Swedish economy-class retailer H&M has once again proved its marketing savvy, collaborating with architect Jean Nouvel on its new flagship store on the Champs-Elysées. The soaring megastore was inaugurated with a star-studded gala during October fashion week, celebrating the company’s victory in its prolonged battle with city authorities, who feared the “banalization” of the legendary avenue. Hiring the illustrious architect, whose dozen or so iconic buildings around the city include the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Fondation Cartier and the Musée du Quai Branly, was no doubt one way to sway dubious Parisians.
“I wanted to embrace the spirit of the Champs-Elysées,” said Nouvel, and give the big store “a very special character,” setting it apart from the generic blandness of the standard H&M superstore. While H&M regulars are used to large, hangar-like spaces, Nouvel’s massive 30,000-square-foot, three-story building is definitely out of the ordinary, merging the sleek with the industrial. In a nod to the city’s architectural heritage, Nouvel used hefty blocks of the pale limestone from which most of the city’s great landmarks are hewn, along with loads of black steel and stark spotlighting. The effect is surprisingly elegant; with strong, clean lines, plenty of light and interior space that is easily navigable and shopper friendly. Eleven giant LED screens displaying the latest H&M fashions rise up and down between floors on steel tracks, and helpful salespeople proffer ample H&M shoulder bags to carry home the goods.
The clothes seem to look better in the Nouvel space too. And for the still skeptical, H&M pulled another star out of the hat in late November, unveiling its exclusive Lanvin for H&M collections—womenswear by Lanvin’s creative director Alber Elbaz—short skirts, and lots of ruffles and bows—and menswear by designer Lucas Ossendrijver. Lanvin for H&M is destined to become another eBay resale extravaganza, like the collection of H&M’s first star collaborator, Karl Lagerfeld, in 2004, which sold out of stores in an hour.
If, like me, you reserve most of your visits to H&M for kids’ jeans and so-cheap-they’re-nearly-disposable play clothes, be warned: there’s no kid stuff here. But for night owls, the store is open daily until midnight.
88 ave des Champs-Elysées, 8th, 01.53.89.18.00. website
Fairly new to Paris and off the tourist radar, COS (Collection of Style) is H&M’s answer to fashion snobs who wouldn’t darken the door of an H&M megastore, Lanvin or no Lanvin. The H&M group insists COS is meant to complement H&M, and it’s clear they’re honing in on a more sophisticated crowd for whom tailoring and fit—both woefully lacking in the downscale duds—are essential. “The focus is on quality in terms of the fabrics, fit and finish,” says Michael Kristensen, COS’s menswear designer. “It’s ready-to- wear level design at low-range prices.”
Unlike its major competitor Zara, COS doesn’t churn out copies of hot runway styles. Instead, the design esthetic brings to mind minimalist designers Martin Margiela and Dries van Noten, and it’s right at home in the Marais, where the shoposphere is more focused on artsy, cutting-edge fashion than big-name brands.
COS’s reinvented classics for men and women—and an adorable line for kids—are wardrobe staples, like tailored cropped pants or a draped tunic that can be worn over leggings and jeans, or paired with heels for evening. There are standout pieces too—like a buttery leather dress or a shimmering pleated silk shift—that reflect the latest trends. The generally muted palette of black, gray, deep blues and greens is punctuated with bright colors—scarlet red, electric blue—and metallics.
Parisians also adore COS for well-priced accessories. A quality leather satchel bag with bridle detailing is a steal at €150, and a fabulous pair of suede wedge ankle boots is €175. There’s also a great selection of jaunty scarves, chic leather belts and gloves in leather or cashmere. COS has yet to hit the US market, so the clothes aren’t likely to be seen stateside.
4 rue des Rosiers, 4th, 01.44.54.37.70. website
Originally published in the December 2010 issue of France Today