The H&M Rumour

Is it true that Hennes & Mauritz is closing?

 

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In the past week, we’ve been repeatedly receiving a screen snap in our social media accounts. The photo shows an article in Chinese, attributed to a piece published on the news aggregator site Okeyread (新鲜资讯 or Fresh Information). The headline read, “H&M Group Announces: Closure of all branches in Singapore (H&M集团宣布:关闭新加坡全部分店)”. The article does not say from where the information was obtained.

It has been reported in the mainstream media that H&M suffered huge losses due to the ongoing pandemic, with the Financial Times stating that the world’s second largest retailer’s “revenues from June 1 to 24 were down 25 per cent compared with a year earlier, following a decline of 50 per cent in the second quarter to SKr28.7 bil (USD3 bil or SGD4.2 bil)”. In circulation too were news that H&M may close some stores throughout the world to concentrate on e-commerce. According to Business Insider, 170 stores under the group (which may include other labels such as COS) will be closed this year. However, nothing definitive has been announced about shuttering for good all outlets here.

Calls to the H&M office in Grange Road two days in a row went unanswered. At H&M stores, the staff is not sure what the status is. When asked, one member of the sales crew shot back indignantly, “Where did you hear that from?” Others meekly said, “We don’t know yet.” No one attempted to dispel the rumour, even when we told them that’s what we’ve been hearing. Instead, they seem to be telling us that it will happen, but they have not been told the date.

Perhaps it was a weekday, several of the H&M stores we visited were not busy. One teenager with a dress draped over her arm said she had not heard anything. “Please, please, please. H&M cannot close. There is nowhere I can buy cheap fashion. This is where I get my party clothes. Please, please, please. Don’t close.”

Photo: Zhao Xiangji

There Will Be Fewer Zara Stores

Is the announcement of Zara’s impending world-wide closure of 1,200 stores a sign of more to come for fast fashion?

 

Zara Liat TowersZara at Liat Towers during the Circuit Breaker period 

Zara is downsizing. Ranked 46th last year by Forbes on their World’s Most Valuable Brands listing (highest among fast fashion/high street names), the Spanish label will not be keeping its current number of stores, believed to be 7,400 of them throughout the world. According to news reports, 1,000 to 1,200 of their stores will be shuttered between now and 2022. It is not yet known how many of the ten in Singapore will be affected. Could Zara’s plan be a stark warning of the actions to follow among other fast fashion labels?

Zara opened its first store here in 2002. It was a “cooperation agreement” between parent company Inditex and local retail and distribution firm Royal Clicks, now mostly known as RSH (which began as the more familiar Royal Sporting House), presently owned by the Dubai-based Al Futtaim Group. It is one of the earliest fast fashion brands (only compatriot label Mango was earlier, debuting here in 1995) to tempt consumers with affordable, quick-to-market, trend-driven fashion.

According to a Reuters report, Inditex—also owner of Massimo Dutti and Pull and Bear (and others)—has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between February and April, the company recorded a net loss of 409 million euros for the same period, compared to last year. In the same time frame a year ago, sales was 5.9 billion euros. It has now dropped to 3.3 billion euros. The losses, Reuters wrote, include those of other fashion labels under the company, not just Zara, the largest of Inditex brands.

Even before the current pandemic, some fast fashion brands have shown to be untenable. A combination of fluctuating economic conditions, global trade tensions, stretched lifespan of fashion items, inevitable rise of wokeness to sustainability and environmental issues, and displacement of apparel by food and travel (now persuasively known as “experiences”) has diminish the once-immediate appeal of fast fashion. As one magazine writer, speaking of the fast fashion customer, told us, “fast to adopt, fast to forget”.

Forever 21Forever 21 at 313@Somerset before the Circuit Breaker kicked in 

It is understandable why retail pundits are now painting a bleak picture of fast fashion. One of the earliest brands to lose consumer favour is Forever 21. In Singapore, they once operated four stores under the retail arm of UAE’s Sharaf Group. It filed for bankruptcy protection in the US in September last year. Analysts cited lost of relevance as one of the reasons behind the brand’s declining popularity. According to local reports, quoting shop staff, Forever 21 won’t close its sole surviving store at 313@Somerset.

British clothier Topshop has not fared too well either. It announced last year that it’ll close all its US stores, a decade after its foray into the States. In Japan, they opened in 2006 and closed all stores in 2015. Its businesses in Australia were shuttered last year. According to The Guardian, the Arcadia Group—owner of Topshop—“could permanently close some of its shops (that also includes Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge).” Here, Topshop, which opened in 2006 and is run by Wing Tai Holdings (usually linked to the Hong Kong brand G2000), made no announcement of closure, but shoppers have noticed how “sad” the stores was beginning to look, even before the start of the Circuit Breaker lockdown.

The world’s second largest clothing firm by sales after Inditex, Hennes & Mauritz, isn’t looking especially rosy either. Back in 2018, Bloomberg reported that H&M was “embarking on one of its biggest store-closure programmes”, with plans to shut 170 stores that year. It added that the company had “struggled to cut inventory”. Reacting to the pandemic, H&M temporarily closed all its stores in Germany—their biggest market for sales—and all 590 in the US, their second largest market. It is not known if there would be permanent closures.

H&M

Conversely, Uniqlo, it appears, isn’t scaling down. In Japan, they have, in fact, opened stores—two in Tokyo alone, one in Harajuku and one “global flagship” in Ginza, both this month. All this happening while the launch of their first face mask made of their proprietary Airism fabric is scheduled for this Friday in Japan. It is expected to sell out. Uniqlo, opened here in 2009 and whose parent company Fast Retailing is the third largest fashion company in global sales after H&M, has been especially active on social media and, through their PR agency, regularly sending members of the media updates on new merchandise, such as the recent Billie Eilish by Takashi Murakami UT collection.

It’s hard to say if our appetite for Zara and the rest will return when the Circuit Breaker is eventually lifted, or when what is known as Phase 2 kicks in. Even before COVID-19, some of the fast fashion brands did not appear to maintain especially commendable shop keeping and visual merchandising. At H&M’s flagship on Grange Road, just before the Lunar New Year, the store looked deplorably in need of revitalising, with racks of tired merchandise in a setting that was far from what was becoming increasingly vital to brick-and-mortar retail: excitement.

Similarly, at Topshop in ION Orchard, the store has more in common, visually, with a clearance outlet than one that, in its heyday, had a street-facing flagship in the now-defunct Knightsbridge shopping centre (the Apple store today), where the Kate Moss X Topshop collection was launched in 2010. Since the closure in 2015 of what was touted as “Asia’s largest Topshop”, an impressive three-storey space spread out over 11,500 square feet (1,068 square metres), the brand has whittled in physical presence and barely registers among shoppers who are responding to the swankier Zara and the more-fun Uniqlo.

Going forward, it is hard to know which direction fast fashion will take or if it would continue to appeal when consumers are taking note of the staggering surfeit of clothing they own and, at the same time, discard. Lockdown has allowed us to ponder: Do we need clothes to express ourselves when there’s social media? Sure, influencers still use clothes as content on the likes of Instagram, but how many actually buy their own threads? Is fast fashion still an appealing retail concept and would it shine if retailers operate primarily online? Is ‘fast’ speeding inexorably towards a certain end? As with most quagmires, it is complicated.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Rodent Stock

This Lunar New Year, brands are scampering to take your money for ratty fashion

 

ChinatownCNY 2020This year’s Eu Tong Sen-facing street decoration in Chinatown

By Mao Shan Wang

Rats! This year will soon arrive. I don’t know about you, but I am, in real life, not a fan of rats. Not one bit, these muroids, with their dirty-brown hair and pesky tails, and their love for gnawing and scavenging. I can deal with cockroaches, however many, but rats just sickens me, even just one. There, I’ve said it. I don’t deny that my distaste for them borders on disgust.

Despite their icky appearance, the Chinese zodiac has a special love for them, placing the rat ahead of the pack. The current CNY decoration in Chinatown best illustrates this. According to my mom, the rat is very smart, ingenious even, so much so that it’s able to outsmart and kick the cat out the race to be right ahead of the 12-animal conga line. That sounds pretty smart to me. But, according to Chinese Zodiac myth, the rat actually hitched a ride on the ox and jumped off the beast to propel him to the front! Talk about stepping stones!

Apart from the rat’s intelligence, the creature is, according to the ancients, also blessed with other anthropomorphic traits: charm(!), quick-wit, diligence, and practicality. I’m not sure what that would make (a good husband?), but I think that many would find such a character attractive, if not endearing. Which may explain why, in the cartoon world, so many lovable characters are based on rats.

Mickey X MangoMickey Mouse at Mango

The shu nian, like many years of the different animals before it, is opportunity for fashion brands to sell merchandise sporting the star creature. They could choose from so many of them, be they from books or screen animations, but they narrowed their choice to one—many chose predictable and bland Mickey Mouse, which, conversely, have been described as, among other qualities, handsome and heroic. I suppose abdominous Mickey is convenient and identifiable. Using him requires no starting from scratch. Why bother with a new delineation when Disney will readily licence a very white black mouse for any use, even for a largely Asian audience? And he’s available in so many forms—old and new.

If they really wanted handsome and heroic—appreciable modern rarities, there’s Remy from Ratatouille or Jerry of Tom & Jerry (to be sure, Etude House used them) or Minute of Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse (too old?). Or, if muscles are the prerogative, Mighty Mouse (the cartoon character, not Apple’s input device from 2005!). Or, if literary associations vital, Stuart Little. Or, if a female is preferred (in a post-Wonder Woman world, they are), Miss Bianca from The Rescuers. Or, if gender-fluidity is a must, Coney from the wildly popular Line characters. Or, if racial inclusiveness the most crucial, my all-time fave, Speedy Gonzales. No, they prefer same-old and sure-safe Mickey Mouse.

Gucci jeans & track top SS 2020Gucci track top and denim jeansDsneyDisney’s own Mickey Mouse merchandise with local expressionsH&M X Disney SS 2020H&M sweatshirt featuring a 3-D Mickey MouseDisney X Aldo sneakers SS 2020Disney X Aldo sneakers

Mickey appearing on Uniqlo or H&M tees is understandable—expected, even, but as a mascot for a luxury brand such as Gucci? To me, it’s jejune and unimaginative and too convenient. Mickey Mouse is there for the taking, so take it. That’s what it says to me. After all, the brand had already collaborated with Disney; they’ve produced a USD4,500(!), 3-D printed plastic handbag in the shape of Mickey’s head to mark the mouse’s 90th anniversary in 2018. No sweat if Disney’s beloved character is used. Again.

Some other brands do try, with varying degrees of success (authenticity? That’s another point). There’s a blotch of a rat at CK Calvin Klein, accompanied by a message: “TO SEE WHAT OTHERS DO NOT SEE THAT IS TRUE VISION”. Yes, in full caps and WhatsApp-worthy lack of punctuation. That’s probably paraphrasing Jonathan Swift—“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others”, but what the saying has to do with rats is anyone’s guess. Perhaps cuteness alone isn’t quite enough; you have to appear smart (isn’t that already a rat trait?), better still, literary.

cK Calvin Klein shirt SS 2020CK Calvin Klein shirt with message and mouseNudie Jeans jacket S 2020Nudie Jeans Vinny Year of the Rat denim jacket at The Denim Store, 313@OrchardBrooks Brothers SS 2020Brooks Brothers sweater and a dressed grey mouse20-01-23-01-36-34-390_decoNikelab’s rat pack for DSM. Photo: DSM

Elsewhere, a pointy-nosed Japanese-esque mouse is seen on a Nudie Jeans trucker. The creature is described as a “metal rat”. They got that right. A small appreciable detail. If CK Calvin Klein’s rat is a literary one, then Brooks Brothers’ affable-looking rodent is probably its sporty compatriot. Given a baseball cap with a pair of unmistakable double Bs, the nameless creature could be Yankee’s (Everyone’s Hero) avatar. To appeal to those who are partial to cyberpunk aesthetics and who care not to be auspicious, the Earn Chen-led (he who founded Surrender and Ambush, and now the guy behind Potato Head Folk)  Singaporean label, The Salvages, offers—at DSMS—a robotic rat with a menacing scowl and red eye. Even Starbucks isn’t leaving themselves out of the rat race, selling a coffee mug in the shape of a rather corpulent Rattus. Not all brands use solo rats. Also at DSMS, Nike’s special capsule features one T-shirts with a quintet of basketball-playing rats of the ’hood. But perhaps most fascinating is one by Doublet: there’s an embroidery of a rat on the chest. If you look closely,  you’d see a loose thread. I was told that if you pull it, the stitches will unravel, revealing an ox—a tee for two consecutive years!

It isn’t yet clear if the pick up rate for these ratty fashion will spike during the CNY shopping season. Frankly, I don’t really know the purpose of luxury brands getting into Chinese New Year symbolism other than to cash in. In fact, I don’t recall the wearing of clothes that feature the animal of the corresponding zodiac year to be common. It’s definitely not traditional! Come to think of it, I remember Marc Jacobs’s men’s wear used to have a mascot/logo featuring a rodent named Stinky Rat. Mr Jacobs had never deliberately released clothing bearing the creature during CNY. Does wearing one’s zodiac animal (or spirit animal?) make things a little more season-appropriate, a little more festive, a little more auspicious?

Ill will unintended, I don’t give a rat’s ass.

Editorial note: for convenience, I use ‘rat’ and ‘mouse’ interchangeably, probably to the annoyance of mammalogists, biologists, zoologists, and the like. Photos (unless indicated): Chin Boh Kay. 

H&M’s Other Collaboration

While many are waiting eagerly for the H&M X Giambattista collection to be launched next week, a quiet but not uninteresting collaboration is sadly given a miss

 

H&M X Pringle.jpg

By Mao Shan Wang

Before the much-awaited pairing with Giambattista Valli hits the shelf on the 7th of next month, H&M has launched a far less hyped collaboration with the knitwear firm of Pringle of Scotland. Yes, that’s Pringle, known for its cashmere sweaters, not Pringles, known for potato chips! Now that I’ve got that out of the way (since H&M indeed has a T-shirt sporting the mustachioed face of the chip’s mascot Julius Pringles!), I would say that this collection is going to be overshadowed, even before filling the racks, by Giambattista Valli’s ruffles-aplenty ode to the party dress.

Pringle, as it is usually called, is considered one of the oldest knitwear companies in the world. It holds the royal warrant for knitwear manufacture, and has mostly been associated with jumpers your grandparents prefer. That was until one Clare Waight Keller was appointed as creative director in 2007. Ms Waight Keller had just arrived from Gucci, where she worked under Tom Ford. Her Pringle was the start of a stunning turnaround for the company, and her spin on Scottish classics such as argyle sweaters, in shapes closer to those favoured by the burgeoning British street style, would have agreed with the likes of Liam Gallagher, who later birthed Pretty Green. Almost a decade later, Ms Waight Keller found herself in Givenchy, where she augmented her position with a particular wedding dress that gripped the world.

H&M X Pringle P2

There is no turning back for Pringle. Currently helmed by Fran Stringer (a CV that is dominated by British brands, such as Aquascutum and Mulberry), the brand remains somewhat fringe-y and is supported by those typically described as ‘discerning’. With H&M, Pringle staples, such as the argyle (diamond-shaped pattern) sweaters, are not excluded, but perhaps what’s more appealing are those that are included, such as zip-front knit dresses, so alluringly sportif that I’m sure Alexander Wang is cross with himself for not beating H&M to Pringle.

That this is barely noticed by H&M customer here is understandable. These clothes won’t stand a chance among those who have to face the endless muggy days of this island. Just glancing at them is enough to get me covered in sweat. Still, for those heading towards cooler (or colder) climes this holiday season, some pieces in the collection could be the difference between appearing cosily sleek or looking like a puff ball.

Photos: H&M

Scuffle To Get These?

H&M X BalmainNo, we’re not kidding. You can’t see our incredulous smile, but, like yours, it’s there. Fracas for fashion: there are really those who do forgo grace for a gown! According to the Guardian, “Scuffles broke out on Regent Street in London as impatient shoppers jostled to get into H&M for the launch of a collection by the designer label Balmain.” If that’s not bad enough, consider The Racked’s headline: “Terrifying Footage of Shoppers Laying Waste to a Store.” Out of context, this could have been Kabul, Afghanistan!

H&M’s latest collaboration was launched worldwide on 5 October. The response, as described, was, according to the brand’s spokespeople in major cities, “unprecedented”. What’s astonishing is that it’s only Balmain, Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain. Mr Rousteing, by most standards, is a newcomer—a baby among older giants of the industry. It’s understandable if it’s, say, Alaïa, but it is not. Sure, Mr Rousteing, all of 29 (he was installed at Balmain at 25), connects to his generation, but are these really alluring clothes, born of vast experience and refined taste? Whatever they are, he’s put them out there in H&M and all hell broke loose. On Instagram, with the fine-tuning of filters, they are the glamorous glad rags that make IG the unfathomable repository of questionable sartorial choices.

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Screen grab of Mrs Christopher Lee doing a Kendall Jenner for her IG followers 

Fann Wong—not exactly Mr Rousteing’s peer, was eager to post her made-for-the-masses Balmain on her IG account in the early part of the day of the launch, possibly to beat everyone to it. She wore the green sequinned dress, looking pleased, as if she has just won a best actress award. It could, of course, be backstage at a getai performance. It is doubtful if she queued for the dress (and goodness knows how many others availed to her—likely the results of her stylist Martin Wong’s good connections), but it is certain everyone wants a piece of the action. Some just don’t have to be that active.

While scuffles were not reported in the queues here, people were anxious to show their afraid-to-lose side. As early as 4pm on Tuesday, SOTD spotted a line at H&M’s Orchard Building flagship on Grange Road (many looked ready to call a store front home for the next couple of days). According to The Straits Times, people, in fact, started queuing at 7pm on Monday, and by the morning of the launch day, more than 500 people got in line. Although the waiting shoppers were not rowdy, their willingness to camp out on concrete pavement does constitute extreme behaviour. Where, if parents or spouse had asked, would they have said they had spent those nights?  It is ironic that in order to get your hands on a couple of “glamorous dresses” you had to yield to something as unglamorous as sleeping on a public walkway.

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Shoppers queuing overnight outside the Orchard Building store to grab a piece of affordable Balmain. Photo: A.B. Tan

At the Orchard Building store the clothes were sold out in four hours, possibly less. An hour after it opened at 8am, while some of you were sauntering into the office, most of the items were reported by shoppers, who managed to get into the store, to be gone. Before noon, only a couple of zip-back tube tops in black and white were left. Any merchandiser will say that’s effectively a 100 percent sell-through. Who in fashion today can boast of such a success?

Elsewhere in the region, frenzy, too, rather than scrum was reported. In Kuala Lumpur, our source told us that people queued over 50 hours outside the H&M outlet at Lot 10. And merchandise vanished in as little as five hours, with many people claiming they were unable to get several of the pieces they wanted. Over in Bangkok, our correspondence told us that there was no overnight queue as H&M is inside Paragon mall (given the city’s sensitivities over security, after-hours sleepover inside shopping centres is not permitted), and the store had issued coloured bracelets earlier to regulate the crowd on the actual day. Before noon, all the racks were empty save one with a few tube tops, just as in Singapore. The sell-out rate in Bangkok is surprising because just across the street in Siam Square, similarly “opulent, glamorous, sexy”—as described by H&M’s Ann-Sofie Johansson—numbers can be had for a song. For the most ardent (and patient) fans, however, you’ll have to look at Seoul. According to local reports, the die-hards started queuing a week ago!

The empty racks in less than 4 hours at H&M, Paragon, Bangkok. Photo: Jagkrit Suwanmethanon

How much of this madness is media-induced? For so many writers and bloggers, H&M X Balmain is the fashion event of the year. Adidas X Kanye West step aside. The Telegraph told its readers to “Prepare to fall in love with Olivier Rousteing”. At vogue.com, they swooned: “all as chic and distinctively Balmain as the collections Rousteing shows on the runway season after season.”A report in Huffington Post on 15 October to announce the approaching launch was prefaced with 30 emojis depicting hands-up jubilation. Yes, 30. Go figure!

Are these garments really so covetable? Do shoppers truly think these are beautiful clothes or are they merely buying into the hype that these are “affordable” designer duds? Who knew Balmain is this big? Despite the sequins, has Balmain really added some stardust to H&M? One product development specialist we know told us, “ugly sells, tacky sells”. He is not exaggerating. Mr Rousteing’s Balmain may have elevated trashy ostentation with the house’s atelier, but with H&M, you can’t seriously bring up what’s never positioned high in the first place. Much of H&M X Balmain is the kind of showy excess once associated with street walkers and bar girls who aimed for maximum flash with minimum cash. That’s ironic because even hookers don’t dress like this anymore.

She Sings In Swimwear By The Seashore

Gisele Bundchen H&MWe know that the angels of Victoria’s Secrets are talented, but can they sing? Giselle Bundchen set out to proof us sceptics wrong in the latest promotional video for H&M. Besides endorsing the label’s swimwear, Ms Bundchen is also promoting her cover of Blondie’s 1979 song Heart of Glass.

Produced by French house veteran Bob Sinclair, this track isn’t the first that DJ and supermodel have come together to perform.  Last season, also for H&M, Ms Bundchen sang The Kinks’ All Day and All of the Night in a video, fully-dressed. While she could rock the Victoria’s Secret look in angel wings, she could hardly rock in this debut, sounding all too sweet, unconvincing and processed. Too much clothes, maybe? As a fan said, “if only she could sing as nicely as she struts her stuff.”

(Not to be outdone, fellow Victoria’s Secret angel Miranda Kerr has also released a single with Bobby Fox: the jazzy You’re the Boss. It is interesting to note that Ms Kerr may not have perfected her singing, but she does sound sultry and musical, and like she’s having loads of fun!)

Heart of Glass by Giselle Bundchen will be available on iTunes from 29 April