Last night was the VIP opening party for Portland's long-anticipated H&M, which has taken up residence in the former Saks 5th Ave spot in Pioneer Place:
There were people camped out in tents outside the doors, which made us feel a twinge of guilt, and then amazement when we remembered that they wouldn't even be getting in until today's public opening at noon (in addition to press (and Sam Adams), invites for last night were sent to those who, by some inscrutable measure, were deemed the trendsetters of Portland). I saw more than a few people who are invested in the local apparel industry there, and they were buying, with varying degrees of guilt and lack thereof. The truth is that people who are willing to fork out for investment pieces from Souchi or pay to have a tailored dress from Liza Rietz are not going to find a replacement here. In addition to the suspect countries of origin on 99% of the tags (Cambodia, Bangladesh, Turkey, China, Hungary, etc.), synthetic fibers abound, and authentic leather is scarce (I'm all for people boycotting animal products, but of all the alternatives available, pleather is not one I endorse). That's good; assuming people who spend more and buy local know a little about clothing quality, H&M shouldn't pose a threat. High-low, etc. My general snobbery when it comes to fast fashion hasn't afforded me a ton of research in such places, and prone as I am to being romanced by free cocktails from Broder, I wondered to what degree I'd be tempted. Not much, turns out.
That said, if I had children or was pregnant, I would be all over it. Fast, disposable fashion has a place when your kids are growing like weeds and flying through the size charts, and maternity clothes that you're not going to wear postpartum shouldn't break your bank. Modern, urban, stylish women have a hard enough time feeling good about their appearance during pregnancy, and H&M is an awesome resource for them. It was there on the lower children's/maternity floor where I was making this defense to my boyfriend and fellow fiber-elitist when I spotted something on a pair of little girls' tights: "MADE IN ITALY." What. The. Eff. I ran upstairs back to the women's floor hosiery, and sure enough found a discreet rack of cotton ribbed tights manufactured in Italy, like an island of reputability in a vast sea of sketchiness. Cotton. There was viscose and elastane too, but in hosiery that's called for. I hadn't planned on buying anything, 25% event discount or not, but here is where I caved. I got enough pairs to last me through the year at least, for less than $10 each, all told—far less than other brands in my sock drawer: MP, Hansel from Basel, Wolford, even American Apparel. The real test, of course, was when I went to put the first pair on this morning, half-sure they would do something awful and sausage-y at the waist or be otherwise ill-fitting. But no. They're great. I probably wouldn't go back to seek them out, just on stubborn principle, but I don't make enough money to be blind to the wisdom of quality at a bargain when it's an item I'll get tons of use out of and it's staring me in the face. What I am curious about are the designer collections. Not every H&M location has access when they do a collaboration (like the Lanvin line, debuting on the 20th), but word is Portland's been tapped as a promising location for such things, and I might have to go check that out. Just to see.