What's opening day like for H&M's designer collaborations?
"It’s very different now than in 2004 when we had a lot fewer stores carrying these collections. In bigger cities, we’ve had customers sleeping on the street three days before and collections selling out in 11 minutes. We’ve had some craziness for sure with people flying in from overseas, where they don’t have H&M stores, and these exclusive lines aren’t available. We’ve had such a huge response to different collections. The customers try to snatch up the garments and there is such a high demand that we started putting the limit on the number of items you can buy, so that we give the most customers access to these limited products.
"Security is our number one priority, and we want to make sure we have a safe shopping environment for our customers, so in 2009 for Jimmy Choo, we created to have a designated shopping area only accessible via wristband. Customers were allowed in the area in groups of 20 people and could shop for 15 minutes. We want to be able to reach as many customers as possible, so this system has been very very successful, and our customers definitely appreciated the way we managed that.
"For Versace we had the bracelet system for ladies but not for men, but we found the men’s collection got so crazy that for the Marni collection, we’re doing the bracelet system for both men and women.
"We have a designated section for the designer pieces, so whoever just wants to shop the regular collection can do that without waiting in the lines. We let in 400 customers throughout the day, to shop the designer collection, and after the 400 people come through, the area opens up to the general public.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned about shoppers?
"We have found that the customers really do the research. They’re online, they printed out the items they want, they know their sizes, they’re very calculated, and they’re looking to get their hands on the specific pieces they want. So they come in knowing exactly what they want, and they’re asking for it, and they’re running to get it."
"We have collaborations in anywhere from 20-50 stores, so we do prepare with more security and more staff to be able to give the best customer service. It’s a one-off collection, so once it’s sold out, we do not get new items. That’s why the demand is so high. An item could be here one second and gone the next."
Are there any secrets to speed shopping for collaborations?
"We always encourage people to look online before the actual launch. The entire collection will be available online before the launch, and a week before, we usually have celebrities wearing the pieces so you can see the fit and what it looks like in real life. It’s a very short decision-making process; you have 15 minutes to shop and there are 20 other die-hard shopping lovers trying to grab the same items, so you want to prepare beforehand.
"We encourage customers to come back a few days later as well, as sometimes there’s so much going on and customers are so scared that they won't get a size that fits [so they buy multiple pieces], and sometimes they return those extra pieces a few days later."
Do the employees get first dibs on the collection?
"They do not. We’re a very democratic brand so we do not allow employees to put anything on hold or shop while they’re working — if they want to buy anything, they have to take the day off work and shop like the customers do."
Which pieces usually sell out the quickest?
"Most of the people buy the ones that are featured in the ads. They’re the ones our customers see the most of, so they go the quickest. Also high, high fashion pieces [like the $350 Viktor and Rolf wedding dress] go fast because they are made in limited quantities. The Marni collection is amazing. It’s quirky and timeless and very true to the Marni brand. We have 40 pieces for women and 30 accessories, and 20 pieces for men. I think the accessories will be the thing to go first, since Marni is really known for those, I think it will be the shoes and necklaces."
How far in advance do people start lining up for your most coveted collections?
"I think it varies from market to market and designer to designer. Of course, we encourage people living in the bigger cities like New York and L.A. to get there in the middle of the night, since our customers tend to line up overnight in those particular markets."
Any memorable anecdotes about shoppers in frenzy? "When we did Lanvin last November, we had somebody going on Twitter saying there was a stabbing outside of H&M — which was absolutely not true! They obviously did it so people would get scared and not line up, and there was no such issue, not even close (though we did have the police come in and investigate, just to make sure). Our customers do try to get very creative! Also, one time, someone in SoHo handed out flyers that said something like, 'Unfortunately H&M did not get a shipment for this collection, please come back next week!' We have these customers who really really want these pieces and they don’t want to worry about them being sold out, so they do get very creative."