Visited: & Other Stories

H&M’s girlish sibling is finally open. Could this be the closest we’ll get to Cottagecore?

The first & Other Stories in our city

The storefront two weeks earlier, at its opening

Back in April, after seeing the hoarding of the & Other Stories store in ION Orchard, we were told by the helpful staff at COS next door that their sister brand and new neighbour would open in the last quarter of the year. As it turns out, & Other Stories welcomed shoppers on the 19th of last month, considerably sooner that expected. As with any new opening (or for that matter, closing down!), the store drew a large, rummaging crowd, like pigeons at feeding time, in the first weekend of its rather quiet debut. To avoid the crush, we paid the store a visit two weeks later, and on a week day. And it was a pleasant roll in the barn for us. The imagery of the country building is deliberate. This is probably the closest to Cottagecore—an aesthetic trend that emerged around 2017—we’ll get here in a retail concept.

To be sure, it is not all-out rural charm. But on the day we did not enter the store—just after it opened, the entrance was flanked by a profusion of flowers in jars and plants in pots, and a kiosk-on-wheels that would not be out of place in a Tenille Townes music video. When we were there last week to shop, the country props fronting the entrance were removed, but the hint at Western agricultural life is still evident. From the farmhouse chair and wooden screen in the window to the coated iron racks and display tables with timber trestles, the vast interior is far more bucolic than the stores of its sibling brands, H&M and COS, have ever been, or desire to be. Atmospherically enhanced, this could be & Other Stories’ selling point: There is the very real possibility that you’d linger.

It is likely that the store’s visual merchandising is a strategic approach to capture the attention of shoppers increasingly accustomed to the near uniformity and predictability of e-shopping. Physical stores (H&M brands are primarily a brick-and-mortar business) have to try harder than their online counterparts. Although there is something old-fashioned about the in-store look of & Other Stories, the layout avoids lines of racks after racks of clothes, with pockets of space that are islands of accessories and others in what would otherwise be a lake of garments. This may bode well for the store’s ability to entice and engage those who do not consider shopping as a grab-and-go moment. Sure, there are many who do not consider physical stores to hold real value, but it is possible that more might not be underwhelmed by the physical sum & Other Stories.

The not-modernist lines of the store make for a space that is less cold, less uninviting than other similarly not-atas brands. The entrance is lined with plants on both sides, hinting at a warm, even cosy, interior ahead. Clothes are worn on tailor dummies, augmenting the interior’s subtly old-fashioned vibe, circumscribed by pale, near-white walls. These are not left bare, but appended with photo collages and what look corkboards (or the rear of framed canvas panels?) on which clothing hang, or more photographs are attached. We sensed that there is an attempt at recreating a schoolgirl’s room, with its natural disorderliness, but no clutter. Plants, placed on the tiled or wood-panelled floor, or on wooden stools, as well as dried variety on tables—continue to appear throughout the space, ensuring its calculated homeliness.

Although a single-brand store, the irregular-shaped space is separated into zones of various sizes. It is not immediately discernible if in each there are different fashion categories (excluding accessories, footwear, and bric-a-brac), but there are pockets in which discoveries could be made. This could, of course, be due to the novelty of a first visit. The clothes are, consistent with the Cottagecore sensibility, largely print-driven—flowers the mainstay. If the florals are insufficiently feminine, there are dresses with frills and flounces, and “flutter sleeves”. For most international brands, this is the season of the first drop for fall, but at & Other Stories, the collections seem to reflect a far warmer season, which could make a more sensible product launch for their debut here.

At the rear, the space is akin to a boutique—“more atmospheric”, as one SOTD follower said to us, which could be reference to the seemingly warmer lighting here, as well as the pale wood floor. Impressive is the width of the aisles, with the racks and shelves assigned to the perimeter, providing adequate room for a group of girlfriends to amuse themselves without creating too much traffic obstruction (regrettably, there is no space for bored boyfriends or spouses to wait, or even a stool on which to lay a heavy backpack). The clothes here seem dressier, even party-worthy. Plunging neckline, the halter neck, and the one shoulder provide the sexiness that frills and the like may not. It is also here that the fitting rooms (unusually not hidden) are situated. Each is a wood-framed unit with curtains for doors. And there is sufficient foreground for queues when they are necessary, or for those offering their opinion to observe comfortably. As we turned to walk away, we heard a young voice behind us exclaim approvingly, “yes!”

& Other Stories is at Level 3, ION Orchard. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

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