Finger-Tapping Time

With boutiques scaling back on merchandise, the waiting list returns



The day Greg Simonian, the CEO of Westime, got back to his West L.A. office from a watch trade show, customer requests for something he’d just seen unveiled—Chanel’s “Mystère” J12 ceramic timepiece—were already in his in-box. The only downside was that Simonian won’t get his small allotment of the $278,000 item until November. So he drew up a waiting list. It isn’t the only one at Westime: Clients are impatiently expecting the arrival of everything from six-figure Audemars Piguet styles to $5,000 Bell and Ross watches. “It’s a war zone,” says Simonian. “Customers literally fight to have us take a deposit.”

The many retailers dusting off and discounting months-old inventory would love to have Simonian’s problem—and his wealthy, obsessed clientele. But the waiting list has made a comeback for some less rarefied goods, too—not only because the economy is on the mend but, counterintuitively, because of its recent fall. Stores chopped their merchandise orders in 2009, adjusting for lower demand. In some cases, they underestimated the public’s willingness to spend. In April a $5,700 Bottega Veneta picnic tote was wait-listed at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. “Like most retailers, we are carefully managing our inventory, so hot items will blow out quickly,” says Saks representative Kari Miller.

A splashy advertising campaign (like Dolce & Gabbana’s cosmetics spreads featuring Scarlett Johansson) or a runway trend (such as taupe nail polish) can lead to a rush on goods. But even evergreen items, like Chanel’s “2.55” quilted handbag, can be perennially back-ordered, as they are at Saks. For cult designers, who produce in small batches, entire collections are wait-listed. “People want Dries Van Noten and Sofie D’Hoore the minute it comes in,” says Julien Heart, owner of the Santa Monica boutique Weathervane. “They say, ‘Call me, call me, call me.’ And the next day there’s a line of people outside when we come to open the store.”

Illustration by Sanna Mander