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The Fashions Worth Waiting For

Savvy shoppers in Orange County don't just stroll into stores expecting to pick up trendy goods. They get on a reservation list.

March 20, 1997|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you're oohing over the pieces being paraded on Paris runways and wondering how to bring them home, get in line.

Or get ready to be disappointed.

You might be too late to score some of the year's hottest merchandise before it's in the stores. The reason? Savvy shoppers have got the jump on you. They've already put their names on waiting lists to secure that limited piece.

In trying to snare the must-haves of the season, you could be up against the likes of one Dr. Tandra Cadigan, a Newport Beach obstetrician-gynecologist. After reading her medical journals, Cadigan studies her fashion magazines--W, Elle, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar--then goes to work.

"I'll see a picture in a magazine and I'll call Neiman Marcus and say, 'Are you getting this blouse they're showing in Bazaar?' " Cadigan says.

By getting on waiting lists, Cadigan has been able to land sought-after items such as--her latest trophy--a body-conscious jersey top by Calvin Klein. At Neiman Marcus, where her fashion know-how earned her a seat on the customer advisory board, Cadigan is signed up to snag a pair of red velvet Prada platforms.

"They're in all the magazines, and people are on waiting lists for them all over the country," she says. "I may never get them--but it won't be the end of the world."

Cadigan says those who play the waiting game aren't clotheshorses. They're educated shoppers who "take fashion as art."

"I really study it. I'm just a careful shopper, and I own my things a long time," she says. Among the items currently being sought by early-bird buyers at Neiman Marcus in Fashion Island Newport Beach: Web aviator sunglasses, seen on the trendiest noses in Hollywood, that go for $225 a pair; Bettega Veneta sunglasses; and Creme de la Mer, a face cream that has generated a lot of press and long waiting lists, even at $155 for a 2-ounce bottle.

An asymmetrical lace camisole by Donna Karan Intimates has become the must-have underwear of the moment. Days after customers spotted the lacy underthings in Neiman's glossy catalog, the Book, they began calling the store to put dibs on the item. By day three, 12 people were on a waiting list, and it's looking as if the coveted camisole is a sellout.

"High-end designer pieces go fast. Only so many are made, and we can't reorder them," says Megan Thompson, spokeswoman for the local Neiman Marcus. "A lot of things never hit the floor. They go directly to the customer [on the waiting list]."

Shoppers want what they see on television runway shows and in magazines and newspapers.

"Our client is very well-educated when it comes to fashion. If it's in Allure or Harper's, they know it, and the phones are ringing," Thompson says. "If [makeup artist] Bobbi Brown is on 'Oprah,' we go nuts."

*

Still, it's not easy to predict what will become tomorrow's Tickle Me Elmo of fashion.

Chanel at South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa was overwhelmed by customers demanding a gold mesh belt with a jeweled buckle shown for fall '96. No matter that the belt sold for $1,300 to $2,000--they had to have it. Arlette Thebault, spokeswoman for Chanel in New York City, would not say how many people got on its reserve list for the belt, only that the number "broke all records."

"Some unhappy customers could not get it," she says. "I remember thinking, 'I must have that belt.' I didn't get one, either."

Emotions can run high among shoppers pursuing their quarry.

"It's that little tang of excitement that says, 'I must have this,' " Thebault says.

That little tang can be contagious, whether the item costs a little or a lot. There are lists for $11 stuffed Barnyard Ballerina at Neiman Marcus and for Chanel's $15,000 gold lace dress.

In February, Tiffany & Co. in South Coast Plaza had a list of 25 customers wanting a $95 silver bracelet with a heart tag; demand was so great that there were not enough for everyone's sweetheart.

"When people see something they want, they're flattered when others want it too," says Jo Ellen Qualls, vice president of Tiffany & Co.

Although the wait for such stock items is seldom long, rare custom-made pieces can take many months.

"The longest we've had a client wait was a year and a half to find a perfect fancy color diamond," Qualls says.

When they're determined to have something really special or one-of-a-kind, some customers will wait it out. Demand can far exceed supply if something is made painstakingly by hand or if it's fashioned of precious materials.

Customers of Fashion Island's Out of Santa Fe sometimes wait months for items handmade by artisans just for them. Some will settle in for a two- to three-month wait to get custom boots made by hand instead of stamped out by machine.

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