A few weeks back, thick chains of humanity stretched around city blocks the world over. The people comprising these chains were hoping to be among the first to own a slightly different, unexpectedly bendable version of a phone they probably already had in their pockets. It was the latest in a long line of long lines of people waiting to get their hands on things that aren't water, food, or medicine.
But are the memes correct? Is this behaviour disrespectful towards those without the luxury of queueing for non-essential items? Or is it more that these days, being able to say "I was there when the iPhone 6 launched", is akin to witnessing an actual historic moment like a ship christening or a public execution?
In news that surprises no one, people love lining up for fashion, too. They may be even more obsessive about it than the iPhone queuers. The much anticipated collaboration between New York designer Alexander Wang and H&M launched in Sydney and Melbourne last week, and while some in line scored freebies, including a nifty backpack chair, others waited for hours with no guarantee of not going home empty handed. We ventured down to Sydney's Macquarie Centre at 6am to ask them why exactly they were doing that.
VICE: Hey Henry, why are you doing that?
Henry: I've been waiting since 5:30am. I had hoped it wouldn't be this crazy, but when I arrived it was too much: waiting in line, being among people who maybe know a bit more about fashion. The sort of attitude they have towards getting as much as they can, grabbing whatever they want. I got that vibe, and I wasn't very comfortable with it so it's probably the last time I'll do something like this.
Why do you think that situation made you feel uncomfortable?
It just feels a little tense. Everyone wants to grab whatever they can, for as little money as they can.
Sel: I've queued up for the iPhone before as well. I'm not usually the type of person that would go crazy for this stuff, but if it's something I want, I'm happy to wait for it… but sometimes I feel like—as I was saying this morning to Ange—I feel kind of stupid and embarrassed to be here.
Ange: I'm not. I want it, I don't care.
Sel: I think it's different for different cultures. I don't think Australians are into queuing that much. I'm from Asia and I've seen overseas, Asians really get into queuing—for anything. You walk down the street and they'll just join a queue if they see one, cause it's in, it's what they do. People are used to it over there. It does seem a bit crazy here.
Do you think it's a part of the Australian culture to be dismissive of something like this?
Sel: They're not into it. As I said, in Japan people queue for ages for stuff, it's just normal for them. For the Aussies it's like, why would they do that? These people are passionate about something so they're going to queue for it. Australians put them down for that.
Hi Lilly, how long have you been in line?
Lilly: Around ten hours… since about 9pm.
It looks like you're first in line. Is that how you got one of the backpack chairs?
Yeah—it's really exciting!
Is it? What do you like about Alexander Wang?
He's really sick, he's really young. I like his passion and he's handsome, I think!
Hey, why are you doing that?
Giselle: We wanted the Wang singlets, which is what I wanted more than the chairs. I would have loved both but you can't win them all.
What do you think of so-called "fast fashion" retailers? Are you a fan?
Yeah definitely, because look, fashion can be really expensive and these chains have made it easy for us to afford. A lot of people who love fashion don't get paid the most.
Lyman: I think for me and Giselle, we love fashion and it's not what you wear, it's how you wear it. It doesn't have to be expensive. But when a designer like Alexander Wang collaborates with an affordable chain like H&M, you take advantage of it, and the leather and feathers were sustainably sourced.
What does that mean for you?
For me personally, it means you know the animals have been treated fairly.
Giselle: Alexander Wang has got good values as well as good designs.
Hey Luke, you don't look like the Wang type. Why are you doing this?
Luke: I'm here because my girlfriend and her best friend dragged me out of bed to drive them to the sale—they're that crazy about it. I've been roped into picking out a few items myself for them, and to carry stuff for them.
Have you seen the collection? What do you think of it?
I saw it online last night. I think all the men's stuff is hideous. It looks like he's trying heaps hard. With the jackets and everything, there's always something that's too long, or too flamboyant or weird. It's just too fashionable. But anyway, I think [lining up for fashion] is acceptable, but it's not something that should be done all the time because brands control us.
You think brands control us?
Oh, completely. I was in London at the Supreme store a year ago, and we stood in line for an hour and a half. It was minus-five degrees - just to get a hat.
Victoria: I was studying at uni—at Macquarie - and the library closes at 1am. My friend and I were studying and then we were like, it's already 1am, let's hang out for a while. We got here around 4:30am and we thought we were first, because there was nobody in the line inside. But then security took us out the back and there were 20 people in line.
What do you think about fast fashion retailers like H&M and Topshop?
I have a friend who is always talking to me about sustainable fashion. She says you shouldn't support these chain stores. The conditions aren't great but also the fabric isn't great. They go through materials and through trends just to appease customers, without thinking about the environment or how sustainable it is. I guess I should think about that more but I dismiss her a bit.
How do you reconcile those ideas with your interest in H&M and this collection?
I'm absolutely in love with Alexander Wang and the fact it's affordable, that lures me into H&M! This is the first time I've been to H&M in Australia. As a uni student I'd say I'd like to afford more sustainable fashion, and I do like some sustainable fashion, like Bassike and Kowtow and stuff, but right now I can't afford it so it's not an option to move away from chain stores.
People often criticise global retailers like H&M for being unethical, or nudging local fashion retailers out of business. What do you think of those criticisms?
James: Those criticisms are different issues. On the competition issue—on nudging out local brands—it's a global marketplace. If you can't compete with global competitors, you're not efficient enough to stay in the business. As far as production in countries with worse working conditions, it may not be ideal. It's something that constantly needs the spotlight shone at it. But I don't think that means we should boycott big fashion retailers.
Do you feel Wang's designs for H&M are original or innovative, and does that matter?
Simon: Half the appeal alone is that he's doing it. If anyone else was doing it, maybe not. As a designer he's very hot right now. Because he's a guy, he knows how to design stuff for guys.
Do you think the gender of the designer makes a difference?
This is very physical, sportswear-oriented [fashion], and I know he's been quoted as saying he doesn't play sports. But I think it's a bonus because he's a guy. Small things are important, like the leather shorts. If it's just raw leather with no lining it gets quite sticky and uncomfortable, but because he's lined it now - lined it with perforated material - it makes it just that much better.
Follow Kristen on Twitter: @kristendaly