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“Everybody in leather,” commanded the Gap’s ad campaign, and consumers from Oswego to Orlando followed the orders. The new line hit Gap stores around Labor Day, and within weeks, customers had stripped shelves of the most coveted item – the flatteringly hip-hugging women’s boot-cut black leather jeans, a steal at $175.

Even fashion editors, who can have designer leather goods delivered at the snap of their fingers, found themselves at a loss. When the Gap sent out an early editorial mailing of fall items, those who didn’t receive the pants got on the horn immediately, and the Gap P.R. department’s editorial wait list is at an unprecedented length. Now only a few lonely pairs of size 16s remain on the racks. “Every day, someone asks me about those jeans,” sighs a saleswoman at the lower-Fifth Avenue store. “We’re losing a lot of sales by not having them,” her manager agrees. Customers who ransacked the city and came up empty-handed were told a new shipment would arrive at the beginning of November, and then at the end of that month; now the date has been pushed back to mid-January. “Those things are never gonna arrive,” predicts a clerk at the checkout counter.

“The woman at the Gap on Sixth Avenue and 46th Street told me that the leather pants keep getting stolen off the trucks,” says Brian Feuer, a hedge-fund manager who was trying to score a pair in size 2 for a female friend. “There’s apparently some black market for them and they don’t even make it to the stores.” He eventually located a pair at a Japanese shop and had them shipped to New York. “They got held up in Customs, and I had to take special insurance out on them,” he says. Feuer is not the only man interested in the jeans; guys have been buying up the stores’ last few pairs in larger women’s sizes – for themselves.

After hunting through Gaps in New York and L.A., publicist Marni Salup located the jeans through a French pal in Paris. Fashion publicist Lara Shriftman dispatched her 12-year-old brother to find them in Jacksonville, Florida. “I was obsessed with them,” she admits. “There’s a long waiting list at the Beverly Drive store, and I put my name on that. I was sure they’d have them in Florida, but no luck.” Her brother located a pair on the Gap’s Website. Soon enough, the online pool dried up, too – the only leather jeans available online now come in unappealing “ivory.”

“This is an unusual situation,” says a Gap spokeswoman. “We knew the pants were awesome – in fact, I’m wearing them right now – but we underestimated customer reaction. But honestly, they should be in any day now.” A visit to a midtown Gap confirms that a couple of pairs have arrived … in hot pink and tan.

Hide and Seek