Monki: Swinging Sweden comes to Carnaby Street

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The quirky concept-shop has just opened in London. Harriet Walker takes a trip to a magical mystery store

One shop opening in these climes is ambitious enough, let alone two. But in the same week that people queued for hours outside stores for its Marni collaboration, Swedish high-street giant H&M brought two of its stablemates to London – and set them up next door to each other.

Cult jeans label Cheap Monday opened in mid-February on Carnaby Street and a couple of weeks ago, on International Women's Day, no less, its sister brand Monki, full of cute and quirky, design-led pieces, opened its doors, too.

"I wouldn't say we follow trends," says CEO Henrik Aaen Kastberg of the brand, which first arrived in Britain last summer as a concession within Selfridges. "We go with the trends but we combine that with our own kind of style. From the beginning, it has been a combination of the more simple minimalistic Scandinavian fashion sense and a more expressive street style."

Both of which are bang on the money: brash, bold colours inspired by the cool kids of Tokyo paired with sleek and androgynous shapes in challenging cuts that reference the beautiful people of Stockholm. Add in prices between £10 and £110, and it's small wonder that the Swedes are taking over the high street.

"I'm Danish, by the way," Kastberg laughs. "But the last 10 years have definitely seen a Scandinavian wave. It might be because Scandinavians in general are not the most outspoken or loud – maybe we're a bit more understated, and that's in fashion right now."

There's a certain humility to Monki, despite the contrived garish interior of the new store and the label's kooky aesthetic. The company, founded in 2005, opened its first three branches in 2006 and by the end of last year counted 52 boutiques in eight countries. It's a success story by any brand's standards, let alone a young one making its way in a difficult climate for retail.

Monki takes a unique and engaging approach with its customers, who are referred to by staff and in literature as "our Monki friends", by presenting them with a fable based around a clutch of weird-looking fuzzballs. These, the Monkis themselves, inhabit a magical world, supposedly brought to life in the colourful interiors of the shops.

"We call ourself a story-based concept with a focus on fashion and price," Henrik Kastberg says. "We have a fairy tale – about the Monkis being born out of the chimneys of the City of Oil and Steel – that was made before the first store opened. I think it was one of the graphic designers who created them."

If it sounds oddly hallucinogenic, it is a little bit – but it stems from the time when Monki was conceived as a cheap fashion hit for teens, before their older sisters got in on the act too. "We hadn't ever thought about age as such – we never said 'from this age to this age'," Kastberg says. "We see all ages in our stores. They like the uniqueness, they like that we give them the opportunity to express themselves. We like to say that Monki is a do-and-don't-free zone."

It works perfectly: there's enough zaniness and hits of bright colour to appease a younger market, and plenty of interesting separates and updated classics to please those with a more refined palate too. When I stumbled into Monki in Stockholm three years ago, I was briefly troubled by the age of my fellow customers but the clothes spoke for themselves – as did the prices. And the shop assistants too have all the style of the American Apparel cohort with none of the hauteur or hipster homogeneity – blending into the crowd is strictly against the Monki ethic, according to Kastberg.

"The founders of Monki found that old-fashioned retailers had the same appearance. If you took away the sign from the façade it was very hard to tell who it was. So you could say Monki started because there was no Monki."

There can be few other shops with such Nietzschean origins. But Monki works hard to maintain the whole picture, producing a biannual magazine that features editorial content and high-budget shoots, selling each of the Monki creatures as cuddly toys, and decorating each store differently to represent part of their make-believe universe.

The Carnaby Street location speaks volumes, too: this corner of central London so famed for nascent youth culture in the Sixties has become an area for offbeat and independent retailers. And while behind the scenes Monki may be a corporate product in itself, it strives to appear as undiluted by big business as possible. Which is another very effective, not to mention very Swedish, characteristic.

 

39 Carnaby Street, London W1; monki.com

News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

    £120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story