By  on March 23, 2007

Madonna certainly has her legions of obsessed fans, but when it comes to fashion, she's not quite Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney or Viktor & Rolf.

After an initial rush of crowds through the doors of Hennes & Mauritz stores around the world, where fans sought the first installment of M by Madonna merchandise, the fast-fashion chain said it was pleased with sales.

But the activity and crowds seemed to flow in a less frenzied way compared with the mania that stretched over several days for Lagerfeld's H&M collection. The pop star's collection was introduced Thursday at H&M stores in 26 countries.

Some dedicated fans lined up in the darkness of the early morning hours outside stores from Berlin to Los Angeles.

"I think I'm going to faint," said 19-year-old student Marie-Line Panycz, clutching an autographed Madonna trenchcoat at H&M's Haussmann flagship in Paris. Panycz's mother drove her to H&M at 4:30 a.m. so she could be one of the first in line.

The retailer announced it would give the first five customers a trenchcoat with a message from the star, "love, Madonna," scrawled on the lining. Panycz plans to frame hers. She also bought an unsigned trench, sunglasses, a scarf, black trousers and a white leather bag, for a total of 200 euros, about $267 at current exchange. Each year, she spends about 2,000 euros, or $2,670, on Madonna memorabilia, CDs and tickets to see the pop diva.

Unlike the rush for H&M's previous designer collaborations, there were fewer than 100 people lined up before the doors opened at the flagship.

"This is very different from our past collections," said Jennifer Ugliaro, a spokeswoman for H&M in the U.S. "It's a broader, more classic collection."

M, which is aimed at a wide audience, is being sold in all 118 H&M units in the U.S. Viktor & Rolf, H&M's last designer collaboration, was sold in about 10 to 12 stores in the U.S.

"There's nothing so trendy in M," Ugliaro said. "The shelf life for M is longer than it was for Karl and the others."Still, business was brisk in many markets, with shoppers spending on multiple items, although Amanda Michaloprulou, a customer at H&M's Berlin Friedrichstrasse store, said, "Fashion people do it better than rock icons."

As the Material Girl's hits throbbed in the background, consumers at H&M's Fifth Avenue flagship in New York inspected the little black dresses, double-breasted suits, white leotards, fitted white shirts and kimono dresses. A long trenchcoat in white or black leather is the most expensive piece in the line at $298.90 and is the item that most clearly reflects Madonna's personal style.

There's also a black jumpsuit embellished with silver studs and a novelty dress completely covered in gold and white sequins.

"All of the girls on the red carpet are wearing the sequin dress," Ugliaro said. "We just sent Gwyneth Paltrow one of everything in the collection in every color. She asked for it. All of Madonna's friends are wearing it."

Jeannie Buxo, a secretary, got to the Fifth Avenue store at 5 a.m. She spent $600 on a leather jacket, sunglasses, scarves and a kimono dress. "That's the best item," she said of the black-and-white dress. "I came early because the first 250 people on line got a raffle ticket to win a trenchcoat signed by Madonna.... Everything Madonna does is original and exciting."

Ana Mackintosh, a tourist from Spain, saw M by Madonna in Elle magazine and immediately liked it. "I knew the clothes were going to be special," she said, clutching the sequin dress, a leather trenchcoat and a white blouse.

Linda Fuller of Toronto followed young women around the store who appeared to be the same age as her daughter and took note of what they were buying. Her haul included a trenchcoat, three dresses, a blouse and a purse. "I was walking by the store and saw them unloading the M merchandise," she said. "I walked in and it was insane for a moment. Then they started bringing out more merchandise and people calmed down."

However, not everyone was taken with what they saw. "The last collection by Viktor & Rolf was better," said shopper Claire Magat. "There's not a big difference between M and the regular H&M clothes. The dresses don't fit me."At the Beverly Center in Los Angeles, about 25 customers showed up before the opening, compared with more than 200 people who queued up for the debut of the Victor & Rolf collection in November.

"I expected there to be way more people," said Heather Biede, a 33-year-old "superfan" of the singer, who drove from Pasadena to be first on line at 6 a.m. "The security guys told me they thought there would be more people, too."

Agate Dawson of Valencia, Calif., arrived at 8:45 a.m. with her five-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son. "I thought it was going to be chaos, and wondered about bringing the kids, but it's really mellow," she said.

Once the doors opened, the small crowd sent up a collective cry of glee, then swarmed the selection. Popular items included the wraparound sunglasses, M-logo silk scarves, black dresses and pencil skirts.

In Boston, neither the Downtown Crossing nor the Newbury Street stores had lines and by mid-morning, sales associates at each location reported an average day's traffic. At the Newbury Street store at mid-afternoon, racks remained fully stocked. The collection's severe ivory, white and black palette appeared to be upstaged by nearby racks of orange and green minidresses and blue-and-gold brocade suiting, where customers gathered.

In London, the atmosphere was more subdued compared with previous guest designer launches, when hordes fought over the clothing and stock had to be replenished regularly. At Oxford Circus, there were about 20 people waiting on line before the H&M store opened, and stock levels remained high except for key pieces, such as a cream leather trench and a kimono dress.

It was a similar story at H&M in Knightsbridge. "We still have stock of everything," said an H&M saleswoman at around noon. "Previous collections were much more crazy." Wimbledon's H&M was relatively quiet, too. "We had a few people and it was busy at lunchtime," said a saleswoman, adding the store had yet to sell out of any key items.

The response might have been related to the line's widespread distribution in the U.K. Unlike past guest designer collections, M by Madonna is distributed in all the H&M stores that carry women's wear, rather than in the flagships alone.Only the High Street Kensington store drew a serious crowd. "I think it's because of where we are," said a salesman. "The collection is at a higher price point, which suits the women who shop in this area."

At the Haussmann flagship in Paris, enthusiasm was high. Sandra Azouly, marketing director for the 2026 fashion brand, who spent 850 euros, or $1,135, said, "Madonna, for me, is a fashion icon." She added, "It is a bit expensive."

"She creates fashion," said Nathalie Grosjean, a sales assistant. "Everything she wears is followed." Grosjean, who bought two of the H&M Madonna tracksuits in August, had been on line since 7:30 a.m.

"She's original," added Sarah Mahler, a Clarins training manager who waited for three hours to get into the store. Still, it was less than the four hours she waited to buy a ticket to Madonna's "Confessions" tour.

In Italy, Milanese of all ages appeared to be clutching armfuls of slim jersey dresses and cropped jackets, plus a range of accessories such as patent corset belts, silver clutches and bold wraparound sunglasses.

Viviana Cacioppo, 30, came to check out the new arrivals. "Look at these jersey dresses, they are absolutely fabulous and they cost only $59.90 each," she said. "I'll definitely buy three at least."

"Everything about Madonna is powerful and perfect," said Barbara Caputo, a 26-year-old university student.

Paolo, who preferred not to give her last name, an H&M sales associate, said reaction to Madonna was "not as crazy as with her [designer] predecessors, but it's definitely a well received collection that sold well."

Silvia Cafarelli, a 32-year-old graphic designer, declared that Lagerfeld's collection had been the best so far, but as a fashion devotee, she couldn't miss Thursday's opportunity. "Lagerfeld's line was completely different from anything else," she said. "He was the first big designer to design for H&M, which counts, plus it had a Chanel spirit that made it unique."

In Berlin, where a chilly rain fell, a small crowd waited for the doors to open at 9 a.m. at the Tauentzienstrasse location. Although it was crowded upstairs and the line for the dressing rooms was long, the scene was orderly, thanks to salespeople wearing Madonna T-shirts, who assisted shoppers and kept the racks and tables relatively tidy and filled.The accessories were snapped up almost immediately, especially the patent leather belts. The jumpsuits also disappeared quickly. Many women were carrying black or white leather trenchcoats, leather jackets, black slinky jersey dresses and pink, black and white silk dresses.

One shopper, who had four shopping bags in each hand, said she made purchases for her mother, her friends and herself. "I only hope it looks as good on us as it did on the Internet," she said.

Patiently waiting on line, Kimberly Bohle, an American expatriate, said she was taken with the collection. "Oh, I like it, especially the dresses," she said. "Watch the women trying on the black leather trenchcoats. You can see their faces light up when they've found their size."

Not everyone was thrilled. "The quality isn't good and the fabrics don't have a good hand," said Tina Schaeffer, owner of a children's store in Berlin. "The photos looked really good, and the prices are fair. But it's just not my taste."

At the Berlin Friedrichstrasse branch, store manager Daniel Sieber said, "We are really pleased and sales are doing well. It's hard to tell what's in the changing rooms right now, but at a rough estimate, within the first half hour, we shifted around 50 percent of the Madonna stock."

Doreen Mallon, a 43-year-old investment consultant, said, "The collection's OK. But there seems to be nothing but puff sleeves as far as I can see. And the materials are really artificial. I think there was a lot more choice at the Lagerfeld collection."

Marketing consultant Kirsten Nassen, 40, agreed about the material. "I mean look at this, everything looks like it's made out of viscose. It would really make you sweat....And the quality isn't always up to scratch. With Lagerfeld, the collection was more timeless and the quality was better. You could tell that he was a designer. Price-wise, I'd rather pay a little more and get something better."

And then there was public relations consultant Alexandra Kugke, who was weighed down by an armful of dresses. "It's very contemporary," she said. "It's elegant, but at the same time modern. It's good that there isn't so much of a crush here this time around. At the Stella McCartney opening, you just had to grab what you could get. I love the dresses, although I'm not sure I would wear the jumpsuit or the bomber jacket. They are a little bit too flashy."

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