The Queue Begins… Perhaps Not

hm-ion-orchardAll quiet at H&M Ion Orchard on the eve of the Kenzo X H&M launch

By Raiment Young

I had expected snaking humanity but this was so quiet I could hear myself breathe. The H&M X Kenzo collaboration releases tomorrow, yet the storefronts did not look like a prelude to mayhem, such as the one seen at last year’s issue of the pairing with the house of Balmain. Maybe it was because of the rain that so few people were making the narrow space behind stanchion and belt overnight home. “If only this was tomorrow morning”, I heard a corpulent girl say to her friend as they walked past the Ion Orchard store, clearly not willing to commit herself to a night on a shopping centre corridor.

This was supposed to be one of H&M’s hottest collaborations (didn’t they say that about Alexander Wang and Balmain as well?). Surely Kenzo’s Carol Lim and Huberto Leon—who are acknowledged to have rebranded a Kenzo that taps into the zeitgeist—have a considerable following here? When I stopped by at the Ion Orchard outlet at 4pm, I was so surprised by the presence of only passersby that I wondered if they had omitted this branch this year, until I saw one solitary figure seated outside, preoccupied with his smartphone, clearly no source of trouble for the hovering security men. No fashionistas, no Instagrammers, no influencers.

I was tempted to ask the guy if he was alone or if he was choping spaces for others (there were no tissue packs or umbrellas to be seen), but he did not look like he wanted to be disturbed. About ten steps away, a guy in a Jordan ‘Aquas’ tee, Uniqlo ‘joggers’, and Havaianas look-a-likes peered intently into the only store window dedicated to the collaboration, and quizzed his female companion, who was dressed like him: “Are they seriously selling these things? Who’s going to buy?”

hm-grange-roadA short line that looks like a queue at H&M Grange Road. Those waiting were using the H&M-issued umbrellas to shield against the rain

An hour later, at H&M’s Grange Road store, I saw a semblance of a queue. There were twelve young people in it. Again, this was so unlike last year. At the head of the line, two twenty-something girls told me that they had started queuing since 8pm last night. Did they think that was too early? “No lah, I’m so used to it; I do it every year!” Why? Is it because she thinks the collection is good? “It depends on what you like,” she replied, as if she studied diplomacy all her life. “I like the colours,” her friend chimed in, “You should join the queue. It’s an event, lah!”

It’s understandable that with fashion within the reach of so many these days, collaborations at H&M, even now no longer a novelty, is an “event”. I don’t consider what Ms Lim and Mr Leon do for Kenzo as catalyst for adrenaline rush. Sure, they’ve tried to revive the original spirit of Jungle Jap, the first Kenzo boutique that opened in a former vintage clothing store in Paris’s 2nd arrondissement, but what would truly put me ahead of the queue would be H&M joining forces with Kenzo Takada himself. Mr Takada is still hale and able, and should still have the vim and verve to design a collection the way Jil Sander did when she was coaxed out of retirement to design for Uniqlo.

The thing is, no one outside H&M at Grange Road early this evening is aware of the real story or legacy of Kenzo. A young man in a striped T-shirt and khaki shorts, seeing the short row of seated shoppers, politely asked me if this was the line “for the Kenzo thing”. I told him that, yes, that was where he was to wait for admission the next morning to buy the result of the collaboration. “Who is Kenzo,” asked his accompanying buddy. “A famous designer,” he replied. “Famous for what?” “I don’t know. You want to queue?”

It was six years ago when I queued for the first time at an H&M store. Well, I didn’t really join the line; I stood by it for a short while. This was in 2010 and I had arrived in Shanghai for a meeting two days before the Lanvin X H&M collection was launched. The day before Alber Elbaz’s designs were to hit the store on Huaihai Zhong Lu, I dropped by to see what I had to do to partake in the grab fest. Upon seeing the line that went round the block, I thought I’ll try again the following day.

hm-ion-orchard-windowThe striking window with auto-sliding rear panels at H&M Ion Orchard

When I arrived the next morning at around half past nine (not aware that the store had, in fact, opened at eight), the queue was not long, so I joined it. In a matter of minutes, a spiffily-dressed young man approached me and asked, “要买腕带吗?便宜卖给你” (do you want to buy a wristband. I’ll sell it to you cheaply). And he went on to explain that admission is by wristband and with the one he was offering me, I would be able to get in at ten o’clock. “不需排队” (no need to queue), he assured me.

Without thinking if anything could be amiss, I asked him how much he was asking. He said, “五十块” (fifty dollars), and then quickly followed by “三十好了” (thirty is enough). I took out the exact cash and gave it to the guy, who quickly handed me the wristband when suddenly, out of nowhere, another fellow—this one burly—pushed both of us apart and said to my seller, “不可以。 不是说好了吗,不可以低价卖” (you can’t do this. Didn’t we agree not to sell cheaply?). What ensued was something out of a Stanley Tong movie.

The smaller chap was pushed and pushed until he hit the Sinan Lu-facing window of the H&M store with a loud bang. Fearing that I might be drawn into the potentially out-of-control brawl, I quickly joined the moving queue to enter the store, which, by then, had started admitting those bearing the wristband for that time slot. Suddenly I wasn’t sure I would be let in with what was acquired from a scalper. But I was not denied entry. Even then, I was still shaken by what had happened. Peace was not my companion when I shopped that morning.

By then, most of the items were sold out. I was only able to grab an ultra-supple trench coat, a cardigan-soft blazer, and a pair of wool, drawstring track pants (yes, they were already on-trend back then). When I left H&M just fifteen minutes later, the combatants were nowhere to be seen. In their place, a few youngsters, bearing the distinctive Lanvin heart H&M paper bags, were laying out their very recent purchases right there on the kerb of Huaihai Zhong Lu to be hawked. Yes, pasar malam style! In front of the store!

Unlike those ready to camp overnight outside H&M at Grange Road, I’m sitting this one out. Once, even without sacrificing sleep, as you may agree, is enough.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji