By Julia Boorstin

(FORTUNE Magazine) – LUXURY BRANDS LIKE LOUIS VUITTON and Hermès have long thrived on the thrill of scarcity: Women scramble to get on wait lists for the season's "it" bag or must-have trench. This fall big chains like Banana Republic, J. Crew, and H&M are jumping on the trend with "massclusivity"--limited- edition items created to generate heat and sell out fast.

"Our consumers want approachable access to luxury, so it makes sense to behave similarly to the high-end brands," says Jacquie Lenart, VP of marketing for Banana Republic. Banana has over 450 stores, but shoppers don't have to worry about seeing many others wearing the fall Café Society collection. The items, including a short-sleeved beaded cardigan ($78) and a wool ribbon-band dress ($148), were available in limited quantities at only 30 stores and through the website. The success of the campaign prompted Banana Republic to advertise the scarce nature of its Heritage Collection for men this fall, including a leather blazer ($450) and an antiqued jean ($128). "It's a marketing ploy, a way to create a perceived need--that you've got to have it now before it sells out, and we're not going to bring it back," says Harris Nesbitt's senior retail analyst John D. Morris. H&M, already known for a fast-revolving array of inexpensive clothes, last year brought in Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld to dream up a collection. Customers formed huge lines waiting for H&M stores to open, and many items sold out before lunch. So this November, H&M is applying a similar approach to about 35 items designed by Stella McCartney. "This is the ultimate in massclusivity," says marketing manager Jorgen Andersson. "If we had these designs in the stores for a month, people would get bored." Some of the items will be in such short supply --H&M is producing a very limited number of hand-embroidered coats by McCartney, for example--that Andersson expects them to sell out in a few hours.

That can, of course, lead to angry shoppers. "Our customers got very frustrated when we'd sell out, so if we tell them that something's limited edition, they're more likely to order it right away," says J. Crew women's designer Jenna Lyons. (Another bonus: Even if the limited stuff is sold out, once in the store people are likely to pick up something else.) Since Mickey Drexler became CEO of the J. Crew 2½ years ago, he has encouraged his designers to dream up more unusual--and expensive--goods. For the fall J. Crew is offering items that can't be mass-produced, like an $800 hand-beaded skirt and $600 crocodile shoes (the 30 pairs were gone in a single weekend). After all, you can't put a pricetag on originality. -- Julia Boorstin