Hundreds brave cold for opening of H&M at Northlake

htrenda@charlotteobserver.comNovember 14, 2013 

A few hours waiting in near-record cold didn’t stop the hundreds who lined up at Northlake Mall on Thursday for the opening of Charlotte’s first H&M location.

The Swedish clothing retailer Hennes & Mauritz has long been anticipated in Charlotte, for what customers call high fashion at affordable prices.

The Northlake location is part of a North Carolina expansion for H&M, which was founded in 1947 and now has nearly 3,000 stores around the world. Company officials expect to open a second Charlotte-area location, in Carolina Place mall, by the end of the year. The retailer also has stores in Raleigh, Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

The approximately 26,000-square-foot Northlake store carries women’s and men’s collections, with separate “store within store” sections for accessories, lingerie, sports apparel, maternity and the plus-size line, H&M+. The Northlake location also carries the brand’s children’s line, outfitting newborns up to age 8.

To make opening day worth the wait for shoppers, the first 200 customers in line got free H&M T-shirts and an “Access to Fashion Pass,” scratch-off gift cards ranging from $10 to $300.

Central Piedmont Community College student Lester Ramsey and his cousin, Jennie Walker, and friend, Jacob Brock, were the first in line, which required that they brave the cold before 2 a.m., Ramsey said.

“It’s like Dolce & Gabbana for budget-minded people,” Ramsey said.

Walker, who was visiting from Atlanta, said despite having H&M where she lives, she was excited for the opening-day deals. Her fashion pass was worth $200 and she said she planned to stock up on winter clothes.

Charlotte resident Ryan Jones said waiting nearly three hours in line was nothing compared to waiting for years for the store to finally come to Charlotte. “It’s a different style and Charlotte needed it,” she said.

With one arm loaded with blouses, sweaters and dresses, Jones used her free hand to flip deftly through hangers. “Everyone has a Forever 21 and Charlotte Russe, but if you’re looking for something more mature, H&M is the in-between.”

While H&M sells itself as fast fashion, others in the industry are fans of the brand’s guest designer collaborations, which usually sell out in hours. InStyle and Purewow were among many online hyping the guest collection from French designer Isabel Marant, available starting at noon Thursday. Other guest collaborators have included Karl Lagerfeld, Versace, Stella McCartney and Lanvin, among others.

Armed with an iPad full of movies, 22-year-old Ben Shamanis got in line at Northlake at 7 a.m. He’s shopped at H&M locations in the D.C.-area and described the clothes as classy but on-trend. “There’s nothing loud or obnoxious about the clothing. … Anybody could find anything here.”

Shamanis’s fashion pass was worth $75 and – holding up an armful of sweaters – he said the wait was worth it. “It’s awesome to finally have one.”

Susan Pless of Concord got in line at 9 a.m. and was texting photos to her daughter, who attends UNC Chapel Hill. “I’ve been driving to Winston-Salem (to shop at that location.) This store is the best,” she said, noting she’s previously shopped at locations in New York.

And she wasn’t just shopping for her daughter, Pless said. “They’ve got affordable, trendy, cool clothes, even if you’re older.

“It’s high fashion for an affordable price.”

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda

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