THE WORLD ACCORDING TO COS
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.