Monday, June 4, 2012

Does H & M Stand for Hit & Miss?


A funny thing happened on the way to H&M today. I fell in love with Forever 21 again.

Let me say right away that— yes— both are poorly made, trendy, cheap emporiums of fashion, but— like fast food or Halloween candy— a little every once in a while can be tasty fun. We were living in New York when the first H&M opened on Fifth Avenue twelve years ago. As I worked practically around the corner, H&M was an easy pop-in to or from work (wisely avoiding lunch hours). I knew not to expect much, but sometimes I found the unexpected.

Having had H&M made me miss it all the more when we moved to H&M-less Texas.  Any trip required a search of the website's store locator. I spent three hours in the San Francisco store (thanks to a very understanding husband) and must have visited every one in London the summer of 2009. Repeated attempts to convince the company they should open in Houston failed miserably. So much so that the first Texas store opened last year in... Dallas. Just so you know, the Hatfields and McCoys had nothing on the rivalry between Houston and Dallas.

Insert confession here: The vast majority of my H&M purchases were duds. One I still have; a few I wore to shreds. But most ended up in the donate bin, some still with tags (nowhere to return them once I got home). Not a proud thing to admit, but those excursions were probably cheaper than a day pass at Disneyworld and a lot more fun.

The big day arrives
H&M finally opens in Houston, and I decide to play it cool and wait 4 WHOLE DAYS before going.
Never mind that they opened in a mall so outside my usual path that I'm still not sure what town it's in—Friendswood? Webster? Clear Lake? The drive took 30 minutes but the mindset was twenty years ago in suburbia. The mall location was huge and looked like any other mall you've ever been in. There was a popcorn stand right in front of the H&M entrance. Not a good sign.

Inside was the usual cacophony of people, music and hangers dropping to the floor. But what struck me loudest was the truly horrible fabrication of the clothing. This was proof that a picture may be worth 1,000 words, but seeing is believing. The stuff was just plain nasty and had no style besides. Where was all the "good stuff"? The collaboration with Comme des Garcons? Or Even Kylie Minogue? Does the company only ship what the traffic will wear? I was actually near League City, but this was truly out of my league. As in farm team. The only things to catch my eye were a chunky necklace of faceted green "glasstic" beads for $9.50 and a pair of pink satin ballet slippers that looked the equal to actual ballet slippers in both style and practicality as streetwear. Neither of which would make me wait in that snaking checkout line.

Meanwhile in another part of the mall...
The mall's Forever 21 was quite the largest I've ever seen. For years I avoided any Forever 21 as I thought the stores were for women "of a certain age" who wanted look "forever 21"— like Chico's for hookers. Just so you know, Forever 21 is a good-sized step up from the plethora of truly dreadful mall fashion like Charlotte Russe and Buikayah. It's cheap, fast fashion but so good at copying trends they've been sued 50 times. The quality isn't really there, but sometimes you do have to look twice to notice and sometimes you can find something worthwhile. The noise level was tolerable and the housekeeping decent. The store itself was so huge I totally ruled out visiting the massive sale section. Besides, "on sale" at Forever 21 must mean they pay you to take it off their hands. It was fun. I grabbed a shopping bag and started going around, not an easy feat due to the massive real estate. When I had enough I came home with three sweet treats: a short pullover top ($12) in rust lace, a pair of toast and black psuedo-Safari printed shorts ($15)— bloomery with gathered legs (strictly for the backyard) and a quite decent bateau-neck grey striped t-shirt ($8)— double-fabric rolled collar and stripes matching at the seams). $35 and I fear I spent that much on gas.

This is not meant to be a love letter to Forever 21. I have some issues indeed with the plagiarism suits. I'm not too fond of knowing the company's evangelical leanings, and "John 3:16" is printed on shopping bags. Perhaps I have learned yet another lesson, as in "you can't go home again" or "things change" or "the grass is always greener on the other side". For now let me say, now and forever, Forever 21.
Forever yours


  1. I only have a couple of H&M items - a Comme des Garcons navy sweater and a Marni printed top from the recent collaboration. Both are fine. But I know what you mean about the main range stuff, some of it does look very cheap. I don't know whether I should tell you this...but have you heard of Cos? It's H&M's big sister and has a very chic, pared-down, Marni meets Jil Sander aesthetic. You can buy it online and there are several London stores, that's if you're planning another visit!

  2. Thanks for the tip, TNMA. I will definitely check out Cos on my next visit to London, in September. As well as Top Shop, Primark, Marks & Spencer (still the best underwear anywhere) and of course give H&M another chance. Which is The Best H&M in London? I know they are sprouting on every other street corner.