By  on November 10, 2006

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren aren't exactly household names, but judging by the crowds that flocked to H&M stores on Thursday to buy pieces from their limited-edition, wedding-themed collection, they could well have been rock stars.

At H&M locations around the world, styles by the wildly inventive Dutch design duo set off a feeding frenzy. Shoppers grabbed clothing out of the hands of sales associates, pushed and jostled one another to get to racks and stalked customers holding clothes they coveted in the hope they would change their minds. The behavior was aggressive and at times indecorous, but for the most part, everybody kept their cool.

A spokeswoman for the chain in Sweden said early indications pointed to the overall operation being a "huge success," especially in Holland and Sweden.

"It can be compared to the levels of Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney," she said.

At the Fifth Avenue flagship in New York, about 200 people waited outside the store for its opening at 9 a.m., an hour earlier than usual, before rushing inside and grabbing whatever they could lay their hands on. The first shoppers on line said they had arrived at 2 a.m.

The Viktor & Rolf launch in Los Angeles coincided with the opening of the first H&M in the city, at the Beverly Center mall in West Hollywood, and drew a crowd of more than 200 shoppers. Rikki Alberto and his girlfriend, Zilba Zehdar, drove up from Long Beach and slept on the sidewalk outside the mall, leaning up against one another so they could be among the first people inside the store.

In London, a huge crowd gathered outside the store at Oxford Circus, while in Amsterdam, where Viktor & Rolf are local fashion deities, some 300 people lined up Thursday morning waiting for the chain's biggest store to open, an H&M spokeswoman there said. The scene was equally frenetic at locations in Paris and Milan.

"We're very happy and overwhelmed with the response," said an H&M spokeswoman, surveying the action at the Fifth Avenue store. "We've already exceeded our expectations."

H&M has mounted an aggressive advertising and marketing campaign to get the word out about Viktor & Rolf. One ad features the designers flanking a bride on a wedding cake topper. In another, they hold an oversized picture frame with a model peering out. "With our p.r. campaign, Viktor & Rolf has become a lot more well known," the spokeswoman in New York said. "The entire collection was featured on our Web site."A trenchcoat with a heart-shaped belt buckle, for $129.90, was the most popular item in New York; the Fifth Avenue flagship sold out of it by 10 a.m. Other items that quickly sold out New York included a dress with an olive ribbon print and a red ruffle-front dress, each priced at $99. There was also strong demand for shoes, at $99.90. "We've been testing shoes for fall, and for spring 2007, we'll have a complete shoe line," the spokeswoman said.

By the afternoon, the peach silk heart shirt and most of the dresses were completely sold out, she said.

At the Beverly Center, store items that dwindled to almost nothing in the first hour included skinny black jeans, the tuxedo jacket and pants, red ruffle-front dresses and silk fringed scarves emblazoned with "Viktor & Rolf [heart] H&M."

The $349 bridal gowns with huge bows on the front were another sought-after item. There were 25 wedding gowns for sale at the New York flagship. Other locations in the city had five to eight wedding dresses. About 1,000 wedding dresses were distributed to 250 stores worldwide.

Brides-to-be seemed to be outnumbered by collectors and possible eBay pros who lined up early and raced in to grab one of the gowns at the Fifth Avenue location.

Leon Dec, who queued up at 4:30 a.m., was buying the gown for a friend, who couldn't make it. His friend is not engaged, but the dress was "an investment," he said, adding, "I was sent on a mission."

By early afternoon, items from the collection already began appearing on eBay. A pink sweater, listed on the Web site for $79.99, was $59.50 in stores. A short-sleeve olive dress on eBay was $129, in stores, $99.90, and the raincoat was $170 on eBay and $129 at H&M.

In Paris, shopping at the Boulevard Haussmann branch of H&M, American model Sarah Appleton was carrying a mountain of trenches destined for the auction site. "There's much more choice than in the States, it's incredible," she said. "I'm here to make money, not spend it."Journalist Cecile Guery, shopping at H&M's Les Halles branch in Paris, also came with friends in tow to buy items to resell on eBay. "We saw pieces going at three times the price last year," Guery said. "It's a game for us; we're not die-hard fashionistas." Also roaming the branch were a group of entrepreneurs from South Korea wheeling shopping carts and looking for items they said they would sell on their Internet site back home.

In London, security staff had to double up to push open the doors at 9 a.m. against the crowd gathered outside the Oxford Circus. Once inside, customers ran in all directions in search of the new designs, abandoning all decorum. The first stock replenishment arrived at 9:05, and by 9:07 all 10 of the size-6 wedding dresses had been sold. "It's crazy! Never again," vowed Lucille Troquet, 34, who arrived at 7:30 a.m. and was first in line to purchase her wedding dress in the store. Bridal dresses, trenchcoats and gray sweaters were sold out by 11:30.

"I'm surprised it is this bad," said Hannah Svensson. "I didn't think Viktor & Rolf were that well known here."

Charlotte Barrett, 24, of Hampshire, said she wasn't familiar with the Dutch design duo before the H&M campaign rolled out.

"There was big demand," said an H&M spokeswoman in Amsterdam, noting all five units in the city were flooded with shoppers.

Elsewhere in the Netherlands, business was brisk, too, she said. "People went crazy. Some of the smaller stores seemed to be sold out in 10 minutes. Viktor & Rolf are very well known in the country."

Back in New York, model Helena Christensen was at H&M's SoHo unit with her mother and both had their arms full of clothes. "I love Viktor & Rolf and it's always interesting to see what designers can do at a price like this," she said. "I'm getting this trenchcoat. And all the men's clothes are for us."

Alexandra Stevenson, a professional tennis player, bought the wedding dress at the H&M store on 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, but she's not getting married. An "enormous Viktor & Rolf fan," she said she was on line at 7:30 Thursday morning. "The dress would be fun to wear to a party," she said. "You could put a great jacket with it. I have the red Dorothy shoes that Viktor & Rolf did some time ago and I would wear the dress with those."Only nine of the original 25 wedding dresses remained at the Fifth Avenue flagship after the store had been open for half an hour. Many buyers weren't brides at all, but fans of Viktor & Rolf, as in the case of one young woman who didn't even bother to try it on. Another woman who walked by one of the hanging gowns said with a sigh: "It's a pity I'm already married."

The Fifth Avenue flagship seemed to attract fashion insiders. In addition to two stylists and a makeup artist, there were a half-dozen fashion students. "We're waiting for the next shipment," said Meredith Ballard and Katie Kolewa-Yasse, students at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising. "We've been waiting for this for months."

"I was here at 8:30," said Kate Mester, a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. "I wanted the black dress and the trenchcoat. I'm waiting for the second shipment to come in. Viktor & Rolf are my favorite."

But if H&M's previous collaborations are any indication, the Viktor & Rolf merchandise will be completely gone from stores in a week or two. "We sold most of the collections in the first few days," the New York spokeswoman said, referring to the Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney launches. "The rest of the collections sold out in a couple of weeks."

Asked about the next H&M guest designer, the spokeswoman said: "It's not a goal in itself to collaborate with a designer. We don't have any plans to collaborate, but you never know. We're always trying to surprise people."

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