Hygge’s arrival in the UK last year, which already feels, in retrospect, like a fever dream of candles and roll necks, was never purely about cosiness. It was the promise of a life less bleak, where the morning fog on the windowpane takes on a hazy, pleasant quality, like a flattering Instagram filter.
Arket, the newest brand from H&M Group, knows this. Located on a stretch of London’s Regent Street dominated by Scandinavian brands, the store – the first in the world from the brand – is kitted out in simple grey and white. Clothing is arranged into striking pops of colour – the essential Scandi palette of light blue, grey, black and white, but also mustard yellow and grassy green. In between are homewares, toys and bags of Arket-branded coffee, Japanese stationery placed temptingly at the tills. This is a bonafide, readymade lifestyle brand and it’s proof of how quickly shopping has changed on the high street. Whether it’s a perfectly designed teapot or just a great pair of jeans, Arket is about the products you buy for the promise of a simple, cohesive life. Look for the green wool wrap coat for a piece you’ll wear over and over, or try the wear-with-anything dark tailored skirt with contrasting white stitching that feels very autumn/winter 17 Prada.
The minimalist store feels like Muji with a dash of Acne, and it’s clearly set up as a destination shop for tourists and fashion fans, in a time when all our best recommendations come via the Instagram feeds of friends and influencers. There’s a small, peaceful café by the rear entrance, selling cinnamon buns and espressos. Who wouldn’t want to buy into this world?
Next door, there’s another newcomer from the same part of Sweden. Weekday, also part of the H&M Group family, is an already-popular chain, with stores across Europe’s cooler capitals (Antwerp, Berlin, Amsterdam). The focus here is on fashion-forward denim styles, jaunty knitwear and extremely covetable coats (look out for the cosy, oversized biker jackets). Louise Lasson, creative director of Weekday, describes the brand’s vibe as “powerful minimalism.” She traces our obsession with Scandi chic back to a need for objects that are simple and fit for purpose. “I think there is a longing for minimalism, [for going] back to the essence of things,” she explains. But too much minimalism can sometimes feel a bit dull; at Weekday, printed shirts and jumpsuits show how functional thinking can still feel timely, fashionable and fun.
In addition to three seasonal drops, Weekday releases a limited-run T-shirt each week, printed in store with graphic slogans like “Make London Europe Again” or “Normative Culture is a Burden”. The Zeitgeist pieces, as they’re known, play directly into a super-social way of shopping – slogan tees with an ethical conscience tend to go down well online. “They could be serious – questions about politics or science – or they could also be more fun things,” Louise says. “Like Beyoncé’s twins – we did a tee around that. I think it’s important to be really sure of who you are and what you stand for.” That’s a lot of what Weekday is about – fashion that riffs on politics and celebrity, streetwear and social media, in one seamless move. Both Weekday and Arket are available online, with intuitive e-commerce offerings that are plugged into what we expect from fashion online now.
As a society, we’ve become obsessed with the idea of the foreign “cool girl”, whose very way of life somehow precipitates her great skin or perfect hair or effortless style
But these aren’t the only new names on the high street this autumn. Polish brand Reserved launches its first UK store and website this week, after building an empire of over 450 stores in 18 countries worldwide. Known for its trend-driven fashion at accessible price points, the UK launch is being accompanied by a campaign featuring Kate Moss, ever an avatar for modern, global cool in a changing world. Key pieces include a black and white plaid overcoat and a party-ready black tulle tiered skirt.
Like Weekday, Reserved is an overseas success story that has taken its time arriving in the UK. As a society, we’ve become obsessed with the idea of the foreign “cool girl”, whose very way of life somehow precipitates her great skin or perfect hair or effortless style. Lately, we’ve moved on from the timeless French muse, with her wavy fringe and Breton top, to the Scandinavian icon (in floral dress and pristine blonde highlights, she rides her bike to shows at Copenhagen Fashion Week). But it’s interesting to note how outward-facing fashion remains here, even at a time when Brexit has forced Britain as a whole to do some cultural introspection.
Of course, that’s linked to our reliance on social media, too. When we click on to Instagram, we might look at influencers from the US and Paris, Stockholm and Italy, wearing labels from around the world. When we shop online, we can access international brands for ourselves. In one way, social media and e-commerce have made it easier for us to see more. In another, you could argue it’s had a flattening effect – how does UK style differ from Paris or New York when we’re all working with the same raw material? To compete in this new marketplace, the high street has to adapt.
The idea behind the high street used to be great clothes, usually with a catwalk influence, at an accessible price point – something you could buy on your lunch break after spotting it on the pages of a glossy mag. But those days are gone; now, we might notice a dress on a blog or find a new brand on Instagram. What’s the high street supposed to do now? For these newest names, the answer seems to lie in listening to what shoppers want, whether that’s online or in the physical store, instead of simply telling them what to buy.