By and  on April 17, 2007

COSTA MESA, Calif. — If the almost 800 people lined up outside two Hennes & Mauritz stores that launched at South Coast Plaza shopping center here Thursday are an accurate indicator, the Swedish fast-fashion company has room to grow in Southern California.

H&M's dual debut at South Coast Plaza unveiled a 20,000-square-foot store selling women's, men's and children's apparel and accessories and an 8,000-square-foot unit carrying an edited selection of fashion-forward women's apparel and accessories.

"There were two fantastic spaces," said Lisa Sandberg, U.S. communications director for H&M. "We don't feel this market has been saturated at all….We're looking for more opportunities in the Orange County [region]."

And the retailer proved it on Friday, opening a third Orange County store in the Irvine Spectrum Center. The 15,000-square-foot unit sells women's, men's and junior merchandise. The trifecta brought the H&M store count in Southern California to six. "It's the first time we've opened three stores in two days in the U.S.," noted Sandberg. Roughly 400 people lined up to get into the Irvine store.

Though the company's West Coast flagship is a mere 45 minutes north of Costa Mesa at the Beverly Center shopping center in Los Angeles, Sandberg said she wasn't surprised by the lines. "The people in Orange County really need to have stores in Orange County to shop," she said. "The [high-low] melting pot that's going on in America's closet right now is really happening here. And that's what we've been saying all along — it's OK to mix and match."

Sandberg likened the atmosphere of the smaller unit to a boutique shopping experience. The company has been launching variations on the all-women's concept for years in locations such as New York and Sweden. "It's a store for women who know fashion," she said. "As the market matures, we'll branch away from bigger stores and open more focused stores like this."

Anton Segerstrom, general manager of South Coast Plaza, surveyed the crush of shoppers from inside the larger store. "H&M is one of the hottest brands and that's what our customers expect from us," he said.Frankie Parra from Santa Ana, Calif., showed up at 2:30 a.m. with three friends to be first in line at the larger of the two units. "We love the clothes and it's just really fun to be here," said Parra, who added that he hoped to buy summer basics, including shorts and T-shirts.

Lissette Fernandez and Genesis Flores of La Habra, Calif., held the number-one spot at the smaller store. "We've been here since 5:30 a.m. and all we got was a $10 gift certificate," Fernandez said. Still, that disappointment was short-lived. As store staff began a countdown to the cutting of the red ribbon, the college freshman jumped up and down, chanting, "I love H&M."

Separately, the Swedish retailer, on Monday said sales in March surged 29 percent, besting analyst's estimates. H&M credited warm weather conditions, as well strong collections such as the Madonna range, for luring shoppers into the store. Like-for-like sales spiked 17 percent. "To accomplish such figures, new collections have to be very strong," said Nils Vinge, H&M's head of investor relations. "The lines were very much appreciated."

The pop star's collection was introduced last month at H&M stores in 26 countries.

According to Vinge, calendar effects accounted for 3 percent of the March increase. H&M operated 1,386 stores at the end of March, up from 1,216 and the end of last March.

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