Entertainment Style The Swedes are here … and retail is changed forever

The Swedes are here … and retail is changed forever

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Australian retail will never look the same with Swedish fast fashion goliath H&M opening it maiden Australian store this weekend and launching it on an unprecedented scale.

The mass-production fashion chain, the world’s second largest retailer and known for its cheap versions of runway trends, is making a turbo-charged push into Australia.

The size of its debut store, at Melbourne’s historic GPO building, dwarves the real estate occupied by fellow international newcomers Zara and Topshop.

Those rival brands arrived in Australia offering up-to-the-minute designs for prices that Australia’s traditional retailers could not compete with. H&M is no different.

In fact, the Swedish giant is a leader in cut price clothing and is deviisng new methods of getting us to part with our cash. If the response from shoppers overseas is repeated here, businesses like David Jones and Myer have reasons to be worried.

Australian arrival

No expense was spared for Melbourne launch last night, with a chartered flight of VIPs, a five-star hotel booked for media and celebrities and a 1110-strong guest list.

At 5000 square metres and housing men’s, women’s, children’s clothing and homewares, the Melbourne store is comparable in size to H&M’s mothership shop in New York’s Times Square, and one the chain’s largest in the world.

H&M opens the doors to shoppers at 10am (AEST) on Saturday, with queues expected to snake up Melbourne’s Bourke Street mall.

With thousands of pieces in their collections, for toddlers through to stylish silver foxes, and new pieces added several times a week, H&M’s needed a huge shop floor in a high-foot traffic, bluechip retail area.

The band Haim attend the VIP launch party for H&M Melbourne.
The band Haim attend the VIP launch party for H&M Melbourne.

Rumours of H&M’s Aussie arrival started several years ago, but the company were waiting for prime real estate to become available.

The Swedes finally found their ideal spot in Melbourne’s GPO, a grand multi-level Victorian-era former post office in the heart of the CBD, next to department stores Myer and David Jones.

Owners of the GPO, which operated as a multi-boutique precinct, announced last March it was booting out tenants including Gorman, Akira Isogawa, Leona Edmiston and Mimco, to make way for a mystery tenant, later announced as H&M.

International cred

The arrival of H&M, which delivers on catwalk fads for all ages at low-cost, means Aussies no longer have to wait or shop online to access super cheap fashion trends when they launch in the northern hemisphere.

The chain, which operates in 53 countries and is successful due to its broad age appeal and ranges, has gone to the length of creating an Australian-only collection, which H&M head of design Ann-Sofie Johansson said is rare.

The red carpet at the store's grand opening.
The red carpet at the store’s grand opening.

“We are hardly do special collections when we come in to a new country, so this is unique, I would say,” she said.

“We have been waiting (to come to Australia) for a long time also,” Ms Johansson said.

“Everything comes down to location. When we enter a new country, we really want a good location, so now have this iconic space here, it was the right time to enter.

Models Jordan and Zac Stenmark at the launch.
Models Jordan and Zac Stenmark at the launch.

“This is one of the biggest stores we have and it is a full concept store. Here, you can find everything we actually make at H&M.”

H&M chief executive Karl-Johan Persson, who is in Melbourne for the launch, has flagged the possibility of opening several Australian stores, including in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, over the next few years.

The chain will offer European-sized garments (the equivalent of Australian sizes 4 to 16) across basics, office attire, maternity, plus-size, formal and casual wear.

An Australian exclusive collection of rock ‘n’ roll, bohemian and tomboy themed clothing will sit alongside the same trend pieces stocked in northern hemisphere stores, as well as seasonal lines.

Striking a pose on the red carpet at the launch.
Striking a pose on the red carpet.

With tops for as little as $10 and dresses and pants from $20, H&M’s prices are comparable to budget retailers Kmart at Big W, but with a trend-conscious aesthetic that slots it among local labels Witchery and Country Road.

“You have some great designers, and there is a lot of competition,” Ms Johansson said.

“Hopefully we can fill a gap but coexist with everyone else, and bring some more customers to the (GPO) area in a way.

“I am not very good with names, but I would see out local competitors as retailers like Country Road.”

Ms Johansson didn’t rule out H&M introducing high-tech touches, like the payment facilities in its Time Square changing rooms so customers can walk out in their new outfit, in its future Australian stores.

H&M has sparked shopper stampedes overseas with its fashion collaborations with Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, Isabel Marant and Viktor and Rolf, among others, but is yet to confirm if it will embark on another high-end label line.

Ms Johansson confirmed Australia would stock any exclusive designer collections.

Blogger and TV personality Nikki Phillips.
Blogger and TV personality Nikki Phillips.

Construction crews and staff hurriedly completed the GPO fit-out ahead of the launch party on Thursday night.

About 1100 fashion editors, celebrities and retail industry personalities were flown in for the event, with a menu by top Melbourne chef Adam D’Sylva of Tonka and Coda, and Californian girl rock group Haim playing a DJ set.

H&M splashed out on private flight from Sydney to ferry media and celebrities, all of who have been booked to stay at Crown Metropol, at the retailer’s expense.

The retailer’s face this season, Aussie supermodel Miranda Kerr, did not attend the launch.

Japanese basics retailer Uniqlo will open its maiden Australian store, across 3000 square metres, in Melbourne’s new Emporium development, on April 16.

Uniqlo is the world’s third largest retailer, behind Spain’s Inditex (Zara’s parent company) and H&M.

More internationals, including the UK’s Marks & Spencer and H&M’s sister retailer COS, will enter the quickly crowding Australian market later this year.