Style police: They've gotta have it

James Sherwood on designer waiting lists for fashion victims
Glossy magazines are fashion's answer to bear-baiting. For style victims, they offer a tantalising sneak preview of clothing that won't be in the designer stores for months. This is torture akin to making Michael Winner stand outside Le Pont de la Tour with his nose pressed against the window. The designer waiting list aims to retain the anticipation and excitement. We can't have Miss Prada-is-my-life going off the boil. So, she puts her name and credit card details on the waiting list to secure that must-have item.

This kind of desperate, guerrilla tactic means that certain pieces are sold before they've even been shipped from Milan. The Prada waiting list works on a first-come-first-served basis. Thirty pairs of their red velvet platform sandals were sold before delivery. A pounds 1,950 pink and green chiffon dress in the window of the Sloane Street store is already sold. It's virtual sadism when a must-have turns out to be a can't have.

Jones, the ultra-chic menswear designer emporium on Floral Street, is home to some of the most exclusive labels. Manager Robert Ecosse-Westley lists Dirk Birkemberg shoes and Helmut Lang jeans as hot favourites. "Some customers collect Birkemberg. They want every new style and they'll do anything to get them. I suppose we have about 20 people on the average list. But, as an independent boutique, it's hard to know what will be the hit of the season. You could order 10 pieces and have 100 calls." The solution? "I'd call Mystic Meg," he says.

A glance at Browns' waiting list even makes the press officer blanch. "We've got about 200 names for the next delivery of Tocca." It means that Browns have enough orders to sell the collection without it touching the rails. "We have had about 30 orders for Alexander McQueen's dragon coat and everyone is mad for Dolce e Gabbana." A Dolce chiffon coat with mink collar for pounds 2,500 has been bought and paid for sight unseen. "People see an advert or article and decide they must have it," says Browns' press office.

The Gucci waiting list is longer than War And Peace - I put my name down for a black leather belt with the single silver G clasp. There must have been more than 50 names in the ledger for that one belt. When the delivery arrives, Gucci will call everyone on the list. Once you get "the call", it's like Challenge Anneka. You drop everything and hightail it to Bond Street. It's first past the post or nothing. Last season, it was the Gucci thonged black sandal that got them going. Ecosse-Westley recalls, "I'd been squaring my toenails for weeks in anticipation and I got there too late."

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