Photo and words by Christine Tan
Fashion news columns are buzzing over the November 14 launch of Jimmy Choo for H&M, a collection of couture at prices that aren’t supposed to make budget-conscious fashionistas weep too hard. The collaboration between Jimmy Choo and H&M is the latest in a long line of link-ups between the Swedish fashion giant and designer labels – a list that includes fashion elites Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, and Roberto Cavalli.
But this collaboration is just that much more special: the Jimmy Choo collection, which will be launched in only 200 H&M stores worldwide, is H&M’s first designer collection with an accessories brand, and Jimmy Choo’s first foray into designing clothes. The predicted result? A heck of a lot more people wanting a piece of these affordable fashion firsts for themselves.
We attended the launch at H&M’s flagship store on Huaihai Road – one of the few branches in China to receive the touch of Choo. The plan: browse the goods, scope the scene, and assess the effectiveness of H&M’s crowd control measures. See exactly how they planned on managing the hordes of fashion/Sex and the City enthusiasts likely to turn up way before the official launch time of 10 a.m.
To prevent antisocial behavior (i.e. shoving, hair-pulling, hoarding, fisticuffs), H&M was big on rules, like implementing a queuing system where the first 160 people at their doorstep (not us) got bracelets allowing them into the women’s shoes and accessories section (or as we jokingly called it, the “sacred space”). Those with the bracelets could only enter at a designated time for a grand total of 10 minutes each. Also, while you could buy a piece of everything in the collection, you couldn’t buy multiples of the same product.
Thanks to the 160 person cut-off, our plan to browse the goods turned into a major fail. We got nowhere near seeing, touching and feeling the good stuff (so thank goodness for the internet: see here for a preview of the women’s collection).
Even with these rules, intense interest and high shopper turnout led to frenzy and chaos. Two types of shoppers were present: those genuinely wanting to add Jimmy Choo to their closets, and organized groups trying to make a profit. Quite a number of the 160 customers with priority-access bracelets were resellers in cahoots, evidenced by their seemingly pre-planned grabbing and hoarding techniques.
Two members would stand guard over a growing pile of merchandise as teams of bracelet-holders collected items within the VIP area based on instructions barked out by their partners (in crime) on the other side of the crush barriers, put in place by H&M to prevent stampeding.
On a few occasions, tempers flared as H&M staff attempted to prevent these profit-seekers from tossing items across the barrier or purchasing more items than stipulated. By 1 p.m., most of the special collection had disappeared off the shelves.
Leaving H&M, we noticed a new business set up just outside the entrance – the group of resellers had already begun to hawk their many bags of wares. A pair of gladiator sandals in the right size caught our eyes. How much? “1000 kuai,” said the young man with a smirk (perhaps he recognized us from the glares we gave him). That’s too much, we argued, considering that he’d just purchased it for RMB 599. He wouldn’t budge on price. “I did the work. I waited, I stood in line.” We walked away.
Not that it mattered to him – a crowd as frenzied as the one in-store had begun to form around his group, a mass mob desperate to have any Jimmy Choo accessory, even if purchased off the sidewalk at those inflated prices. Probably not what the Jimmy Choo-H&M collaborators had in mind when it came to making fashion accessible.