THE WORLD AC­CORD­ING TO COS

GQ (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

THOUGH PART OF THE H&M GROUP, SWEDISH RE­TAILER COS IS FAR RE­MOVED FROM ITS BIG BROTHER, WITH A CULTISH FOL­LOW­ING BUILT ON IN­DE­PEN­DENCE AND A DED­I­CA­TION TO TIME­LESS DE­SIGN.

Lon­don is tak­ing a break from its usual pat­tern of dreary and mis­er­able weather to de­liver an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally beau­ti­ful au­tumn day. Stand­ing on the frst foor of Re­gent Street’s COS store, sun beams into the bright, airy space – all white ceil­ings and blond wood foors – as cool kids eye off the AW15 range that’s just landed on the racks. Later, we head for the nearby COS head of­fce, equally bright and airy, to meet head of menswear de­sign, Martin An­der­s­son. The con­ver­sa­tion be­gins with white shirts. “The white shirt is some­thing we’ve be­come ob­sessed with be­cause it’s such a blank can­vas. And our most ex­treme shirt is one where we take every­thing away, so it doesn’t even re­sem­ble a shirt – it just has a hid­den zip­per,” of­fers An­der­s­son, proudly dis­play­ing the tu­nic-like gar­ment from the cur­rent col­lec­tion, bare ex­cept for a tiny zip­per at the shoul­der. Such ded­i­ca­tion to some­thing as sim­ple as a white shirt, is a sign of a broader de­sign ap­proach that defnes what COS does best – clas­sic wardrobe sta­ples, reimag­ined. The re­sult is a de­voted clien­tele among those who share what the 39-year-old la­bels a “big-city mind­set” – art­gallery types who ap­pre­ci­ate mid-cen­tury de­sign. Or ob­sess over white shirts. COS (Col­lec­tions of Style, but never re­ferred to in full) was launched in 2007. And with the frst Syd­ney store open­ing this month, we look at how the brand built a loyal fol­low­ing, and re­defned fash­ion rules along the way.

GO SOLO

Like la­bels Cheap Mon­day or the lesser­known & Other Sto­ries, COS is one of fve brands owned by gi­ant H&M. But un­like the Stock­holm-based fast-fash­ion chain, COS has al­ways been based in Lon­don – its frst Swedish store only open­ing in 2011. “COS is owned by H&M and part of the group, but is run as a sep­a­rate com­pany,” says An­der­s­son. “We have our own mar­ket­ing of­fce, ar­chi­tects, de­sign and pat­tern teams, and buy­ers. We’re not con­trolled at all and we use com­pletely dif­fer­ent sup­pli­ers.” While the brand has a strong Scan­di­na­vian de­sign her­itage – An­der­s­son is Swedish, as is head of wom­enswear de­sign, Karin Gustafs­son – this ap­proach al­lows the la­bel a healthy in­de­pen­dence to cre­ate an aes­thetic that com­ple­ments, but stands apart from H&M’S mass ap­peal.

GROW GRAD­U­ALLY

Late Amer­i­can soul singer Bobby Wo­mack once said the key to ong­ing de­mand was to keep the au­di­ence want­ing more. It worked for him – he spent the best part of 60 years on stage – and it’s ad­vice that could just as eas­ily have come from some­one at COS. The brand sees global ex­pan­sion as a marathon, not a sprint, and has been in no rush to open stores – Aus­tralia and USA only added last year tes­ta­ment to that. Since 2007, COS has opened some 145 lo­ca­tions world­wide – ad­mirable, but a snail’s

pace com­pared to H&M’S 400 new stores this year alone. Speed may serve H&M well, but oth­ers have fallen foul of such en­thu­si­asm. Amer­i­can Ap­parel ex­ploded, open­ing 150 stores in its frst three years, only to fle for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion last month. Lo­cally, Ksubi suf­fered sim­i­lar woes at­tached to over­ex­pan­sion and closed all its Aus­tralian stores in 2014. While COS’ grad­ual ap­proach may seem cau­tious, it comes down to a solid com­mit­ment to the brand’s aes­thetic – the Syd­ney store not the re­sult of a bunch of bean-coun­ters de­cid­ing the bot­tom line was in need of a new mar­ket, rather some­thing much sim­pler. “It was re­ally down to fnd­ing the right space, more than any strate­gic move,” ex­plains An­der­s­son of the cen­tral Martin Place lo­ca­tion. “It’s been an or­ganic growth, and that takes time. So far, we’ve been lucky.”

IG­NORE TRENDS

“COS is all about cre­at­ing feel-good, lon­glast­ing de­sign at an af­ford­able price,” says An­der­s­son. He in­sists one of the great­est com­pli­ments would be for some­one to pick up one of his gar­ments and re­dis­cover it years from now – an at­ti­tude that jars with fash­ion’s usual hunger for all things new. “We love fash­ion and we want to know what’s hap­pen­ing around us, but trends are not some­thing that dic­tate how we do things. In­stead, the COS team re­lies on the sim­ple the­ory that good de­sign should be time­less. “If you visit a build­ing de­signed by [Lud­wig] Mies van der Rohe, like the Sea­gram Build­ing [com­pleted in 1958], it’s still one of the most mod­ern sky­scrapers in Man­hat­tan. That would be so nice for some­one to pick out a COS gar­ment in a few years and still want to wear it.”

DON’T AD­VER­TISE

“The COS mar­ket­ing phi­los­o­phy is to talk qui­etly, rather than shout. With that in mind, it works for us not to ad­ver­tise.” In­stead, the com­pany gen­er­ates brand aware­ness through word of mouth and by us­ing stores to pro­mote the dis­tinct brand phi­los­o­phy. It cre­ates the idea that, un­like other multi­na­tional brands, COS isn’t for ev­ery­one – cus­tomers see it as their thing. Then there’s the in-house mag­a­zine – a mix­ture of cam­paign im­agery to show­case the cur­rent col­lec­tions, and stand-alone ed­i­to­rial shoots and con­tent built on in­ter­views with pho­tog­ra­phers, writ­ers and var­i­ous other in­ter­est­ing fgures. “It’s a great tool for us to talk to the cus­tomer, and show them partly where the in­spi­ra­tion for the col­lec­tion comes from. We don’t shoot a cam­paign for ad­ver­tis­ing, so it’s good to dis­play the col­lec­tion this way.”

THINK GLOBAL

The Syd­ney store (COS’ 146th) will ar­rive just a cou­ple of weeks be­fore sum­mer kicks off. Still, Aus­tralians can ex­pect the same AW15 col­lec­tion cur­rently be­ing sold in Europe. “We don’t tai­lor the col­lec­tions – what’s in store in Aus­tralia is what’s in store in Ja­pan or Lon­don. This mind­set is not only age­less, but in­ter­na­tional.” n The COS Syd­ney store opens this Novem­ber; cos­stores.com

FROM TOP: IN­SIDE THE COS FLAG­SHIP STORE IN LON­DON; HEAD OF MENSWEAR DE­SIGN MARTIN AN­DER­S­SON; A REN­DER­ING OF THE COS SYD­NEY STORE.

A SE­LEC­TION OF LOOKS FROM THE COS AW15 COL­LEC­TION.

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