Alice Jones: If this cattle market is fashion's idea of democracy, I won't be getting in line

 

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They started queuing at 3.30am. Queuing outside a shop, for £60 gold T-shirts and £25 plastic bangles. It's extraordinary, really, given that designer collaborations on the high street now seem to come round about as often as a Circle Line train – probably more often.

This time, the queues were for Marni, the chic and somewhat niche Italian label, who have designed a new cut-price collection for H&M. Marni-mania comes hot on the heels of Beckham-mania, provoked by a range of the footballer's pants for men at the store last month, and Versace-mania, whose greatest hits collection caused a gaudy stir in November.

Stella McCartney started the most recent over-hyped spate of high-street hook-ups in 2005. Since then, every designer with an eye for a quick buck and some free advertising has done a stint on the gritty fashion frontline of wire coat hangers, fluorescent lighting and plastic bags. And while the days of rioting among the racks are long gone – today's shopping "events" are military in style (so chic!) with wristbands, timeslots and one of each item per person – there is still a label-inspired hysteria at work.

There must be – how else to explain the phenomenon of people waiting for six cold hours in order to shop for 10 minutes before obediently heeding a whistle blast and herding to the checkout to spend a month's rent on clothes that are instantly recognisable as cheap knock-offs, and worse than that, cheap knock-offs that thousands of other suckers also own?

The collections are trumpeted as democratising fashion, but there is little that is democratic about whipping shoppers up to spend more than they usually would in a value-for-money chain and  treating them like recessionista cattle in the process. There is another way of democratising fashion, of course: don't charge, as Marni does in its current collection, £600 for a cardigan.

As for the designers, their occasional descents from couture's Mount Olympus show up an unflattering double standard. Quick to complain when the high street takes too much inspiration from their catwalk creations, they are happy to use its mass reach to rake in a little extra cash on the side. When they see those queues, they must be laughing up their immaculate sleeves.

* It's tough being Madonna. You have get up, look after your children, talk to people, sign things and buy clothes, like, all the time. Day in, day out. It's relentless. I know this because the Queen of Pop™ reveals as much on her new album. In "I don't give a", Madonna apparently relates a day in the life of her marriage to Guy Ritchie. "Wake up, this is your life, children on your own, gotta plan on the phone, meet the press, buy a dress, do all this to impress", she raps, with shades of R2D2. "Do ten things at once and if you don't like it, I don't give a [bleep]."

For Madonna, the days of being a "good girl" and a "perfect wife" are now past, her eight-year marriage having ended in 2008. Why, then, has she decided to sing about it now? The secret to Madonna's longevity is that she has never revealed the slightest chink in her D&G carapace. Here, singing about "calling the babysitter" and "signing contracts", she comes dangerously close to doing the one thing she fears most – acting her age.

* The BBC wants to get the nation talking – and eavesdropping. The Listening Project invites people to share intimate conversations and lifechanging chats and will broadcast them on Radio 4 before archiving  them at the British Library. The idea is to take an aural snapshot of the UK, of its inflections and its interests. It could be fascinating, or it could play out like a  phonecall with Sybil Fawlty: "I know ... I know ... Oooh, I know ..." The main problem, though, is that participants will have to decide to record their chit-chat in advance, which might kill off the spontaneity somewhat. In which case, why bother? We already have a programme that lets us listen in on the stilted, trivial, "real-life" conversations of normal people – it's called The Only Way is Essex.

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