H&M-owned & Other Stories is not like any other mass international retail chain. It doesn't regurgitate runway trends fast-fashion style, nor does it dictate its customers subscribe to one singular aesthetic; its stores genuinely feel like boutiques; and its design team isn't based out of one location. If you look at an & Other Stories tag, you might notice it says either "Paris Atelier" or "Stockholm Atelier." This isn't just a marketing ploy (well, the term "atelier" might be to some degree); rather, it actually reflects where that garment was designed. And beginning March 30, you'll start to see items with a new tag that reads "Los Angeles Atelier." Yes, & Other Stories is the latest in a string of brands to make a serious investment in Southern California.
When I arrived at said "atelier" on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood this week — located below the very trendy restaurant Catch — I was greeted by a young woman in athleisure. She quickly clarified that her team doesn't usually dress so casually, but they were about to start their weekly yoga session on the enormous sundeck, in which nearly every staff member (of which there are about 30) participated, save for the two lead designers who gave me a tour of the space alongside Samuel Fernstrom, the brand's managing director.
The atelier, which low-key opened over a year ago, feels very LA, but more importantly, very & Other Stories. Natural light fills the large, open-plan space, as do a wide assortment of the plants and feminine, minimalist furniture that decorates the brand's equally well-lit stores (of which there are two in Los Angeles). The brand has also launched a number of collaborations with LA-based designers over its four years in existence, including Rodarte, Clare Vivier and, coming up next, Toms.
Fernstrom explained that at the inception of & Other Stories in 2013, they thought they'd set up ateliers in Tokyo, Berlin and London. Obviously, that's not what happened. "We knew a lot of designers in Stockholm from more minimalistic brands such as Acne, and then we knew some people in Paris as well coming from Parisian brands — Sonia Rykiel, Chloé, Margiela Céline," he said. "We got the minimalistic things and the romantic tomboy things; the idea is the customers are a mix between these, but we knew from the start that something was missing." Turns out it was LA — and not because the city is having "a moment."
"We didn't come here because it's having a moment now, we're not going to leave if the moment is over," said Fernstrom. "It's about finding that contrast from Stockholm and Paris." It's light, sunny and frivolous compared to Scandinavia's dark, minimalist seriousness, and by setting up shop in LA, the brand can channel that aesthetic into its collections in a genuine way. It's even hired two natives as head ready-to-wear designers. Dakota Solt, who previously worked at Nasty Gal and had her own traveling pop-up called Crybaby, explained, "We can really speak to the girl, all aspects of her personality, what she likes to do and the adventures she goes on." Caity Knox, who previously designed womenswear at James Perse, noted, "It's exciting to be a designer and get to be yourself and design for yourself. I think that's rare and that's something super-special about Stories. In LA, LA girls are designing for LA girls; in Paris, Paris girls are designing for Paris girls."
"Where you live effects you so much, and that's also the reason we really wanted to have three design ateliers, to make sure the collections are different," added Fernstrom. Many photo shoots are done in-house as well.
The setup reflects & Other Stories's differences from and similarities to traditional design houses and, conversely, fast-fashion retailers. There's no two-week lead time like you might find at the latter; & Other Stories designers start about a year out. "The LA designers... they're designing, they're not just taking something and ripping it off," explained Fernstrom. "That's why we're living in the city we're designing for," added Solt. "We're not trying to design for Europe; we're designing for LA."
For this spring, that LA girl is broken down into a few different types and occasions, from the dressed-up girl you might see upstairs at Catch, to the "East LA creative type" you might find walking the sidewalks of Silverlake or Echo Park.
See images from the first full & Other Stories LA Collection in the gallery below.