Sparking a Stylish Mob Scene

British consumers are suffering from a fever. Shopping fever.

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LONDON — British consumers are suffering from a fever. Shopping fever.

In the U.K., creating a frenzy has become part and parcel of launching celebrity clothing lines, designer collaborations with high street brands and beauty products. The idea is that anything, if hyped enough, can inspire mass attention, indiscriminate spending, compulsive consumer behavior — and, in some cases, even injury. (At Oxford Street's winter sale staged by retailer Next, brawls broke out, and a crush caused consumers to fall over at Primark's London flagship opening in April.)

Discounts of more than 50 percent on merchandise attracted crowds from as early as 4:30 a.m. onward at Selfridges' Boxing Day sale on Dec. 26. The store served 9,000 consumers within the first hour of opening. At Harrods, sales on Dec. 28, the opening day of its winter sale, ran at 15,000 pounds, or $29,900, per minute.

At the opening of the ultra low-priced fashion chain Primark's Oxford Street flagship last April, crowds had started lining up in the early hours of the morning. Violence nearly broke out after a false rumor was circulated among shoppers that the company had halved its prices for opening day. The event required police action and the store was temporarily closed.

Last March, a furor surrounded a tightly distributed edition of British designer Anya Hindmarch's canvas shopping bag, embroidered with the words "I am not a plastic bag." Lines snaked around the block at her London store — and eventually catalyzed worldwide purchases of 80,000 of the bags, priced at 5 pounds, or $10, apiece. Hindmarch stirred demand for the item, putting her canvas creation on offer at just two other boutiques, Colette in Paris and Villa Moda in Kuwait, as well as on the company's Web site, before widening distribution in April throughout the U.K. via Sainsbury's supermarkets and in July through Whole Foods in the U.S.

When shoppers were allowed only 20 minutes each to prowl the opening of the Kate Moss for Topshop debut in May, 3,000 Moss fans lined up around the Oxford Circus flagship — where they could try on a maximum of eight items and buy up to five of them.
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