The much-anticipated younger sibling of H&M is opening its first U.S. store, a 4,500-square-foot flagship at 129 Spring Street in SoHo here, in spring 2014.
COS, which stands for Collection of Style, is eyeing other locations in Manhattan, and plans to enter markets across the U.S. such as Chicago and California as it moves closer to a rollout in this country.
With 80 stores worldwide, COS is “still fairly young,” said Marie Honda, the Swedish brand’s head of business — the title is the equivalent of chief executive officer in the U.S. “H&M is in many, many more markets. We have time to grow the business.” Asked whether COS can be as successful as H&M, Honda said, "I think it can, to be very honest. We have a lot of potential." H&M counts more than 3,000 stores.
With the financial, sourcing and operations muscle of H&M behind it and its own internal development, COS is ready for expansion. “We’ve evolved,” she said. “We’ve experienced quite a lot in the last two years.”
COS looked at a lot of real estate during that period. “We looked for some time,” Honda said. “When we found this location in SoHo, we fell in love. Of course, there are [other] opportunities in New York.” COS is looking for locations “everywhere in Manhattan,” she said. “We would like to have [stores] everywhere from the Meatpacking District to Madison Avenue.”
Honda isn’t in a huge rush. “The organic development will stay with us for a couple of years,” she said. “We open in so many markets. We have to see the response from customers. Looking back, we launched our first flagship in London in 2007. At year’s end, we’ll have 10 stores there. It all comes down to location. Looking at London and New York, you have so many local neighborhood possibilities. In London, we’re in eight very different areas.
“With the whole growth of COS, we have to think of finding locations in bigger cities,” Honda added. “We’re looking at cities that have an international feel.”
COS this year is focusing on adding stores in existing markets and opening units in Asia. The retailer last year opened two units in China, in Beijing and Tianjin. A second store bowed in Hong Kong and COS ventured to Dubai. In addition, the company unveiled its second store in Vienna, entered Turkey this month and later this year will open its first store in Singapore.
With three levels for selling, the SoHo store, which looks like a town house, has a wood and brick facade. Like the clothes, the decor will marry traditional and modern influences, Honda said.
COS experiments with different store designs and adjusts them to conditions in various markets. “With London and other cities, we tried out several concepts,” Honda said. “The size of a full-concept store is 4,500 square feet. In Amsterdam, it’s hard to find a large store. We have a smaller concept store. We tried it in Paris as well. In London on King’s Road we have a women’s-only store that’s 2,690 square feet. It’s a statement. Now that we tried out women’s with more selective items, we’ve launched a men’s-only store in Paris at Galeries Lafayette. It’s a fairly new concept.”
Men’s wear is still undeveloped compared with women’s wear, which accounts for 80 percent of the collection.
The brand, which will launch a US ecommerce site next year, has followers in the U.S. who were introduced to the brand in Europe. “Before we found this location, people were contacting us. We had such an enormous response,” Honda said. An example of the level of interest is the pop-up shop Opening Ceremony opened for COS in October.
COS, whose prices start where H&M’s leave off, offers modern, stylish and timeless collections produced from materials such as leather, fine suiting and cashmere. Prices range from $39 to $390 for dresses and $225 to $450 for men’s outerwear.
In addition to men’s and women’s wear, a full children’s collection launched in 2009.
The brand has an affinity for art, hence its attraction to SoHo. Rather than traditional collaborations with fashion designers, “it’s about people we’re inspired by,” Honda said. “We do a lot of collaborations in different ways. For example, we did a pop-up in Milan at the Salone del Mobile interior design show. We commissioned young [interior] designers to create an environment. We worked this summer with the Serpentine Gallery in London. We also partnered with the Frieze Art Fair Frame section for young designers for three years.”
COS distances itself from H&M with a different approach to partnerships. H&M has launched designer partnerships with Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, Comme des Garçons and Roberto Cavalli, among others. “Our big-sister company is very fortuitous and experienced in designer collaborations,” Honda said. “Our influence is more through the artistic world than the fashion world.”
Asked who COS’ customer is, Honda replied, “Here in New York, we have customers with the same international mind-set.” For that reason, COS’ offerings are uniform throughout the world.
The company, which is based in London, utilizes H&M’s distribution system and back-of-house functions, from logistics to IT, in Europe. “Of course we will do that in the U.S., depending on where we will be,” Honda said.
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