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Fashion: Swede Smell of Success

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While many New Yorkers spent last week obsessing over their tech stocks, another segment of the fiscally minded populace felt a different compulsion -- to ceaselessly comb the racks of Swedish superstore H&M for as many $19 knit boleros, $21 drawstring pants, and $3.50 halter tops as possible.

Every day since its opening last week, upwards of 6,000 seasoned city shoppers have inexplicably mutated into mild-mannered Midwesterners, lining up on 51st Street all the way to Radio City to suffer the humiliation of being stuck behind a velvet rope -- at noon. "The girl in front of me had a pierced tongue and was looking for club clothes," reports a book publicist. "There were Centro Fly-type girls, Long Island girls. Everyone was there. I told my office, and the next day half of them went." Ricky Martin and Sylvester Stallone were spotted ransacking the racks. Even fashion's demimonde made the scene to score cheap knockoffs like tube tops seemingly crafted out of Hermès scarves or blouses in Kors-esque zebra. And the $3.50 sunglasses? "They're just like Cutler & Gross," gushes a fashion editor who plans to buy ten $4.50 white bikinis, one for each weekend of the summer.

Stock is replenished up to twelve times a day, causing crafty patrons to make repeat trips. "One woman I met went three times in one day, with her friend, then her sister, then her husband," says a lawyer who scored two shirts ($17 and $21) and a backpack. "I got the last one. People were circling me. My friend picked up a shirt, and a guy started circling him!" One woman was reprimanded when she stripped to her bra rather than wait on another line for a dressing room. An editor insists the wait is worth it: "I look thinner in those mirrors."

Is H&M too good to be true? "All along, I felt there had to be a catch," confesses a mid-week customer. "And there was. When I tried on my pants, I found that there was not an appropriate amount of space for my crotch. And I'm no John Holmes." He left with a jacket and three shirts instead.


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