Here’s a lame reason to plan a trip to San Francisco—shopping at the H&M. It would be lame, except this wasn’t just any H&M shopping trip. It was for an H&M collaboration with COMME des GARCONS.
I’ll admit that when I mentioned why I was going to Frisco, most people responded with a look that said, “COMME des GAR what?” But Rei Kawakubo and her COMME des GARCONS brand are the darlings of the fashion world and have been for some time. Her unwillingness to go big, her subversive stores that are often difficult to find or open only a few months, and her unconventional clothes, have given her a reputation as a designer’s designer. So a clothing line created in conjunction with global mega retailer H&M sparked interest.
I learned two things from this shopping trip.
First, I’m a naïve shopper. My friend and I flew into San Francisco the day the COMME des GARCONS clothes hit the racks. We arrived on the earliest flight and headed straight to the store, getting there 30 minutes after opening. As we approached the Powell Street store we were greeted by window displays emblazoned with vinyl graphics proclaiming, “H&M COMME des GARCONS.” As we entered the store, a woman in a display window appended those graphics with the words, “SOLD OUT.”
Inside it was mayhem. People scrambled to grab whatever, whether it fit or not. The desperate loitered near fitting rooms nabbing anything left behind by shoppers disappointed that the clothes didn’t fit. Others bartered, trying to trade items for things they wanted more. I entered H&M to stares that said, “Oh look at the shopper from Salt Lake, isn’t he quaint?” My friend and I managed to navigate the scene and find a few items thanks to some friendly shoppers and a few flirty sales personnel who took pity on us, probably because of the stunned looks on our faces.
We later learned that savvy shoppers queued up hours before the store opened to score the best clothes and that such lines happen for most of H&M’s collaborations. In about an hour, everything was gone. And the most dedicated COMME des GARCONS fans waited in line to purchase the display clothes from the windows.
The second thing I learned is that I’m not cool enough for COMMES des GARCON. To be truthful, I learned this lesson years ago in New York City on a visit to the Chelsea store. I walked past the entrance four or five times before realizing that an unmarked aluminum tunnel set in the face of an old brick building was actually the store entrance. As I walked in, I was scrutinized by the staff and immediately written off. I spent the rest of my excursion looked down upon from eyes perched atop some very long noses. Imagine my relief when they actually allowed me to make a purchase.
Sure, the H&M experience was different. Finding the store is a cinch and the sales staff are friendly in a way only San Franciscans can pull off. But the kids buying the clothes (and at my age I use "kids" for anyone under 35), they out-cooled me by miles. Friendly, urban, global, and smart, they seem intent on living in a world where you can be what you want. Maybe that’s just the San Francisco in them. But it sure serves to bolster Rei’s reputation and to make for what might be the most exciting shopping excursion of my life. Who knew retail could be so invigorating?