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California and the West

H&M Opens Its First Stores on West Coast

The San Francisco shops draw customers aware of the Swedish retailer's reputation for being trendy and affordable.

November 24, 2005|Terril Yue Jones | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Forget Donna Karan's DKNY. For fashion-forward young women on a budget, the letters of choice are H&M.

Which is why Annie Hughes was so impatient this week to visit one of Hennes & Mauritz's two new stores here -- the first in the Stockholm-based retail chain to open west of Minneapolis.

"I was really excited," Hughes, 17, said Wednesday as she walked out of the H&M near Union Square, which opened on Saturday. Her take for the day: a sweater, a shirt and some necklaces that set her back about $70.

"It's not the usual stuff you see at Macy's," she added.

Talk to any young (or young-at-heart) woman who struggles to look good without breaking the bank, and chances are they know about H&M.

With 91 stores in the U.S., the Swedish retailer's clothing has quickly gained a reputation for being at once well-made, affordable and trend-conscious. Partnerships with designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney have only boosted the chain's cachet.

The latest H&M locations here are notable both for their size -- one on Powell Street occupies a 35,000-square-foot space in a former furniture store, while a Post Street store is 10,000 square feet -- and for their proximity to the headquarters of homegrown competitor Gap Inc.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, H&M fans began lining up outside the two new stores here.

Shoppers cleaned out McCartney's skirts, pants, dresses and shirts on Day One, store employees said. One described how shoppers made a beeline for the McCartney clothes as soon as the doors opened Saturday, with some customers scooping up armfuls and heading to the cash registers.

Taylor Mason, an 18-year-old from San Francisco, knew about McCartney and Lagerfeld from reading Vogue and Elle magazines, and from talking about fashion with friends.

"I don't really buy Stella McCartney because it's more for older people with more money," Mason said, even though McCartney's designs for H&M are considerably less expensive than her own line.

As for the H&M brand, "I love it because it's really cheap, but it's good stuff. It's high fashion," said Mason, a high school senior.

Mason called H&M "really big" among her classmates. "We saw like five of our friends, just randomly in the store." Most of those friends have been to the H&M stores in New York and Boston, she said.

Shopper Emily Reyes, 17, said, "I like the variety. It's not all just plain Jane." Reyes, who bought some T-shirts, necklaces and a purse for $93, added, "It's more vibrant. They have things you wouldn't expect to see, like sweater vests."

H&M has made no secret of its desire to draw shoppers from chains such as Gap, Urban Outfitters and Over 21.

"The Gap has thousands of stores, so I don't think it's significantly cutting into Gap sales," said Howard Tubin, an analyst in New York with brokerage Cathay Financial. But he said the Lagerfeld and McCartney lines had bestowed "a sense of legitimacy" on the H&M brand.

Anouk Bachman, a 24-year-old graduate student at San Francisco State University, said she appreciated the value of H&M's goods.

"I bought a new hat and bag but in a few months I'll be sick of them, so I don't want to spend a lot of money," she said.

The retailer, founded in Stockholm in 1947, plans another store in Concorde, near San Francisco, next spring.

As for Los Angeles, "we're actively looking" for a location, spokeswoman Lisa Sandberg said.

H&M earned a profit of $1.09 billion on sales of $9.4 billion globally last year. The company does not break out details of its U.S. sales.

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