A police car was parked on the pavement and officers tried to calm the crowd on Thursday morning. Some had started queuing outside the high street brand’s flagship store at 10pm on Wednesday in the hope of a bargain.
H&M’s annual collaborations, which sell a limited run of designer pieces at high street prices, have become well-known for attracting fervent shoppers, but the Balmain launch was the Regent Street store’s busiest yet.
Once a respectable, slightly stuffy French fashion house, Balmain has been converted into a trendy Instagram brand by its creative director, Olivier Rousteing, 29.
“I want the beaded jacket,” said Cherrie Stevens, who started queuing at 5am. “I’ve never been to an H&M designer launch before, I never do things like this, but this is a once in a lifetime thing – it’s so much cheaper than the catwalk. And I like the creative director, he’s a young fresh guy.”
“Rousteing’s work is really detailed,” said Hannah Situ. “I’ve become aware of the brand in the last year, with the Kardashians and models like Gigi Hadid wearing it. Everyone wants to be the Kardashians, even people who say they don’t like them.”
“Speak for yourself,” countered Irini Mando. “Olivier Rousteing’s Instagram is really good. I don’t like Balmain because of the Kardashians, but they are omnipresent – that’s pop culture.”
A shopper emerges from the H&M event. Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex Shutterstock
The social media effect might explain the unprecedented crowds, but the prices were a big draw too. As a brand beloved of the international party set, Balmain is notoriously expensive; an embellished velvet dress costs £6,290, for example. The H&M equivalent was expensive for the high street but a fraction of the catwalk price – a pearly jacket dress for £300, or an embellished shift for £190, with lower priced items such as branded T-shirts going for around £25. On eBay, just hours after the launch, T-shirts and dresses were already being sold for three times their original price.
Two minutes up the road, some enterprising shoppers were reselling their loot on the street. Wads of cash changed hands; the £300 beaded jacket was sold for £750.
Anaisa Pinto was taking no chances, attempting to buy from the collection on the H&M website via her phone while she queued. “I’m not walking away from the queue until I get an email confirming that what I’m buying online has gone through,” she said.
A young woman was shopping for her forthcoming 18th birthday. “I really want to get a beaded dress for my 18th and then put it out all over Instagram,” she said. “Although of course then I’ll never be able to wear it again. Not once it’s been on social media.”