Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — Flexing its cheap and chic fashion formula, the new Hennes & Mauritz store in SoHo, the chain’s third in Manhattan and 12th in the U.S., has a flashier, younger assortment to fit a smaller retail space and cater to the hip downtown crowd.
“We wanted to have a store geared to younger customers,” said Par Darj, head of U.S. operations for the Swedish chain, who gave WWD a preview of the store on Wednesday. “We also wanted to be where the people are, and SoHo is one of the busiest retail areas in the city.”
The 13,000-square-foot, two-level space on Broadway between Prince and Spring Streets opens today. It’s considered a prototype since it’s markedly smaller than the company’s other Manhattan locations, which are both three times as large. The SoHo unit does not sell plus sizes, maternity clothes or children’s wear, and carries a small selection of cosmetics and innerwear. It also has less free floor space.
But the store’s smaller scope is more than made up for by the energetic decor. The prototype looks and feels like a nightclub, with edgy graphics on the wall, video screens hanging from the ceiling and video monitors built in to the store. A light wall in the back that changes colors seems straight out of the movie “Saturday Night Fever.” Loud music enhances the effect.
On the street floor, there’s a small selection of women’s fashions, including trendy tight T-shirts and lacy tank tops, priced at $4.50 and $12, respectively, as well as men’s wear. The lower level is all women’s, and features slightly dressier apparel and updated suitings, including jackets retailing for about $49.50; accessories such as bags, belts and jewelry, and personal care items.
The store also includes new private label brands. This spring, H&M has changed the labels for its Impulse, Rocket Girl and Rocket Boy lines into the labels Divided Red, Divided Black and Divided Blue. It has held onto its Hennes and Clothes labels. Darj said that aside from the new labels, there are no significant alterations to the focus of the lines, except that Divided Red is skewed slightly younger. All of the company’s stores are carrying the newer labels starting this season, he added.
While competition is steep in SoHo, with Banana Republic, Zara, Guess, Old Navy and Le Chateau having flocked to lower Broadway recently, H&M, a $3.9 billion publicly held retailer, has captured huge crowds since it opened its first store last year in the U.S. at 640 Fifth Avenue. A second store opened on 34th Street, near Sixth Avenue, in the fall. The company’s disposable fashions are updated daily in the stores.
While many retailers are worried about the slowing economy, Darj seemed unconcerned about how it might impact H&M’s aggressive growth plans. He said the firm remains on track to operate 85 stores in the U.S. by 2003.
“We have had a great reception in the U.S.,” said Darj. “And we feel we have a lot of potential here.” As reported, Darj who led H&M’s entry to the U.S. plans to return to his native Sweden in the summer and continue working for the company there.
The chain has 700 units worldwide, primarily in Europe. H&M, founded in 1947, plans 20 more U.S. stores this year, including four on Long Island and four in the Boston area, Darj said. H&M once considered the former Bradlees location on Manhattan’s Union Square, but Darj said the company decided against it because H&M prefers sites where there’s a higher concentration of fashion retailers.
H&M signed a lease on Lexington Avenue and 59th Street across from Bloomingdale’s on the site of a former Alexander’s. He said the company is exploring other sites in Manhattan, though he declined to say where.
“We have had a lot of offers,” said Darj.