H&M: Harajuku Opening and H & M COMME des GARCONS

06 November 2008
An interview with H&M staff about the Harajuku store launch and the new Comme des Garcons collaboration line
Back in September, H&M experienced one of the most successful Japanese market entries in recent history, with its first store in Ginza drawing incredible mass media coverage and never-ending lines. Now two months later, H&M will open its next store at 11 a.m. on November 8 in the youth fashion district of Harajuku. The new 1,500 square-meter location offers a much broader range and more colorful selection of H&M items, including the younger line DIVIDED. Japanese customers lucky enough to make it through the long queue on Saturday morning will be the first worldwide to be able to buy the latest limited-edition guest-collaboration line: H & M COMME des GARÇONS.

To learn more, we sat down first with H&M's Creative Advisor Margareta Van Den Bosch and Brand & New Business Director Jörgen Andersson in Tokyo to talk about the Rei Kawakubo collaboration, and then afterwards, with H&M Japan's Country Manager Christine Edman to talk about H&M Japan's present and future.

Please tell us the basics of the H & M COMME des GARÇONS line.

Van Den Bosch (V): There are twenty pieces for men and thirty pieces for women. There are some accessories. I think it feels like a typical Comme des Garçons collection. Rei Kawakubo made all the samples for us. She made the patterns. We had a lot of sending garments between us. We only met two times, but we had a lot of correspondence with garments. She would see every style and say yes or no. She watched every detail and approved everything.

Were there limits on materials or extravagance?

V: No. Of course we talked about the idea that some pieces could be at a lower-price level and some could be a little more expensive. In terms of quality, we worked with wool and cotton and other high quality fabrics. Some of the pieces are at the upper price level but we also have T-shirts.

Andersson (A): When we first approached her, we approached her with the philosophical idea of "contradiction." There is a contradiction between H&M and Comme des Garçons. H&M is very mass market, selling to reasonable prices. Whereas CdG has a completely different price level and is also very artistic. So I think she was then challenged to see, how can I maintain my integrity as a brand, but meet the demands of the mass market. So I think she went into the creative process with that in the back of her head.

V: We also thought it was nice after (Roberto) Cavalli — a very sexy, glamorous designer — to choose someone like Kawakubo who is arty and cool. So I think it's a big contrast.

Did Ms. Kawakubo do all the styling?

A: Yes, because it was her point of view, that certain pieces may look quite basic, but the way of putting it together is how you create fashion. So that's why with the commercial, the print ads, and the mannequins, the styling is all done by her.

Was the timing of doing the CdG line intended to coincide with the Harajuku store launch?

A: It more or less just happened. She's been on our wish-list for quite a while. Kawakubo's a woman who has inspired most people in the fashion industry. So she was on our list and also suited the fashion in our collection as it looks today. Because [the collaboration] has to have some kind of relevance. We can't just lift in a designer and let them create whatever. It has to be relevant to the rest of the fashion that's right for the moment.

Obviously it didn't hurt that we intended to go into Japan. It also was a way for us to bring Japan to the rest of the world while entering into this market.

More or less, we decided to start here and have a worldwide launch one week after. So it's a little bit of a present to the people of Tokyo, giving them the collection first.

Will there be more H & M COMME des GARÇONS stock in Japan than in the other markets?

A: We have estimated that the demand will definitely be highest here, but we are still trying to balance what we do in all markets, trying to balance between the mass market and exclusivity to create "massclusivity." Because we still believe if you buy the show piece [dress], you don't want to see too many other women dressed in the same way. It is limited-edition. It's supposed to sell out, but maybe the previous collaboration being sold out within half an hour, that's maybe a bit too fast. Because then there are a lot of disappointed customers. Hopefully we have managed to find a good balance in quantity.

But we also want to tell the customer, you have to be there when we open up the store in order to make sure to get something. I make the comparison with trying to go to a concert: we sell tickets but you have to show up. You can expect to still get tickets after a week.

Did the Ginza store opening exceed expectations at H&M?

A: It was far above expectations. I was here for the opening, and to be honest, I couldn't believe my eyes. Creating lines on the day of the opening, I wouldn't say we are spoiled, but we've seen that before when opening up new markets. But maintaing the queues after two or three weeks...!

We just want to be able to deliver on those expectations. You always have a honeymoon coming into new markets. So I think we have managed to create the first impression but now the challenge is to keep on delivering according to expectations.

In the end, it comes down to the product. If the product doesn't meet your expectations... other things can help but it can't do the work.

Will you do another production run if the line sells out immediately?

A: No. We did one.
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