No, we’re not kidding. You can’t see our incredulous smile, but, like yours, it’s there. Fracas for fashion: there are really those who do forgo grace for a gown! According to the Guardian, “Scuffles broke out on Regent Street in London as impatient shoppers jostled to get into H&M for the launch of a collection by the designer label Balmain.” If that’s not bad enough, consider The Racked’s headline: “Terrifying Footage of Shoppers Laying Waste to a Store.” Out of context, this could have been Kabul, Afghanistan!
H&M’s latest collaboration was launched worldwide on 5 October. The response, as described, was, according to the brand’s spokespeople in major cities, “unprecedented”. What’s astonishing is that it’s only Balmain, Olivier Rousteing’s Balmain. Mr Rousteing, by most standards, is a newcomer—a baby among older giants of the industry. It’s understandable if it’s, say, Alaïa, but it is not. Sure, Mr Rousteing, all of 29 (he was installed at Balmain at 25), connects to his generation, but are these really alluring clothes, born of vast experience and refined taste? Whatever they are, he’s put them out there in H&M and all hell broke loose. On Instagram, with the fine-tuning of filters, they are the glamorous glad rags that make IG the unfathomable repository of questionable sartorial choices.
Screen grab of Mrs Christopher Lee doing a Kendall Jenner for her IG followers
Fann Wong—not exactly Mr Rousteing’s peer, was eager to post her made-for-the-masses Balmain on her IG account in the early part of the day of the launch, possibly to beat everyone to it. She wore the green sequinned dress, looking pleased, as if she has just won a best actress award. It could, of course, be backstage at a getai performance. It is doubtful if she queued for the dress (and goodness knows how many others availed to her—likely the results of her stylist Martin Wong’s good connections), but it is certain everyone wants a piece of the action. Some just don’t have to be that active.
While scuffles were not reported in the queues here, people were anxious to show their afraid-to-lose side. As early as 4pm on Tuesday, SOTD spotted a line at H&M’s Orchard Building flagship on Grange Road (many looked ready to call a store front home for the next couple of days). According to The Straits Times, people, in fact, started queuing at 7pm on Monday, and by the morning of the launch day, more than 500 people got in line. Although the waiting shoppers were not rowdy, their willingness to camp out on concrete pavement does constitute extreme behaviour. Where, if parents or spouse had asked, would they have said they had spent those nights? It is ironic that in order to get your hands on a couple of “glamorous dresses” you had to yield to something as unglamorous as sleeping on a public walkway.
Shoppers queuing overnight outside the Orchard Building store to grab a piece of affordable Balmain. Photo: A.B. Tan
At the Orchard Building store the clothes were sold out in four hours, possibly less. An hour after it opened at 8am, while some of you were sauntering into the office, most of the items were reported by shoppers, who managed to get into the store, to be gone. Before noon, only a couple of zip-back tube tops in black and white were left. Any merchandiser will say that’s effectively a 100 percent sell-through. Who in fashion today can boast of such a success?
Elsewhere in the region, frenzy, too, rather than scrum was reported. In Kuala Lumpur, our source told us that people queued over 50 hours outside the H&M outlet at Lot 10. And merchandise vanished in as little as five hours, with many people claiming they were unable to get several of the pieces they wanted. Over in Bangkok, our correspondence told us that there was no overnight queue as H&M is inside Paragon mall (given the city’s sensitivities over security, after-hours sleepover inside shopping centres is not permitted), and the store had issued coloured bracelets earlier to regulate the crowd on the actual day. Before noon, all the racks were empty save one with a few tube tops, just as in Singapore. The sell-out rate in Bangkok is surprising because just across the street in Siam Square, similarly “opulent, glamorous, sexy”—as described by H&M’s Ann-Sofie Johansson—numbers can be had for a song. For the most ardent (and patient) fans, however, you’ll have to look at Seoul. According to local reports, the die-hards started queuing a week ago!
The empty racks in less than 4 hours at H&M, Paragon, Bangkok. Photo: Jagkrit Suwanmethanon
How much of this madness is media-induced? For so many writers and bloggers, H&M X Balmain is the fashion event of the year. Adidas X Kanye West step aside. The Telegraph told its readers to “Prepare to fall in love with Olivier Rousteing”. At vogue.com, they swooned: “all as chic and distinctively Balmain as the collections Rousteing shows on the runway season after season.”A report in Huffington Post on 15 October to announce the approaching launch was prefaced with 30 emojis depicting hands-up jubilation. Yes, 30. Go figure!
Are these garments really so covetable? Do shoppers truly think these are beautiful clothes or are they merely buying into the hype that these are “affordable” designer duds? Who knew Balmain is this big? Despite the sequins, has Balmain really added some stardust to H&M? One product development specialist we know told us, “ugly sells, tacky sells”. He is not exaggerating. Mr Rousteing’s Balmain may have elevated trashy ostentation with the house’s atelier, but with H&M, you can’t seriously bring up what’s never positioned high in the first place. Much of H&M X Balmain is the kind of showy excess once associated with street walkers and bar girls who aimed for maximum flash with minimum cash. That’s ironic because even hookers don’t dress like this anymore.