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Thursday, November 13, 7:05 a.m.: The long-anticipated, unprecedented marriage between the lowbrow H&M and the upscale avant-garde Comme des Garçons has finallybeen consummated! The clothes are in the stores! You can buy them! Even though I have been looking forward to this day for months, it turns out that seven is the absolute earliest I can rouse myself.
8:20 a.m.: I rush through Rockefeller Center on my way to the H&M flagship at 51st and Fifth, walking past the sad clot of people lingering outside the Today show (though this is surely not any sadder than lining up for clothes). I race by a trio of camels, who I believe are extras in the nativity scene at the Radio City Christmas show, but I have no time to confirm this with their keepers—I’m late!
8:23 a.m.: The line snaking around H&M is surprisingly short, though it does extend around the corner and halfway down the block. I guess I was expecting thousands, and there are maybe 200 people here. Two women with clipboards are posted at the side entrance—though they didn’t invite me (why? Why?), it seems as if press can get in early. I sweet-talk my way past them, and now I’m inside, but how to kill a half-hour? There’s no buying until the doors officially open, which is only fair.
8:41 a.m.: Though I have looked at these garments endlessly on the H&M website and even fingered them before, at a press party that H&M had a few weeks ago in a dark place where you could hardly see the clothes—whose idea was that?—their proximity still excites pathetic me. To kill time and justify my early admission, I ask a few dull questions because I’m supposed to be a reporter—um, what time did the first person line up? Around 11:30 last night? Really?—but in truth, I just want to get up close and personal with the merchandise. Two seconds later, I’m admonished for lifting a polka-dot handbag off a peg—”Lynn, do you mind?” I hear a PR person say.
8:52 a.m.: I isolate the things I really want: pleated skirt, spotted cardigans. I notice that these items start at size 32, a foray into extreme teensiness I was previously unaware of. The other members of the fifth estate are watching from the balconies—the place is designed like an 18th-century Panopticon, the famous prison that allowed a single warden to keep his eye on all the inmates at the same time—but I don’t want to leave the main floor. Through the windows, I see a group of amoral people I know hanging around the entrance and planning to rush the door.
8:58 a.m.: The music swells, the doors swing open, and why is my heart pounding so? I feel like a moron. Suddenly, there’s a roar, and the room is engulfed in panicked shoppers. That stuff about locusts is true—a starving horde can literally pick a crop clean in seconds. You blink, and the handbags are gone—every jacket is gone. It’s like smash-and-grab looting, except you have to pay for everything. (On the other hand, unlike the draconian policies at the real Comme des Garçons on West 22nd Street, at H&M you can get a full refund. And you will need to try it all on when you get home—like the stage set for Sartre’s No Exit, like a room where a family is sitting shivah, there are no mirrors anywhere.)
9:12 a.m.: An acquaintance gets into a vicious fight with another customer over a polka-dot scarf, and the ensuing battle has to be broken up by H&M personnel. Someone has recorded the skirmish, and by tonight, it will surface on YouTube.
9:26 a.m.: I have scarfed up scarves, sweaters, wallets, and whatever else flies by me. The store has a rule that you can buy only two of each style. I take this to mean that I must buy two of everything. My aching arms are so full that every time I move, something drops from my pile, and I’m terrified that another vulture will swoop down and pick it up, so I waddle to the cash registers. Too laden to make it to the subway, I’m on the bus heading home by 9:40.
10 a.m.: Am I crazy, or do all these dots look a little cheap in the light? Over a much-needed cup of coffee, I try everything on. Love the pleated skirt, even if it is kind of itchy. Nothing wrong with the scarves and wallets, though their specialness has evaporated and is now confined to their Comme des Garçons/H&M labels. The spotted cardigans, on the other hand, look less like a hard-won Comme des Garçons item than a middle-American sloppy mommy costume, at least on me. Now what do I do? Return them? I fought for them! They’re collectibles!
11:10 a.m.: Go on eBay, and type in “Comme H&M.” There are already hundreds of items up, though the stuff has only been on sale for two hours. The good news: Many polka-dot cardigans are being offered for far beyond their $69.90 original price. The bad news: There are no bids for any of them.
1:10 p.m.: Go back uptown to the other H&M venues to see what’s left. Did I really have to kill myself getting up at the crack of dawn? Yes. At the Lexington Avenue store, the very chic windows are full of Comme, but inside, all that’s left are tons of $200 trench coats—no one seemed to like these at the flagship, either—along with some unwearable backless ballet dresses, and a dull group of shirts and tees.
1:50 p.m.: Trudge back to the flagship in the pouring rain, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. (Who says I don’t work hard for this column?) The public has certainly spoken: more trenches, more dance dresses, lots of shirts here, too, but that’s about it. I ask a salesman if they’re putting more stuff out, ever. He shakes his head no.
2:28 p.m.: H&M appears to believe that people who shop on 34th Street don’t want wacky Japanese fashion: The branch near Sixth Avenue has nothing but shirts and a single sad trench. The second store, near Penn Station, has even fewer shirts and no coats at all.
4:32 p.m.: Back home. Have now developed a violent dislike for the polka-dot cardigans. Ponder the notion of desire. Why do we always want what we can’t have? Why do we turn so bitterly against things we once so ardently longed for? Wish I knew how to sell on eBay. Alas, it’s the story of my life—I only know how to buy.