Do you remember the joy of shopping? That golden time when disposable trends weren't the only thing available; when hitting the shops was a social activity religiously conducted on a Saturday; and before sales assistants dismissed you with an air of condescending misery.
As the high street's standards – from quality to service - dropped, e-commerce became better and better. And so a lot of us abandoned hectic Saturdays at the shops for an evening on our laptops trawling through online stores. Then, a decade ago, when smartphones boomed, we realised we could shop anywhere and at any time – suddenly there was no need to do battle with queues, unflattering tat and rude sales staff.
However, there is one brand that wants to change our perspective of high street shopping – and we can attest that it's a persuasive force. Welcome Arket – the new fashion and lifestyle brand from the H&M Group which aims to revitalise shopping.
Its much-anticipated store, housed at 224 Regent Street, is filled with empty spaces. Tables are covered with individual items rather than piles of towering clothes. Racks are evenly spread out in shades of the same colour. Not all the shelves are filled and it feels very airy. There's a small café selling coffees and a selection of salads. It's almost like walking through an open-air market, which is precisely the point.
"We just felt that the challenge was to create a store that people really want to be in," Arket's creative director, Ulrika Bernhardtz, told us. "We wanted to create a breathing space, rather than filling the place out; traditional retailers often consider empty space as a lost opportunity. We always thought that the stores must offer something different to the online offering otherwise you might as well as shop online. The store has to have a different purpose."
The brand has no desire to fight its online counterpart; instead they work in tandem. Each style comes with a unique ID number, which shoppers can type in online to find pieces in the same material or that material in different styles. It means that if you buy a certain item and want to see if it's been restocked a year later, then you can. Essentially, Arket is a brand that has adapted to a modern shopping market.
"Our woman knows her style and she wants to build a wardrobe with fewer pieces, but they need to be very versatile," says Bernhardtz. "She needs to find pieces that can be worn at different occasions – she thinks smart when it comes to her wardrobe. She wants quality. The real thing is this customer has higher demands and limited time – that's the common thread."
Arket has a very clear idea of who it is and who it's selling to. Spanning womenswear, menswear and childrenswear, its signatures are quality, simplicity and functionality. So far, so Scandi, but unlike its Scandi peers, the brand steers away from the boxy, minimalist shapes that a lot of women find difficult to wear. Silhouettes are flattering and fabrics are of a quality rarely found on the high street – from silk and recycled cashmere to Italian wool. Everything is very well-considered – T-shirts, for example, come in different weights of cotton because if we find a piece that we love, then a lot of us tend to buy a few of the same thing.
"We want to be a destination that goes behind apparel and addresses a very busy customer with higher demands," said Bernhardtz. "We have a broad yet curated assortment, so that the customer can be sure that each piece deserves its place on the shelves."
Having browsed those aforementioned shelves, this is certainly the case. From the perfect navy T-shirt to a classic peacoat and kitten heels, these are clothes that look and feel a lot more expensive than their price tag. It's a far cry from its sister brands H&M, Weekday and & Other Stories.
"We are less trend-driven and we want to build the ideal everyday uniform," explains Berhardtz when pressed on the differences between Arket and the other labels that fall under the H&M stable. "We believe the customer will have our pieces for a longer period of time – it's about longevity thinking. Our goal is to democratise quality and bring that to a broader audience. It's hard to do simple really well."
The brand will open its doors to the public on Friday. We'll see you there with one of its Arket's flat whites in hand.
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