Peace, Love and Shopping: H&M Williamson Line Creates Buzz

Thursday's launch of Matthew Williamson for H&M had the hallmarks of the retailer's previous designer collaborations, albeit toned down a notch.

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The British designer, who shows his collections during New York Fashion Week, is not a household name and is less identifiable than other H&M collaborators such as Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Roberto Cavalli. “Matthew Williamson is highly influential in the fashion industry, but to the consumer, he is less well-known,” said Uglialoro. “He’s on the same level of Victor & Rolf [whose designs for H&M launched in November 2006].”

Efforts to dress the Hollywood contingent may have raised awareness of Williamson’s style. Earlier this month, Katy Perry wore the peacock dress to an H&M party in New York, and Nicky Hilton wore the same number in Las Vegas, while Ginnifer Goodwin was spotted wearing the sequin painterly dress in L.A.

The campaign seemed to have helped on the West Coast, with about 80 people waiting in line to get into the Beverly Center H&M store before its 10 a.m. opening. Melinda Mendez drove to Los Angeles from Orange County with her boyfriend Sean and slept outside the center on Wednesday night. When the gates came up, the crowd rushed in, clearing the racks of the collection in minutes before beginning to barter and exchange the goods on the sales floor. “Our plan was just to grab everything we could and then trade it with other people until we got what we wanted,” said Mendez, a dental student, who spent $1,200 on two dresses, two necklaces, a clutch handbag, a leather jacket and two pink belts.

A new rule, instituted for the Comme des Garçons line, allows customers to buy only two of the same item. “We were finding that people were buying multiples either [to resell on] eBay or because they were unsure about a product,” said Uglialoro. “They would take half the rolling rack into the dressing room or cash register and didn’t give others a chance.” Uglialoro said the rule was adopted in the U.S. and a few other countries. However, on Thursday afternoon, there already were 80 Williamson pieces for sale on eBay, some at double the retail price.

The reaction to the collection was not similar worldwide, however. Outside H&M’s Boulevard Haussmann flagship in Paris, a small and orderly line had formed. The first customer arrived only an hour before the doors opened. Sabah Nassim, 28, who works at Gerard Darel, was surprised by the low turnout. “I walked straight in,” said Nassim, who spent more than 1,000 euros, or $1,296 at current exchange, on several pieces. “There was no line. People don’t have money anymore.”

The preopening crowd also was thin at the San Babila H&M unit in Milan. By 9:30 a.m., a group of about 10 Williamson fans had gathered in front of the store’s giant glass doors, waiting patiently. At 10 a.m., when the doors opened, some 40 people rushed into the store, nearly half the number for last fall’s Comme des Garçons introduction.

Half an hour before the 10 a.m. opening of the H&M branches on Ku’damm and the Alexa center near Alexanderplatz in Berlin, there were only about two dozen eager shoppers lined up. That was apparently enough to clear the racks and display tables of Williamson products by 10:15 a.m. — give or take a few pink belts and short printed silk jersey dresses. “It’s almost a record,” a Ku’damm salesman said of the pace.

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