Sparking a Stylish Mob Scene

British consumers are suffering from a fever. Shopping fever.

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"We are living in a society where consumerism is the new religion," said David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist at East Sussex University. "There's a physiological basis for this [manic] consumer reaction. When people buy something they get excited, and it releases a chemical in the brain, phenylethylamine, which is present in chocolate and affects the brain like an amphetamine," continued Lewis, author of "The Soul of the New Consumer" (Nicholas Brealey Publishing). "It's addictive."

Increasingly, retailers are engineering public relations and marketing campaigns to launch designer or celebrity lines, or offering limited editions. H&M and Topshop issued bags of refreshments to queuing shoppers at introductions of their respective ranges of Roberto Cavalli in November (croissants and orange juice) and Kate Moss in May (Evian and sweets). Moss herself appeared at Topshop, modeling some of the self-named line in the store's windows for a few seconds before being overwhelmed by the throng on the other side of the glass and stepping back inside.

"The whole experience is designed to create a feeling and atmosphere," Lewis noted. "At these launches, the presence of TV [cameras and paparazzi] also adds the sensation of being involved in something glamorous, being a part of news or celebrity."

Still, it can be a fine line for fashion brands to walk between enough excitement and too much hype. "It is a very fine balance to negotiate, particularly with a designer like Roberto Cavalli for H&M," said Rita Clifton, chairman of the U.K. unit of consultant Interbrand. "You can't have people thinking the clothes are cheap. Armani is very good at this, subbranding down the scale and maintaining exclusivity for his main collections."

Not surprisingly, Jörgen Andersson, marketing director of H&M, considers the brand's exclusive designer launches as "shopping events."

"Girls put it in the diary and meet for breakfast before," Andersson said. "It creates something fun that people talk about. It's the whole idea of bringing an extremely talented designer to people who would not have otherwise had the opportunity to buy it. It's making it reachable for a short moment," he continued. "For example, with Karl Lagerfeld, the closest most people normally get to the Chanel brand is buying the perfume."
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