Susie Rushton: Bargain-hunting is not for the faint-hearted

Urban Notebook
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The Independent Online

I wasn't there for the Karl Lagerfeld-for-H&M stampede in 2004, nor when frenzied scenes were repeated at the delivery of cheapo collections for the chain by Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf and Roberto Cavalli. Queuing on Oxford Street with hundreds of teenagers before 9am, to eventually elbow my way around an enormo-store gathering armfuls of synthetic jailbait-wear: no thanks. But yesterday morning, when a rather more highbrow designer collaboration was drawing crowds at two select outlets of a chain store in London, I couldn't resist joining the throng.

I was summoned there by a friend's text message. "You in Uniqlo? Get yourself down here." The cause of her excitement was the cultish German designer Jil Sander, whose severely modernist aesthetic offered a uniform to career women in the 1980s and 1980s but who slipped off the fashion map at the start of this decade. Sander surprised many when she emerged from retirement earlier this year to sign a deal with the Japanese high street chain. Uniqlo's image is vivid and low-budget; Jil Sander's is monochrome and alarmingly expensive. It could have been a disaster.

Swerving the Oxford Street branch in favour of the sanitised cultural dead zone inside Westfields' mega-mall in Shepherd's Bush, when I arrive there is a tell-tale group of black-clad Japanese standing outside the shop, all holding giant carrier bags. Inside, the locusts have already departed, leaving navy wool coats and white cotton shirts in XS sizes flung unceremoniously on the floor.

About a hundred bargain-hunters pick through the remains, undeterred. Half are women in their late fifties, with (real) gold jewellery and Hermes Birkin bags; the remainder are conspicuous stylistas, who hunt in packs and give devastatingly honest critiques of each other's appearances as they try on clothes on the shop floor. I'm looking at a reflection of myself in a snug-fitting blazer when one peers at me. "Is that a medium?" she asks. Yes, it is, I say, and isn't it great? "You could do with the large, like me. They're bringing some more in." Cheap, the modern bargain-hunting experience may be, but consistently cheerful it is not.

Pull the other one, Boris

In case you missed the most embarrassing moment in Boris Johnson's mayoralty so far, last night in an episode of EastEnders he walked into the Queen Vic and ordered a pint of bitter from Peggy Mitchell. Johnson has justified barging into the soap by claiming it counts as part of his remit to promote arts and culture. Rubbish. It promotes him – and does little to dispel Albert Square's reputation as the most depressing place on television.

Hand it to him

The eagle-eyed at Brighton this week spotted that Peter Mandelson owns a £21,500 gold Patek Philippe watch. Not so: he's merely looking after it for the next generation.

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