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H&M – A Meeting of Minds

H&M finally opens a flagship store on one of the most prestigious avenues in the world, the Champs-Elysees in Paris on October 6, 2010

By: Neha Khanna

Operating in 37 countries, the Swedish fast-fashion retail chain Hennes & Mauritz, more popularly known as H&M, opened its flagship on Europe’s most expensive thoroughfare, avenue des Champs-Elysées, after facing rejection in 2006 by the Paris Commercial Planning Committee. Although it had 10 stores in Paris, its absence from the Champs Elysées, the showcase of the French retail trade, was seen as a handicap, especially since its competitors like Gap and Zara were already present there.

The grandiose and majestic Champs-Élysées is a prize location, attracting 80 million tourists every year. The Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées are the two images used by the foreign media to symbolize Paris and France. It has something in the atmosphere, and it contributes to making shopping or simply strolling along the avenue a delightful experience for everyone. It has developed a split personality. Retail chains have swarmed to the sunny, north side, which attracts more pedestrians, while luxury goods groups have gone to the south side.

Edouard Lefebvre, General Manager of the Committee of Champs-Elysees, which aims to promote and preserve the well-deserved reputation of the avenue, says, “The key assets of the Champs-Elysées are the view, events, the infrastructure and a certain balance maintained in terms of commercial and cultural diversity. This includes luxury brand stores, large commercial chains, theatre, museums, restaurants and terraces to make it a cultural and leisure centre. We cannot have too many fashion stores here. The landlords want to make more money and clothing brands can meet their demands more easily, but this is strategically not good on the whole.”

So what has changed now?
“The store is H&M’s 140th store in France, but its first flagship. Designed by famous architect Jean Nouvel, it is a significant French signature. Besides, the brand has taken several measures to ensure the store is in sync with the image of the avenue. Hence we at last decided to join our strategies together,” says Lefebvre.

With luxury brands adding on more accessible lines today, H&M being a mass-market brand, has finally convinced the city with a luxury and sophisticated concept. The store is located right at the heart of avenue des Champs-Elysées. Nouvel, who has obtained a number of prestigious distinctions over the course of his career, designed the store to give the impression that it had always been part of the Champs-Elysées. The store merges the traditional white limestone of Paris with contrast sandstone with industrial store fixtures and moving lights.  The focal points of the store, visible from outside and within, are LED screens that create a moving story from the sidewalk. The signage is in white for a classic appeal instead of the usual red. The shopping bags, carrying the address of the Champs-Elysées store, are in paper with the logo in silver in place of the unspectacular plastic carry bags! H&M has created an exclusive universe for themselves here. In his book on Luxury Brand Management, the author Michel Chevalier remarks, “A fashion brand would only be given the status of a ‘luxury brand’ when it has achieved some stability and a quality of being timeless.” Some may say this store truly embodies this quality.

The launch party

The shopping fervour in-store stemmed from a wave of excitement that kick-started from a fabulous Paris Fashion Week cocktail party at the flagship store: 88, Avenue des Champs Elysées, where guests could preview the store and the latest H&M fashions, which provided the ultimate fanfare to H&M’s long awaited arrival at this mythical address.

The guest list included acclaimed architect Jean Nouvel, photographer Patrick Demarchelier, Nathalie Rykiel, Gaspard Yurkievich, Haider Ackermann, Suzy Menkes…. French actress and model Lou Doillon, Elisa Sednaoui, Astrid Munoz, socialites Tatiana Santo Domingo, Eugénie Niarchos and Andrea Casiraghi and many other influential people from the fashion world. And the best part: everyone was able to shop with 25 per cent discount.

Once inside, the vision achieved by Jean Nouvel and H&M was revealed – a jaw dropping 2,800 square meters, three level store that was created to stand the test of time and act as a part of the history of Champs-Elysées and give the impression that it had always been there. 250 employees work at the new flagship which welcomed its costumers on the first day on a red carpet.

Expansion and Future Development
H&M is aimed at everyone with an interest in fashion. The collections are extensive and new items come into the stores every day.

Expansion plans by this retail behemoth aren’t limited to Europe. H&M is now directing its focus to emerging markets. It will open its first store in Turkey this month in Forum Istanbul, one of the largest shopping centers in Turkey. According to H&M’s expansion principle, every store is to have the best commercial location. Russia and Lebanon became new H&M markets last year and were very well received. As per the latest annual report released by the company, H&M’s growth target is to increase the number of stores by 10-15 percent per year while maintaining high profitability and at the same time increase the sales within comparable units.

Aline Pihier, from the Communication & Press department of H&M France, best summarises, “H&M Champs Elysées proposes collections for women and men. The collections are created with H&M’s broad clientele in mind and the aim is to satisfy many different tastes and requirements by offering a large choice of garments and accessories with different styles that would suit all personalities and wishes. The collections presented at the new H&M flagship store in Paris are the same as presented in other stores. H&M is a fashion company present in many countries and have different unique flagships in the major fashion cities like London, New York or Tokyo…and will always continue to deliver on its brand promises.”

Fashion is global, so is H&M!”