H&M Will Soon Close

…the ION Orchard store. Another one bites the dust

Main entrance of H&M ION Orchard store

Was the writing on the wall when H&M closed their store in Tampines Mall in August 2020 and then at Waterway Point in Punggol in January 2021. The Swedish retailer announced via a photo message on Facebook that the ION Orchard outlet will be shut next month, on 12 March. Despite the impending closure, H&M happily stated that “new beginning awaits!”. It also added: “Don’t worry. We’ll meet in other places”, without saying what would cause the worry or if “other places” meant outside our island, or within. With the ION Orchard store shuttered, the chain is left with eight others spread across our city. It is not known how many of these will remain. On Orchard Road, only one H&M store stands: the once-open-till-11pm, three-storey flagship at Orchard Building on Grange Road will continue to operate.

The H&M ION Orchard store opened in 2012, the year the ‘Lemons Laws’ were passed to protect consumers from good found to be defective after purchase. With two stories (the lower floor houses the men’s and kids’ departments), it is the chain’s second largest here. It is also in this MRT station-level location that the label’s designer collaborations were launched (other than at the flagship, some 700 metres away). Those who chose to get in line outside this store felt it was a more comfortable space to camp overnight as it was “not affected by the elements”, one regular queue folk told us. H&M apparently would be stepping up its digital presence in the wake of reduced numbers of brick-and-mortar stores and attendant traffic. ION Orchard has not announced what or which brand will takeover the two units that H&M will soon vacate.

The B3 entrance to the men’s department

The last of the window displays before the store closes

Way before the pandemic arrived, we had already noticed that H&M was looking slack. Visual merchandising was beginning to be non-existent, even the clothes on the racks were not pressed. One “former” H&M fan told us that the offerings were beginning to “look nasty”. At some time in early 2019, even the Orchard Building flagship, where the press office is sited, appeared like a preface to closure: just racks of clothes with no displays on shelves above them. Reportedly, this store will be “revamped”, a H&M spokesperson told the press. But it would not surprise us that even their biggest outlet, where the brand’s home decor line is available during the Christmas season, would shutter. In Tokyo last August, H&M closed their Harajuku flagship (it sat in a dedicated building next to ABC Mart) on Meiji-dori, following the similar fate of their first Tokyo store in Ginza in 2018. It would be surprising that this was not the result of the heat felt from other fast fashion brands, such as Shein, now with physical stores in Osaka and Tokyo.

At the ION Orchard store this morning, the number of shoppers was dismal. Most of them appeared to be tourists or domestic workers on their day off. At the main entrance on B2, merchandise for the Lunar New Year greeted us with little cheer. We walked around and noted that, aesthetically, H&M has not changed: a jumble of clothes and little else. Everything on the racks had scant hanger appeal. We spotted a staffer folding clothes in front of an island display. We walked to the chap and casually asked him when the store will close. He told us that it will likely be on 12 March or “some time in the middle of next month.” We asked him what could be the reason for the impending closure, and he quickly replied, “that one I don’t know because the staff is not supposed to know.” Still curious, we pressed on: Will there be a clearance sale? Pointing to a rack behind us, he replied helpfully, “all the sale items are there.”

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

From One To Another

Marc Jacobs has in past collections paid tribute to some of fashion’s greats … and now, another—the late Vivienne Westwood

Marc Jacobs has always been creatively stimulated by his favourite designers, from the traditionalists to the avant-gardists. And he has no qualms saluting them through his designs—back when he was at Louis Vuitton and, now, via his own label, seeing no cardinal sin in the inspiration-to-runway transmission. There were Yves Saint Laurent, Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto in his past work, all with various levels of parallels. This season—spring/summer 2023, showed really late—Mr Jacobs took design cues from the late Vivienne Westwood, the British designer who dared to use articles of clothing of the past and reimagined them as she pleased, while keeping the historical silhouettes rather intact. American designers do not generally design in such technically challenging, convention-disregarding manner, and if they wanted to, they would look further afield, way past their training or their studios’ ability to pay homage to their fashion heroes. Incidentally, Mr Jacobs, who learned much from his 16 valiant years at LV, has titled his collection Heroes.

And he quoted his hero, Ms Westwood, in the show notes: “Fashion is life-enhancing. And I think it’s a lovely, generous thing to do for other people.” But what life enhancements did Mr Jacobs offer that his heroes had not already propose in the past? And how lovely was it the thing he did for other people not his potential customers? It was not immediately discernible in the Park Avenue Armory, the show location he abandoned some three years ago for the New York Public Library. Back in the cavernous space, he staged a somewhat bleak show, soundtracked by a solo violinist playing the frenetic, scratchy notes of Philip Glass’s ‘Knee Play 2’ from the 1975 four-act opera Einstein on the Beach. The show space was in total darkness except the runway. Models emerged, arms—in leather opera gloves—folded across the chest, walking as if they were restrained in straitjackets. They were all in platform boots—evocative of the Vivienne Westwood ones that caused Naomi Campbell to fall on the former’s runway show in 1993. But another name came to mind, too: Rick Owens. Mr Jacobs has a deep fondness for the boots by Mr Owens, and his version for his latest collection was reminiscent of those, even if just profile-wise.

That this was Vivienne Westwood redux could be understanding it. Marc Jacobs’s humourless homage is a reimagining of the work of the British designer through his own ‘street couture’-focused lens, tinted with the chroma of CDG (even, we sensed, Rick Owens). He seemed to want to outdo her, contorting her silhouettes to meet his desire for humps and bumps by styling oversized garments on the body in ways that reshaped the wearer’s natural silhouette. Extension of the really small spring/summer 2022 collection? Puffers (for warmer months?) puffed up to obscure the shoulders. Skirts were deconstructed cargos amalgamated into tented shapes from the waist down. Piled fabrics wrapped like blankets. Knitted tops with pleated swirls formed the breasts like volcanic apexes (their openings the opposite of Ms Westwood’s tits of the ‘nippled’ tank tops from 1981). Distorted dresses that were a far cry from the ’50s frocks he once liked. Patchworked coats evoke something boho. There were bustles but no mini-crinis; polka dots, no tartans; dip-dye, no distressed wash; John Galliano-esque deconstruction, no British tailoring. And there were the opening earthy colours—a nod to Ms Westwood’s 1982 shop and later collection Nostalgia of Mud?

On an old LVMH profile on Marc Jacobs, the designer was described as “influenced by all areas of culture”. It did not include many areas of the work other designers did (and do). While it might be well considered for him now to credit his source of inspiration, he did not always do so. How many times were we disappointed? Nostalgia impulses are not always easy to navigate or expressed in design. It could be commendable that Mr Jacobs desired to salute one of his favourite designers, but it is not apparent the attempt was inspiring or moving. This is not Hollywood. Even in Tinseltown, remakes are not always a better version of past productions. Ms Westwood was, in her early years, a bearer of shock, even upheaval. What Mr Jacobs proposed was neither disquieting or cataclysmic. Post-LV, he was once into hip-hop, now he was trying historicism. How convincing was he, really?

Screen shot and photos: Marc Jacobs