Life & Style - Shop

Faddist state

Kate Moss at Topshop and anti-plastic bags in the supermaket . . . Kirstin Innes wonders why UK shoppers are happy to queue for the opening of an envelope

That tired old maxim that nobody queues like the British has had a new lease of life this month, with a nasty rash of ‘event shopping’ getting consumers and commentators itchy. They included the launch of Kate Moss’s collection for Topshop and Anya Hindmarch’s I’m Not A Plastic Bag at Sainsbury’s and the arrival in stores of Boots’ Protect and Perfect serum. There’s always something of the herd mentality about a queue, but isn’t this new willingness to camp out for whatever the latest marketing campaign is telling us we need to buy starting to make us look a bit too ovine?

I’m Not A Plastic Bag, a simple canvas sack sold for a fiver in Sainsbury’s, was spotted on Keira Knightly’s shoulder a fortnight before it was released, and the word went out that this was a limited edition run. ‘Only 20,000 of these bags will be released!’ gasped the BBC News website a few days before the launch.

The appeal lay in the bag’s affordability - the idea that people on modest incomes could possess an ‘It Bag’ for less than the price of a cinema ticket. Ironically, it’s now available on eBay for up to £200. The Boots serum went on sale in a limited edition run after a BBC programme reported that it was more effective than other test products in reducing the appearance of wrinkles. It didn’t seem to matter to the people queuing outside Boots stores nationwide at dawn the following morning that the cream would be on sale again in a month’s time, in a non-limited edition run. We wanted it, and had to have it, NOW.

‘It can get pretty intense,’ says William Doherty, manager of Borders bookshop on Buchanan Street in Glasgow, who has organised in-store parties for the midnight launches of the Harry Potter books for the last three years. ‘When the sixth book in the series came out in 2005, we had a pallet of books on display in the middle of the store, and as the clock struck midnight people jumped on it, and started tearing it apart.’

The carefully manufactured desire backfired with the Kate Moss at Topshop collection, though. People queued in anticipation of the sartorial Second Coming and had their expectations dashed by a rack of ordinary-quality high street clothes. ‘Tatty,’ sniffed the fashion commentators in newspapers. ‘Poorly made.’

So what is it that keeps us queuing? Many of the women and girls at the launch of the Moss range claimed to be there ‘for the experience’ rather than the clothes themselves - and while you have to wonder at the sanity of a person who gets up at 3am to stand around outside a shop for kicks, there’s a special kind of camaraderie in the queues.

William Doherty agrees. He says, ‘We’ve hired bands, magicians, live owls even for the Harry Potter book launches. It’s not just shopping; we’re actually trying to create some sort of theatre in the store. I think people like to be involved in things like this - a little bit of history.’

Fantastic fads

A short history of must-have shopping

Cabbage Patch Dolls, 1982 The original must-have toy, these spongy-faced kewpies preyed upon demanding children and their beaten-down parents in the early 1980s. Has anyone else noticed the similarity with acclaimed actress Maggie Gyllanhaal?

Tickle Me Elmo, 1996 Twee giggling Muppet with a sinister side: in the run-up to Christmas 1996, a sales assistant in a New Brunswick branch of Wal-Mart was trampled by a stampeding crowd in the grip of ‘Elmo-mania’, suffering a pulled hamstring, injuries to his back, jaw and knee, a broken rib and concussion. It’s all set to happen again this year, with the release of the TMEX. We don’t know what the X stands for, but we’re scared.

Playstation 2, 2000 Calm down. If everybody forms an orderly queue then I’m sure you’ll all get to have a go. Oh, maybe not. Still, at least people weren’t shooting each other to get their hands on one, as has allegedly happened with the Nintendo Wii.

Lily Loves, 2006 The List sent a crack fashion squad to New Look on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street the day after Lily Allen’s clothing range hit stores. We wanted to experience the hysteria first-hand but were underwhelmed. ‘It hasn’t been that much of a big deal,’ said a sales assistant. ‘There was a wee bit of interest on the first day, but we’ve only sold three items from the range this afternoon.’

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