Tie-in between low-cost retailer, high-fashion designer draws crowds, sparks frustration

SAN FRANCISCO – The latest collaboration between a high-fashion designer and a low-price retailer produced long lines at H&M stores around the world Thursday, while online shoppers complained they couldn’t get on the chain’s website before most items from its new Balmain collection were sold out.

Shoppers waited for hours outside H&M stores in London, Sydney and San Francisco on Thursday, according to local news reports, as the chain began selling an assortment of dresses, purses and other items from its collaboration with Balmain, a high-end French fashion house.

By midday Pacific Time, the chain’s website showed more than 65 items in the collection, from a $649 beaded dress to a $34.99 cotton T-shirt, were sold out. Only a “ribbed bandeau top” was still available online, at $24.99 for either black or white versions.

Shoppers vented on social media, including Twitter and Facebook, where some gushed about the new offerings and others griped that H&M’s website had stalled when they tried to visit. A Twitter account for H&M stores in the United Kingdom offered apologies, saying: “The interest for this launch has exceeded all collaborations and we’re truly sorry for those not being able to shop.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for Hennes & Mauritz AB added, “In those markets that have launched the collection the major part of the items are sold out, but there can still be returns in the following days.”

The Swedish chain had heavily promoted its collaboration with Balmain and its 30-year-old creative director, Olivier Rousteing, whose designs have been worn by wealthy celebrities Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Considered a rising star in the fashion world, Rousteing was recently profiled by The New Yorker magazine and has more than 1.6 million followers on the photo-sharing site Instagram.

Other low-price clothing chains like Target, the Gap and Kohl’s have had successful partnerships with well-known, upscale designers, producing limited collections of lower-cost items for aspirational shoppers who otherwise might never be able to afford those labels.

While they don’t always sell out, some earlier collaborations have led to similar snafus, with crashed websites and frustrated shoppers. But analysts say the chains and designers still benefit from the resulting publicity and online chatter.