By  on February 14, 2007

LONDON — Hennes & Mauritz is growing up.

The Swedish company that's become synonymous with low-priced fast fashion is moving upmarket with COS — a men's and women's clothing and accessories collection that's meant to last longer than a season.

COS will make its debut on March 16 when the first global flagship opens at 222 Regent Street here, in a building formerly occupied by the department store Liberty.

Six more stores — in The Hague; in Brussels, and in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart in Germany — will open on March 30. Each store will span about 4,860 square feet.

Although the company declined to reveal further rollout plans, a spokeswoman said: "We believe in COS, and we think it will work well in all the markets where H&M operates. But for now, we're focusing on the U.K. and Europe."

COS prices will be double those at H&M, and will range from 19 euros, or $25 at current exchange, for a jersey top to 39 euros, or $50, for a jersey dress to 229 euros, or $298, for a leather jacket with cropped sleeves.

"We all felt there was a gap in the market between high street and high fashion, and we see COS as a great challenge," said Rebekka Bay, design director for women's wear, in an exclusive interview with fellow Dane, Michael Kristensen, design director for men's wear.

"There seems to be a changing mood in fashion. I think we all feel annoyed paying so much for designer names. On the other hand, the high street is delivering great fast fashion at low prices, but I cry when something I buy wears out. We're trying to create that sweet spot in between," she added.

COS stands for "Collection of Style," which was originally the working title for the new line. Kristensen said the team finally decided to keep it because it was short, easy to pronounce in a variety of languages and approachable.

Bay, who, before joining COS, worked in trend forecasting and lifestyle brand consulting, and Kristensen, who has worked for German brands including Hugo Boss, Marc O'Polo and Tom Tailor, said the COS collection is driven by quality and style.While the stores will have new product delivered daily, Bay said, the merchandise will not be based on a quick reaction to street or runway trends. Rather, it will be a collection of classics.

She also said COS is broad and deep and is not meant to be purchased in tandem with the H&M collections. "It is an entirely new world, although the business strategy is exactly the same: fashion and quality at the best price," Bay said.

There are four segments in each collection, which have their own area within the stores. The largest is Casual City, which makes up about half of the collection; Classic, which is based around the suit; Leisure, casual clothes for weekends, and Party, for evening.

Bay and Kristensen said they are trying to work exclusively with natural fabrics, such as cotton, cotton-silk blends, cashmere and washed leather. "The collections are architectural, functional, and quality-driven. When you're doing simple garments like this, it all comes down to the fabrics, silhouettes and subtle details," Kristensen said.

Bay said she's very inspired by couture techniques, and clothing that's built to retain its structure and shape over time. "I like neat sleeves, shoulders and necklines," she said.

The spring collection features wardrobe staples such as crisp white shirts, leather jackets, a wool chintz black dress with a zipper running the full length of the back, and a tunic A-line dress. Bay said there are also "a million" little black dresses, ranging from demure to sexy. For evening, she's done a pleated linen skirt with silk cotton lining, as well. She put a stiffer fabric between the two layers, an old couture technique to help the skirt keep its full shape.

Bay also played around with the idea of the suit. "They are modern suits — not matchy-matchy. Maybe a jersey top and trousers," she said.

The line comes with a full range of accessories, including scarves, bags, shoes, belts, sunglasses, ties and jewelry. All of those lines are produced in-house. In addition, the designers are looking to partner with a footwear brand to make a COS sneaker.The COS retail experience is a top priority for Bay and Kristen­sen, who have chosen a series of products they feel fit with their chic, streamlined ethos. To wit, each COS store will carry the new series of Wallpaper City Guides; Xcocoa, the branded chocolates from Barcelona; the Haakansons skin care line, and Penguin's 70th anniversary line of paperbacks at 1.50 pounds, or $3.

Asked if COS would adopt a similar celebrity designer strategy to H&M — which has called in Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Madonna and Viktor & Rolf to design past collections — Bay said probably not.

"Never say never, but it's not really what COS is about," she said. "It's a very democratic brand, and it doesn't really need to show off. It's just about beautiful clothing."

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