're a little higher than your average, but shoes at £120 (real leather, well-made) and roomy totes for £145 (same, and same – one particular model was perfected for nearly 18 months by accessories designer Luca La Rocca, formerly an accessories whizzkid at Cerruti) are a snip compared to the next rung on the price ladder for equivalent items.
The design team are also split between Stockholm and Paris, a cunning move that allows the company to cherry-pick from the wealth of designers based in each city, but also to incorporate two of the most popular strands in fashion right now: nonchalant, downbeat Gallic chic and that grungey Scandi edge – both filter through all four of the Other Stories strands.
“It's for women who are interested in fashion and who feel differently every day,” says Aram. “Some days you want a romantic dress, the next day jeans and a T-shirt. That's the same person – it's not that you dress in one style. You feel different and that's what we're trying to reflect.”