By  on November 11, 2005

Stella might be even bigger than Karl.

"We thought it would be quieter than with the Karl Lagerfeld line. We were wrong," declared a sales associate at the H&M store on Rue de Rennes in Paris Thursday morning as she surveyed the mob scene that greeted the arrival of the temporary Stella McCartney for H&M collection.

The scenario was repeated in other major cities such as London, Berlin, Milan and New York, where an estimated 800 people lined up outside the H&M flagship on Fifth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets.

Racks were swiftly picked clean of McCartney's slouchy cardigans, drainpipe jeans and cocktail dresses — and many women said they relished what is becoming an annual shopping scrabble some likened to "The Fight Club."

"This is a lot worse" than the debut of Karl Lagerfeld's collection for H&M last year, a saleswoman in Paris said. "Karl Lagerfeld didn't sell out entirely for a couple of hours. We have nothing downstairs. There's no product to bring up. We had Karl Lagerfeld clothing for months. Stella [McCartney] is a much younger designer."

"I'm sensing a huge response," said Lisa Sandberg, director of communications for H&M in the United States. "There seems to be a bigger level of excitement. This is controlled chaos."

By 3:30 p.m., there was no trace of Stella McCartney at the 34th Street store in New York near Sixth Avenue. A display of nubby sweaters replaced McCartney's T-shirts; printed dresses hung where McCartney's denim jackets had been.

"We believe that some of our stores will sell out completely today," said Sandberg. "Any garments remaining will be allocated today to our largest stores, Fifth Avenue, and Seventh Avenue at 34th Street. Once those allocations are delivered that will be the end of it. We are considering it a huge success. The entire collection eventually did sell, not just certain pieces."

An H&M spokeswoman in Stockholm said flagships in other major cities would be replenished with merchandise late Thursday or Friday morning.

H&M has found better ways of executing a one-off designer product launch. There's more staff on the floor and the distribution is more targeted. McCartney's line is being sold in 400 stores versus 500 for Lagerfeld's line, with fewer stores receiving more merchandise. H&M has focused the launch on stores in 12 major U.S. cities.

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