Retail ‘Massclusivity’

NEW YORK Next month, Roberto Cavalli becomes the latest fashion designer to bring his couture tastes to the populist aisles of H&M stores. He follows Viktor & Rolf, Stella McCartney, Madonna and Karl Lagerfeld, who have created limited editions for a select number of the Swedish retailer’s stores.

Celebrities working in the fashion world aren’t new. What H&M does differently is create a retail event worthy of press coverage. When McCartney’s clothing went on sale in H&M’s Lexington Avenue store in Manhattan two years ago, customers began lining up at 5 a.m. and the entire inventory sold out in 11 minutes, according to H&M. Last year, with Viktor & Rolf’s $350 wedding dress, shoppers slept outside overnight. Its retailing ploy doesn’t just play off the cheap chic credentials of a fashion name—it offers limited access and then thrives off the results, a strategy fashionistas call “massclusivity.”

H&M isn’t the only retailer to stoke consumer demand. Earlier this year, when Kate Moss launched her new line at Topshop, customers gathered at the U.K. company’s Oxford Street store in London to find they were allotted a timed entry into the store. Browsing time was limited, as was the amount of clothing they could purchase.

Last year, Zara, the flagship of Spanish company Inditex Group, overtook H&M to become Europe’s largest fashion retailer. It creates anticipation by changing stock every two weeks. The quick turnaround can often mimic couture, but does so faster and cheaper.

“At Zara, the inventory turns over every two weeks,” says Jim Lucas, svp, managing director, shopping at DraftFCB. “They can afford to because they have the lowest markdown rates in the industry. [And doing this] creates an intensity about the line. … Consumers keep coming back.”