The high street must-haves that simply can't be had

You've seen the fashion shots, now you want the real thing. Not a chance, unless your name's on the list. Fashion fever or just high street hype? asks Cayte Williams
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Waiting lists are a fact of life for the well-heeled shopper. There's still a two-month waiting list for the Gucci micro-mini and a two-week delay on a Chanel sheepskin handbag. This is because luxury goods are worth waiting for. They're exclusive, well-made and last a lifetime.

These are not qualities normally associated with high street clothes, but that hasn't stopped the punters from getting in line. There are 700 people on a list for a pair of stiletto ankle-boots. These are not by Gucci or Manolo Blahnik or Salvatore Ferregamo but by Office, the London high street retailers, and they've been sold out for months.

"We introduced 150 boots into the shops in July and demand just grew," says a spokeswoman for the company. "We repeated the order every two weeks, but the factories just couldn't keep up with the demand. We're introducing 500 more pairs into the stores next week, but most will be allocated already."

At French Connection there was a 250-strong waiting list for their navy/topaz pinstripe trouser suit even before it reached the shops. Only 300 jackets and 600 trousers have been ear-marked for production, so many an expletive will be uttered by fcuk customers. It's a similar story at Jigsaw, where their grey and charcoal stretch flannel trousers sell out as soon as they arrive. At their New Bond street shop alone there is a 20-strong waiting list for the last delivery of the season. At Karen Millen there is a 100- strong waiting list for their long black cardigan with the fake-fur collar, and so the lists go on.

But why is this happening? Surely the whole point of mass-market retailing is that it can react fast to fashion and produce new lines very quickly? "One problem with last Autumn's collections," says Andrew Tucker, fashion writer for Draper's Record, "is that so many people complained that the high street ranges were all exactly the same. If each store can bring out something a little bit different, it's good for their image." Being a little bit different can also mean that the fabric is harder to re-order, that it costs more to put into production, and that can take time.

It's the nature of the fashion press to seize on these new directions. "Fashion magazines tend to work three to four months in advance, so press samples will be sent out almost immediately after a show, and often before they are chosen for production," says one insider, a former fashion PR. "You may get something in a glossy magazine that never went into production, either because it was never chosen, or because some problem occurred after the garment was initially sampled, making it really expensive to produce.

"Some press officers will continue sending a sample out even though they know it never went into production, their rationale being that it still gets their client publicity. If you ever see 'from a selection' on the stockists page, chances are that the garment only ever existed as a press sample."

Sometimes retailers and the fashion press work out mutually beneficial arrrangements. "A lot of fashion editors act as consultants for high street shops," says another insider. "They'll go to the catwalk shows and then advise them on the key stuff coming through. And it helps to guarantee that high street clothes get into the press."

Not everyone relies on catwalk trends. "The first time I saw the pinstripe suit was as a production sample before Christmas last year," says Frances Russell, head buyer for French Connection, "and by Febuary I had confirmed all my orders for it." All this, even before the designer catwalk shows? "We had the previous season's sales information," she explains, "and our designers go to the original fabric shows (which feature forthcoming trends). It makes a difference that we don't copy the catwalks, that we design before the catwalk happens."

It's helped that high fashion is so wearable now - grey flannels, pinstripes and simple, tailored jackets are easy to translate into the high street. But the customer has also changed. "People are much more aware of catwalk fashion," explains Andrew Tucker. "Britain is a style-obsessed country. You can go into a newsagent in the middle of nowhere and there'll be rows of style magazines to choose from." And there are all those photo-opportunities of Naomi and Kate in Gucci or Meg and Patsy flaunting Prada in front of a label-literate public.

Companies like Kookai and Warehouse prefer the "get 'em in, get 'em out" principle where, if something sells out they reintroduce it until its shelf-life dies. "Companies like Kookai will carefully orchestrate their merchandise throughout the season, and plan specifically for busy periods, like half-term. Companies like French Connection at the top end of the high street want to be more exclusive. Waiting lists are a perceived exclusivity, but they are just the tip of the iceberg of what's on offer."

Exclusivity is the key word. "We very seldom do re-orders because we want to keep a certain exclusivity," says Frances Russell. "Also, people are desperate for short-lived trends. If we re-introduce the trouser suit in three or four weeks time, it might be too late, and people will have moved onto the next thing."

What you can get...

Office

700 people are on the waiting list for the stiletto-heeled ankle boot (pounds 59.99). Call 0181 838 4447 to get on the waiting list

Shellys

Sliver-heel black ankle boot (pounds 79.99) sold out in two weeks with waiting lists in Birmingham, Glasgow and Regent Street branches. One hundred people are on the waiting list nationwide. Call 0181 450 0066 for information.

Warehouse

There was a massive demand for the grey flannel jacket (pounds 75) and wide- legged trousers (pounds 45) which will be re-introduced in December. Another hit, the grey or black Prada-esque beaded dress (pounds 38) coming back into the stores later this month. It's Warehouse's policy to only reserve items that are actually in stock, and at the manager's discretion, so get in quick. Stock enquiries: 0171 278 3491.

French Connection

The black or brown stretch knee-high boots (pounds 95) have a waiting list of 150 nationwide while 600 pairs were sold in the first two weeks of September. The navy/topaz pinstripe suit (jacket pounds 140, trousers pounds 80) goes nationwide next Saturday. For stockists enquiries call 0171 399 7200.

Karen Millen

The waiting list for the black ribbed cardigan with a fake mongolian trim (pounds 120) is 20 people long at the Covent Garden store. The cardie will be back in the shops in December. Call stockist information on 01622 664032.

Morgan

A waiting list of 15 at the King's Road shop for the PVC black knee-length skirt with a side-slit (pounds 29.99) and it's the same story nationwide. Stockists 0171 383 2888.

and what you can't

Jigsaw

The grey stretch flannel trousers (pounds 76) have a waiting list of 20 in their flagship store alone. If you're not on the waiting list, forget it

Kookai

Kookai don't have waiting lists and there are only "half a dozen" white sheepskin jackets (pounds 130) and jersey wool grey pencil skirts (pounds 39.99) dotted round the country. Try the stockists information line on 0171 937 4411.

Dorothy Perkins

Black/white "clipper" pinstripe suit (jacket pounds 45, skirt pounds 20) sold out straight away and they're not re-ordering.

Hennes

Black knitted wrap fur-trimmed cardigan (pounds 29.99) sold out within one week, never to be repeated this season.

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