70 years of H&M: Discover the best of the archives
We dug deep into H&M’s past and found key pieces from bygone times that are just as relevant today as in decades past.
1947–1967 GETTING STARTED
Padded shoulders, knee-length A-line skirts and nipped in waists. When the first H&M store opened its doors in the small Swedish town Västerås in 1947, it created an immediate sensation. The store, then named Hennes (meaning hers in Swedish), sold on-trend women's dresses in an array of styles at a better price than all its competitors, creating a new way of enjoying fashion.
1968–1977 MENSWEAR AND RAPID EXPANSION
In the ’40s and ’50s, the art of dressing was still a conservative sport and young people were often expected to dress in the same style as their parents. Come the 1960s and this all changed. The decade brought short skirts in bold colours, optical patterns, plastic pearls and big hairdos. It's also the decade that H&M founder Erling Persson bought the hunting and fishing store Mauritz Widforss, started selling menswear – and added the M to H&M. The company kept growing and went international, adding stores in Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
"Growing up, I thought of H&M as a brand that had everything I wanted. The newspapers had sketched H&M fashion ads lining articles, and I remember seeing them, thinking to myself that it had to be the best company in the world for someone who loved fashion," says creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson, who started as a sales advisor at a store in Stockholm in 1987.
We didn't have a lot of cred and we were seen as a retail store among many others.
H&M'S FIRST HEAD OF DESIGN MARGARETA VAN DEN BOSCH ON THE '80S
1978–1986 BECOMING A FASHION SUPERPOWER
Before the 1970s, H&M was mainly a shopping destination for women and men looking for affordable – yet fashionable – clothing. In the latter half of the decade, H&M's journey to become a global fashion power speeded up.
"H&M wasn't considered cool before the '80s. We didn't have a lot of cred and we were seen as a retail store among many others," says H&M's first head of design Margareta van den Bosch.
With trends including flared denim, bohemian dresses and punk influences, the customer of the '70s and '80s demanded a more youthful alternative to the classic and trend-driven apparel H&M had sold during previous decades. Consequently, H&M launched the Impuls and Rocky concepts, which we know today as Divided.
1987–1993: REFINING THE DESIGNS
"We were seven people in the design team, and we had stores in six countries. Today, we're hundreds of designers and buyers and have 4,500 stores in 68 countries."
Margareta van den Bosch was hired as H&M's head of design in 1987 with a mission to turn the brand's collections into something more than just clothing at the best price. Together with a rapidly growing team, they transformed H&M into a fashion force.
"We developed a bunch of different concepts, because our customers required it. For the preppy, we launched American Sportswear, which we renamed LOGG," says Margareta.
"... and for everyone who loved '80s tricots, leg warmers and cat suits, we launched Clothes for Cats," Ann-Sofie Johansson laughs.
This was before the Internet, and before computers were used as a designer's main working tool, so instead inspiration came from travels, television and countless visits to flea markets and vintage stores.
"We did everything by hand back then. We drew all the stripes, all the checks, all the patterns and all the shapes," says Margareta van den Bosch.
"This is when H&M's popularity exploded. In the l late '80s," says Ann-Sofie Johansson.
1994–2003: INTRODUCING SUSTAINABILITY
Now, more than ever, we know that the future of fashion has to be sustainable, and nearly 25 years ago H&M took its first steps on this path. The first collection, named Nature Calling, was presented in the mid '90s, and it looked the part.
"It was the epitome of how people then imagined eco-friendly clothing; unbleached linen, coconut buttons and pale hues only. It was on-trend then, but of course we didn't have the same know-how about sustainable materials as now," says Ann-Sofie Johansson.
In the '90s, with minimalism a constant trend, H&M grew to become one of the world's biggest fashion retailers, but the label still didn't make a lot of noise. In 1997 the brand opened a PR department, started making massive global, marketing campaigns and, in 2001, its first-ever international fashion show. Supermodels – led by Grace Jones – and the international press were brought to a former limestone quarry, hours away from the Swedish capital, to see some of the best items from H&M's spring and summer collections.
"Of all my years here, I think the late '90s and early 2000s was my favourite period. It was around the turn of the millennia that I really felt that what we were doing was really working, and that people loved the clothes we were making," recalls Margareta van den Bosch.
2004-2009 LAUNCHING DESIGNER COLLABORATIONS
Having set the precedent for global fashion chains for several decades, H&M's designer collaborations went on to re-shape high-street fundamentally.
"We've surprised so many by being able to do it, and a lot of people in the industry have been quite shocked by how successful they've been, and by all the beautiful, timeless, pieces we've been able to create," says Margareta van den Bosch.
"Karl Lagerfeld was a lovely man, and I was impressed by seeing how closely he worked with his team," she continues about the first-ever designer collaboration, which sold out in minutes when it launched in the autumn of 2004.
Following Karl Lagerfeld, we've seen 16 designer collaborations. From legendary houses Balmain, Versace and Lanvin to younger, yet iconic, brands like Marni, Isabel Marant and Erdem.
A lot of people in the industry have been quite shocked by how successful they've been.
MARGARETA VAN DEN BOSCH ON THE DESIGNER COLLABORATIONS
"The success of the designer collaborations has proven H&M's ability to create very intricate and advanced collections," says Ann-Sofie Johansson.
Although designer collaborations have been hugely successful, the H&M design team wanted to highlight their own designs too.
"Before we started with the H&M Studio collections, we made something called press collections. We wanted our collections to be shown in magazines and at Paris Fashion Week because we're so proud of what we do and wanted to put focus on our designs, and show everyone that we work with the same timelines as everyone else and how fantastic our teams are," says Ann-Sofie Johansson.
In 2008, the New Development design department is started at the Stockholm headquarters, where H&M's most fashion-forward and conceptual collections are created – including H&M Studio, Conscious Exclusive and the guest designer collections.
2010-2017 A CONSCIOUS FUTURE
With annual fashion shows in Paris and collaborations with the world's most beloved designers and artists H&M is one of the world's greatest forces in fashion. Due to its size, H&M has to take responsibility, and has constantly improved its way of making sustainable fashion during the past decades.
After sitting down with the creative advisors and H&M legends Margareta van den Bosch and Ann-Sofie Johansson we wanted to find out what the future has to offer.
"We have a set goal," Ann-Sofie says firmly. "By 2030 we're only working with sustainable materials, and the clothing will have to adapt to that. I believe in different new materials and new techniques that will make it possible for us to continue to make desirable, value for money fashion."
DOES: Creative Advisor at H&M
YEARS AT THE COMPANY: 30. Ann-Sofie started as a sales advisor in an H&M store in 1987.
MARGARETA VAN DEN BOSCH
DOES: Creative Advisor at H&M
YEARS AT THE COMPANY: 30. Margareta was head of design from 1987 to 2008.
We have a set goal. By 2030 we're only working with sustainable materials.
CREATIVE ADVISOR ANN-SOFIE JOHANSSON
H&M IN NUMBERS
1947 the first-ever H&M store opens in Västerås
2007 the first-ever COS store opens, a part of the H&M group
68 countries have H&M stores
17 designer collaborations since 2004
H&M'S DESIGNER COLLABORATIONS
2004: Karl Lagerfeld
2005: Stella McCartney
2006: Viktor & Rolf
2007: Roberto Cavalli
2008: Comme des Garçons
2009: Matthew Williamson
2009: Jimmy Choo
2009: Sonia Rykiel
2012: Martin Margiela
2013: Isabel Marant
2014: Alexander Wang
PHOTOGRAPHER Hanna Tveite | Lalaland
STYLIST Columbine Smille | LundLund
HAIR Martina Senke | Mikas Looks
MAKEUP Anya De Tobon | Linkdetails