An unsuspecting woman walking into COS will not likely guess its parent company is H&M. Visually, COS is such an antithesis of her fast-fashion distant relation (surely they can’t be parent and child!) that even on the level in Ion Orchard shared by brands such as CK Calvin Klein, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Red Valentino, it looks apart from the rest. Inside, almost everything looks right, even the customers. In this orderly store, where the clothes sit comfortably spaced among themselves, those who zero in on the unembellished and monochromatic pieces are like the merchandise: calm and collected.
We always imagine people who like quiet fashions to not have zesty personalities. True, COS is not where you’ll find Kim Kardashian shopping, but so many women who go through each garment on the racks with the same reposed interest as those picking up teacups in an English china shop are dizzyingly stimulating in speech and style. These are shoppers who connect to the clothes with both heart and mind, knowing that what they pick will outlive the “fast” and that, contrary to what they’ve been seduced to believe by the retail tribe led by H&M, is not a bad thing.
Among brands of similar positioning, COS is really an anomaly. It is the Jasper Morrison of high-street fashion. Its designs are skewed towards form and function (with a visible relationship between the two). Simplicity is at the heart of its appeal, but it’s a simplicity that’s spontaneous than studied. This, in fact, for many women (and men, too) who don COS clothes, is the label’s true trump card: an effortless stylishness that not only appeals but has impact. You look good in these clothes and few can tell why.
Lest it’s mistaken, COS do not offer clothes of extreme simplicity. Today’s minimalism, fronted by Celine, Jil Sander, and Raf Simons, is not just about a clean surface and dull palette. Rather, it is concerned with clever solutions that can give the most straightforward shape interesting—even witty—details that flatter the body. With COS, this is now mostly seen in their use of pleats, darts and unusual seam placements that yield volumes and proportions in sums rarely seen among mid-market brands such as Zara (interestingly, even Zara is traipsing the minimalist route: check out their current collect). To put in another way, COS is simply refreshing.
Even their in-house publication is unlike any catalogue you’ll find in a fashion store. With paper and binding that suggest an old-school notebook, it contains as much about the minimalist clothes as the designs, scenes, artists and technicians sharing the brand’s clean-line aesthetics. This is a magazine the discerning will read and collect.
COS, which stands for Collection of Style (not exactly a terribly stylish name, but consider H&M’s newest label, & Other Stories! Or the former’s own house brand, L.O.G.G. or Label of Graded Goods!), is only 6 years old. In Asia, Singapore is the third city to open after Hong Kong and Beijing. For those who derive national pride in such trivia, we’re ahead of the US, which will only see its first COS store in New York in March next year. How much this expansion outside the brand’s initial target of Europe will impact global mass-market fashion is not as clear as its design sharpness.
If history can throw up some clues, COS may not be as big as H&M. Minimalism, as we know it, first appeared in the Nineties as a reaction to the earlier decade’s excesses. But it did not become formidable as consumers were influenced by a particularly potent pop scene that advocated showiness over substance and by luxury brand conglomerates that encouraged conspicuous over discreet consumption. Similarly, as trends today are propelled by uninhibited social media, and fashion isn’t fashion until it shouts, screeches, and screams, the backlash that is the minimalism of COS may be only a temporary respite from the din. A look at the languid traffic in the store, one can foresee COS marching to its own drumbeat rather than leading a war.
COS debuts in Singapore at Ion Orchard on 03-23