Buyers bombard opening of Israel's first H&M in Tel Aviv
Any minute now I'll be in classic Europe, I muttered to myself peddling toward the Azrieli shopping center for the opening of H&M's flagship store in Israel. I biked through regiments of soldiers and pedestrians marching east, in the scorching sun, on their way to the cool Swedish front.
Already on the escalator in the mall I joined an endless line of consumers yearning for some cheap clothes, the specialty of the Swedish fashion chain. The public relations team slipped me inside, boasting about the crowd that began forming at 6 A.M. outside the store, which opened at 11.
At 11 A.M. the doors opened and the crowd stormed into the 2,000-square meter store on the mall's third floor, pushing and trampling anyone and anything in its way, grabbing whatever it could before nothing would remain.
Almost 1,000 shoppers were inside the store at a time, rotating at dizzying speed, photographed and documented by an army of television crews and reporters.
Someone with a trolley-suitcase on wheels pushed me aside as she stuffed it with clothes. Toddlers screamed in the children's department while mothers dressed them in pastel-colored Japanese kitten prints.
The line to the fitting rooms was daunting and many ignored it, stripping and trying things on, oblivious to those around them.
"Animals"! A woman shouted.
"Animal yourself!" another woman shouted back. "Shame on you! That's my tunic!"
"I inaugurated this improvised fitting corner," said Ophir, an Orange worker from the north who arrived this morning instead of going to work. He photographed several women undressing with his cell phone and was going to post the photos up on Facebook under the title "I too undressed at H&M," he said.
An unrestrained air of wanton recklessness prevailed in the store. A soldier took off her uniform and tried on a black leather overall, one of the more expensive items in the spring collection. A very pregnant ultra-Orthodox woman with a covered head disrobed and tried on a dress, ignoring the masses swarming around her.
A thuggish blond man was strolling around in boxer shorts without a shirt, carrying numerous clothes on hangers. An hour later I saw him still wandering around and wondered whether he was a Swedish plant, on a mission to encourage the natives to loosen up, strip and buy like crazy because you only live once.
The PR people were pushing the journalists away from the battle field. I grabbed a unicorn shirt off a hanger and said I simply had to buy it, and would leave afterward.
I tried on the shirt, made in Turkey with seven unicorn patches decorated with plastic pearls and thin nylon-thread tails. Then I tried on a black vest made in China, imagining the little Chinese hands who embeded it with 1,317 shining sequins and beads forming a parrot with a cherry in its beak, sitting on an embroidered magnolia tree.
At the main cash register a violent fight erupted. Someone screamed that she was being pushed and bypassed by others, had been waiting an hour and a half in line, almost fainted, her heel broke and she wasn't feeling well.
"I've never seen anything like it," said an H&M saleswoman who was flown in from Germany. The other staff members from Europe wandered around shell-shocked, folding up clothes up and trying to survive.
A man with cold blue eyes, H&M's world CEO, looked around in complete shock. He convened the local managers for an emergency consultation. Was the public relations campaign too strong, he must have asked. Were the culture gaps bigger than he imagined?
I threw down the Chinese parrot and Turkish unicorns and fled the Swedish war zone. Outside, the winding line was growing longer.