Think Louisville wasn’t hungry for the fashion cachet of an H&M store?
Crowds started pitching tents and camping out on Wednesday evening outside Oxmoor Center for the store opening Thursday at noon. What is this? Cameron Indoor Stadium?
True, H&M was giving away a $300 “fashion pass” for the first hundred customers. But shoppers who showed up even well before noon on Thursday must have taken one look at the campgrounds and known they weren’t going to qualify for that. And still they waited.
Finally, at noon, they rushed the door like it was Walmart at midnight on Black Friday. The surge was sort of like the one that disabled the revolving doors at the new Gap store on Fifth Avenue in New York about 15 years ago.
After all, Louisville’s been waiting since IL got the scoop January.
Nobody disabled the doors here, but the “up” escalator to the second floor was no longer functioning by mid-afternoon. No problem. Shoppers just trudged up the non-moving stairway. H&M customers tend to be a fit young demographic.
Coincidentally, H&M also launched a new apparel line today, Isabel Marant, and the company’s web site crashed just minutes after the launch. It’s H&M frenzy and it does that to people.
On this day, in this store, the H&M shopper came in all varieties: young and less young, slim and less slim, female and male, high schoolers and young parents, and older parents, Louisville and Southern Indiana, fashionably dressed and fashion wannabes. H&M has something for everyone.
The store sits right inside the main entrance, opposite Starbucks, across from Coach and Coldwater Creek and Apple store. It hasn’t been a particularly lucky location. It was a Martin + Osa (now defunct), then a wine store and a couple of other things that have relocated to make way for the Swedish phenomenon.
The 27,000-square-foot store has been pushed up to two floors, occupying what had been storage space upstairs. The second floor contains expanded departments of men’s, denim and kids. H&M and Oxmoor clearly have big expectations for this market.
H&M’s thing has been called, variously, “cheap chic,” “disposable fashion” and “fast fashion.” The company — officially H&B Hennes & Mauritz AB — watches the runways of New York, Paris and Milan, and the pages of Vogue and InStyle, and then its designers reproduce the trendy looks, though with considerable less quality. Fabric wears out after a few washings. Seams tear. Buttons fall off.
H&M devotees around the world don’t care.
They’re not particularly interested in quality, they’re after the look and love the price. If the trend changes in six months or the garment falls apart, who cares for $25? Thus “cheap” and “disposable.” In six months, H&M will have an entirely new line of goods in store, anyway. Thus “fast.”
All the merchandise in the store has the H&M label, so no middle man whatsoever to push the price up another 40 or 50 percent.
The Oxmoor store itself is surprisingly somewhat ordinary, your usual mall store tightly packed with racks, rounders and waterfalls. The objective is selection, merchandise density. Want carpets or better lighting or room to move? Go to Von Maur in the west end cap.
There are some lifestyle graphics on the wall, but none of the excitement of the fantastic new store H&M is opening up in Times Square, with digital wraparound images on the outside of the building. But hey, that’s you-snooze-you-lose New York.
In Louisville on this day, a deejay was standing just inside the doorway, filling the space with pounding rhythms. I don’t know if it was rock or hip-hop or rap (I’m not Jason Sitzes, after all). I know it wasn’t Mozart. But it was appropriately young and up-tempo.
Holly Hardge was here from Detroit to help train the store’s new employees. She works in the Dearborn, Mich., location and has seen this kind of excitement before. Her job was to help make sure the H&M kids in this store were folding and hanging so it can look, throughout the day, almost the way it looks when they open the doors each day.
And you thought you only had to be cute or young or have tattoos to work at H&M. “Work” is still the operative word.
Especially at the two checkout stations, one on each floor. Shoppers clutching their finds were lined up well into the aisles, waiting to be checked out. The kids behind the desk were feverishly folding and bagging, ringing up purchases and trying to keep the lines moving.
The lines weren’t moving. There was just too much commerce going on. But that may be because it was opening day or maybe because it’s the month before Christmas.
Or maybe just because it’s H&M — the biggest, most exciting Swedish export to hit Louisville since ABBA. The winner takes it all.