A waiting list for lip-gloss? This exclusivity business is getting ridiculous, says KIRSTY ROBINSON
If something's worth having, it's worth waiting for. Especially when you're standing in the cosmetics hall of a large department store. Just like the Fendi bags and the Miu Miu boots, the most sought-after eyeshadows and scents have lists of well-groomed men and women itching to get their perfectly manicured hands on them.

Now that prestige labels such as Clarins and Calvin Klein can be bought along with loo roll and tea bags at the supermarket, style fiends are scrambling to get hold of more exclusive lines and limited editions. Dedicated A-list shoppers will know that there's no way they can throw a decent New Year's bash without a bottle of 1999's Comme des Garcons special edition on the bathroom shelf. Every year just 2,500 devotees snap up the numbered flacons, so needless to say department stores around the globe, including Liberty, have a trail of requests.

Fashion insiders' favourite Helmut Lang is unleashing its fragrance on the world next year and there's already a trail of fashion junkies with their names etched on a list, ensuring they are among the happy shoppers owning the perfumery equivalent of a Sony Pet Dog.

Quite surprising really, when no one actually knows what it smells like. The company hasn't released one iota of information about its top notes, nor has it given away an inkling about the shape or colour of its bottle.

Press manager for the fragrance Peter Malachi explains that a nucleus of influential movers and shakers have heard about the latest offering from the fashion industry's favourite designer and are making sure they don't miss out. "These are people who make it their business to know - they are people involved in fashion and word about the fragrance has spread via them, the designer's friends and so on. There's an element of trust here, even though they don't know exactly what the fragrance smells like they have certain expectations."

Back down on earth, far away from planet fashion, it's generally the readers of glossy magazines who are chomping at the bit for the products they've caught a glimpse of. After news of the frenzy in New York caused by Vincent Longo's water-based foundation Water Canvas, hordes of young women in the UK made the necessary enquiries this summer.

Similarly, when word of Isabella Rossellini's cosmetic line Manifesto hit the stands last month, Harvey Nichols was besieged with calls from women desperate to wow their friends and colleagues with individual capsules of foundation they'd read about. Although the store does not hold lists for its cosmetics per se, on this occasion they did take names and telephone numbers for specific requests.

Celebrities can always kick-start a scrum for certain shades but endorsement doesn't always come via the normal routes. Assistants at Club Monaco counters are still feeling the effects of Bill Clinton's extra-marital activities this November. The lip glaze worn by Monica Lewinsky for her interview with Jon Snow earlier this year has become something of a cult item.

Monica Mosquiera, an assistant at Selfridges, nods towards an empty tray: "We used to stock only about three of the Glaze sheer lipstick at any time, and then the week after the interview, we were inundated with requests. A massive order was delivered and it sold out immediately to the people waiting for it. We've had a lot of deliveries since and we've still got people waiting for it. There are a lot of Americans asking for it here too, because it's absolutely impossible to get hold of in the States."

There is always the danger that we're in Chunky Kit Kat territory here, however. Could it be, dare anyone suggest, that just by talking about such insatiable demand separates the leaders from the followers, giving certain brands that extra nudge ahead of the pack?

It really depends who the manufacturer is and what they're offering, reasons Clare Henderson, editor of the industry title Soap, Perfumery and Cosmetics.

"We do have a must-have culture in the UK, although not quite as noticeable as it is in say Japan, but if a product offers some kind of miracle treatment, it's not unusual for demand to outstrip supply. It has happened with a number of Estee Lauder skin care products. When you're dealing with emotive subjects like ageing and slimming, people will rush to buy. To be honest, though, most big brands have their own manufacturing facilities with very short lead times, so you should only really have to wait a couple of weeks for something, if at all."

Sometimes, without any hype, market forces take over and a mid-budget line proves to be a knockout. The colour's right, the price is right and word spreads. The Body Shop's Atlantis line includes Reef, a deep plum lip glaze that has blown the competition aside and names are being taken for deliveries in the next few weeks.

Better move fast if you want to get in before Christmas.