"Customers want something fashionable, but post-recession, they want something fashionable they can also wear next year," Sozzi said. "They pushed customers' acceptance for fashion too fast in this environment, and consumers balked."
H&M Chief Executive Karl-Johan Persson warned that this year would be rough as well. "Most indicators suggest that the macroeconomic climate in many of our markets will continue to be tough during 2012," Persson said in a statement in January.
Although a majority of its revenue still comes from Europe, the retailer has aggressively expanded in the U.S. H&M opened its first American store in New York in 2000 and now has 236 stores nationwide, with more than two dozen new locations to open this year, spokeswoman Jennifer Ward said. The company operates about 2,500 shops around the world.
Analysts say that a high-profile line like Marni will help H&M draw shoppers back into stores.
"I call it the halo effect," Sozzi said. "It's almost like during Christmas season when you see that hot TV being advertised. You go into the store, and even if they ran out already, you'll buy something that you found while searching for the line."
Back at the Beverly Center H&M, people who arrived late were snapping photos and videos of the chaos inside the Marni section. Barely an hour after the doors opened, some racks were already picked clean and shoppers began stripping mannequins.
Standing just outside the barricade, Guisou Akhavan, 23, looked on hungrily while waiting her turn inside the ring.
"I'm studying people's shopping technique," said the Calabasas fashion publicist, who had gotten up at 5 a.m. to drive to H&M. "I'm hoping my positive vibes will leave something left to buy."