Missoni madness swept store shelves and crashed Target's website for hours Tuesday as the retailer launched its latest designer partnership.

"Missoni for Target" includes everything from cardigans and ballet flats to espresso cups and sheets from the Italian fashion house known for its bold zig-zag and geometric designs.

But the merchandise was gone before you could say "What's Missoni?" (Think retro '60s abstracts and grandma's crocheted afghan turned into carry-on luggage.)

Fashionistas in the Twin Cities carted off the goods as store doors opened at 8 a.m., and orders from all over the Internet jammed the Minneapolis-based company's new website, which was down for about three hours Tuesday.

"Due to an overwhelming amount of traffic to Target.com as a result of the Missoni launch this morning, guests are unable to access the site," Target said in a midmorning statement, "we are working to get the site back up as soon as possible.''

The company slowly got the site back on line, but access was still limited Tuesday night. Visitors were greeted with Target's stuffed bull terrier mascot and a message saying: "Woof! We are suddenly very popular."

The company said Target.com was seeing greater demand than it does on a typical Black Friday.

Nancy Liss, a management supervisor who tracks consumer habits at the Minneapolis advertising agency Campbell Mithun, was among those Missoni shoppers at a store in Minnetonka.

"It was a perfect storm of fashion, value and exclusivity," Liss said, noting Target's successful pre-sale marketing campaign. "It was kind of a feast."

Marketing research professor Akshay Rao attributed the Missoni rush to "frugality fatigue."

"People are tired of not being able to consume like they used to," said Rao, of the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. "Everybody's been saying the sky is going to fall and that really hasn't happened, so people are looking to engage in consumption."

The online issues came as the nation's No. 2 discount retailer works to fortify its Internet retailing presence and intertwine itself in customers' digital lives. Target doesn't give out its online sales numbers, but estimates from Internet Retailer magazine suggest it still lags far behind companies such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy Co. Inc.

As part of that effort, Target took back control of its website from Amazon.com, which ran it for Target for years. Less than a month ago Target debuted its newly designed website that it spent two years re-engineering with SapientNitro to help drive Internet sales.

SapientNitro didn't return calls Tuesday. Target declined to discuss the crash much beyond its statements, but insisted the problem was due only to intense Missoni demand.

Eric Beder, a retail analyst at investment bank Brean Murray, Carret & Co. in New York said he thinks the crash was demand-driven, and not caused by IT problems. "Looks like the Missoni line is going to be a huge winner," Beder said. "People want their cheap chic and they want it now!"

The limited edition Missoni line runs only until Oct. 22. With 400 items, it's Target's largest collaboration with a designer yet. The launch was so highly anticipated that a preview pop-up store in New York City last week sold out in a matter of hours after zealous shoppers lined up and then ravaged the shelves.

In Edina, shoppers started lining up at the SuperTarget near Southdale about 15 minutes before its opening at 8 a.m., said Haley Sando, the store's executive team leader. "I think we were a little bit blown away," Sando said. "I just don't think we were prepared for how fast things were going to go. Guests had full shopping carts, full baskets."

Shoppers frustrated

Sando reported that clothing and accessories went first, followed by towels and bedding. By 9:30 a.m., the store was "wiped out," she said. "People were shopping right off the flats as we were bringing it out."

The shopping was congenial, she said, but left many people frustrated. She said the store might get more product to restock the shelves as early as Tuesday night, but there were no promises. "I heard one guest saying to another guest that she should load up her cart because she could sell it for twice as much."

Frustrated shoppers flocked to Twitter and Target Style's Facebook page to complain about people grabbing the merchandise and reselling it on eBay.

Sando compared Tuesday's run on Missoni to the run on Liberty of London's clothing in the spring of 2010, when Target launched that designer collaboration.

Tracy Morrison remembers that one, too. Morrison described herself as a "serious shopper" and "a mom of three fashionable girls." She acknowledges being "slightly obsessed" with the whole pursuit of bargain designer fashions. But the Missoni deals were just too good, said Morrison who blogs about life, parenting and fashion.

"Their sweater for this line is $50 to $60, which for Target is expensive but for couture, it's a bargain," said Morrison, who went online at 5 a.m. Tuesday to place a big order only to discover that some of the Missoni goods were already unavailable. She went back online later, and the site had crashed. One of the bargains she really had her sights set on was a blue-belted long cardigan.

After dropping children off at school, Morrison and her 2-year-old went on a mission by car ... and eventually gave up. "I've driven to four stores," Morrison said by cellphone from her car. "Everything's gone. Women had shopping carts full of stuff. I'm driving to get a latte and go home." The elusive blue cardigan remains out of reach.

Star Tribune staff writer David Phelps contributed to this report. Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683