All hell broke loose when the limited edition Karl Lagerfeld for H&M collection hit selected stores in Germany Friday.
Eager shoppers jostled to snag limited edition Karl Lagerfeld pieces
When the 30-piece collection designed by Chanel's high priest of hip, Karl Lagerfeld, sold out within half an hour at one central Berlin Hennes & Mauritz store, some of the more ruthless fashion vultures resorted to tearing the pieces off the shop mannequins.
Women stripped down to their underwear on the spot, too impatient to wait in line for the changing rooms.
"It's fantastic," gasped a store attendant. "We never expected this sort of response," she added, as staff struggled to wheel trolleys loaded with cocktail dresses, ruffed white shirts and tailored men's overcoats through the frantic crowds.
"I actually think this is horrible," said one young woman, referring to a white short-sleeved T-shirt emblazoned with a black printed image of the designer himself (top photo). "But I'll buy it because it's bound to be a design classic in five-years time," she added.
Another dazed spender hurried towards the check-out, laden with armfuls of black chiffon and flimsy, plum-colored tops.
"Buy now, think later," she said. "If I don't like anything, I can always bring it back -- the main thing is to buy it before it all sells out."
One young man was equally pragmatic.
"I'm buying a lot so I can sell it all on eBay," he explained. Sure enough, by 11:30 a.m., just one and a half hours after H&M opened its doors across Germany, the first items were up for sale on the online marketplace.
A drift downmarket?
The maverick German designer has certainly proved he has a canny ability to be pedestrian without compromising his exclusive edge. With his signature dark glasses, fluttering fan, perma-tan and silver ponytail, Karl Lagerfeld is one of the fashion industry's most inimitable figures. Even so, he's never lost his common touch.
His collection for Swedish low-cost retail chain H&M isn't his first foray into the world of mass consumption. Back in 1996, he designed a line for the popular German Quelle mail order catalogue. But his alliance with what's often described as the Ikea of the fashion world was an inspired move.
While his haute couture colleagues no doubt raised their perfectly plucked eyebrows at his decision to step off the catwalk and onto the high street, Lagerfeld realizes that going downmarket simply raises his profile.
Making luxury affordable
If he wasn't a household name before, he is now. Europe's largest textiles retailer, H&M enjoys annual sales of over €6 billion ($7.75 billion). With prices ranging from €14.90 to €149.90, the Lagerfeld collection, available in 500 selected stores in Europe and the US, was snapped up by consumers who would otherwise never have heard of him.
"I just wanted to be here," said one enthusiastic shopper in Berlin Friday. "I'm Lagerfeld's biggest fan -- at least, as of today," she gushed. "Before, I could never have afforded anything by him."
His move may be part of a wider trend. Last year, US designer Isaac Mizrahi embraced the world of disposable chic when he created a line for discount retailer Target, while UK designer Jasper Conran's collection for British department store chain Debenhams is one of its most successful brands.
One outfit from the H&M collection
So apart from the shoppers who showed up too late, the collaboration makes everyone happy.
Newratings.com reported that although the immediate financial impact of this move may be limited, H&M will benefit from the publicity and increase in store traffic prior to the Christmas season. The move will also boost the chain's image in the fashion industry, according to JP Morgan. The obvious drawback? Today's shoppers will soon be making that ultimate fashion faux pas of showing up at their next party in the same outfit as everyone else. But when it only cost about as much as an edition of Vogue, who cares?