Thursday, July 2, 2020
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Fashion Buying Trips Behind The Scenes

By Cathy Ann Sauer / Buyer, Nina RaynorThe past few weeks I shared with you some of the fashion trends we saw during the recent Spring 2012 markets.

Today I want to give you a brief glimpse of what goes into those buying trips.  Every store handles their buying excursions their own way, but there is one thing we all have in common. We schlep.

There are a variety of women’s wear markets that occur during the year. The two that get the most attention are fall, which takes place in February, and spring, which takes place in September. Things kick off in New York, then move on to London, Milan, and Paris. For this post, I will tell you about New York.

The extravagant runway shows can be a thrill to see, but in reality, they are entertainment for media hype and celebrity types. When you get to the showroom to work, you learn which pieces are actually being cut – and what the true skirt lengths will be. Twelve inches. I don’t think so.

We go to New York at least three times a year. We set appointments with designers and make a list of things that are a “must see.” Appointments are with lines you carry, have carried in the past, and new resources you want to check out. These are in the New York showrooms, at huge fashion trade shows such as Coterie at Jacob Javits, and in hotel suites. Told you, we schlep.

Most of the industry is in the garment district, or “The Avenue” as Fashion Avenue (7th Ave) is called. This is designated as being between Fifth Avenue and Ninth Avenue, from 34th to 42nd street. These days however, designers are splintered all over the city. We run across pot-holed streets, push down crowded sidewalks; building to building, block by block, elevator after elevator. Hailing cabs, grabbing take-out lunch – if one actually has lunch. Maybe that’s why the models are so skinny? Sleet, rain, snow, 102 degrees and humid, power outages, bomb threats, Presidential city shut downs. You name it, we’ve been in it, looking for clothes.

As a “for instance” on how many appointments you can clock, in September we averaged 10 a day for six days. You do the math. Downtown, uptown, midtown, crosstown. And, amazingly, in a city of 8 million, when we are on The Avenue, we see people we know. I can’t tell you how often we stop to chat with colleagues from other stores or with sales reps, as we all trudge through the district.

During the actual appointment you are shown the current collection, and, if it is in a multiple showroom, multiple collections. You work with the sales rep, sales director, or sometimes even the designer. There may be another appointment going on at the same time. Or you may get rescheduled because a “major” decided to come in. That would be Bergdof’s, or Saks, or, well, don’t get me started about that.

Dress after dress, gown after gown. Beaded, feathered, tiered, ruched. Silk chiffon, silk shantung, silk taffeta, silk charmeuse, silk faille. As the models come in and out and garments are swung in your face, the options are rattled off. With or without a sleeve, with or without the belt, short or long, in 200 colors, in three different fabrics. When you change something, you X it on your order. Or, it comes exactly as sample, no substitutions (my favorite). You reach out and feel the “hand” of the garment. All the while you take copious notes – style numbers, sizes, fabrication, X= this or that, delivery. You decipher the lingo, the slang, the acronyms of the business that refer to fabric type, garment detail, and pricing. At the same time, if permitted, you snap off photos to match up with your notes.These appointments last from minutes to hours. After which, you shlep some more.

The above goes on all day, everyday. There is evening wear, daytime dressing, sportswear, jewelry, handbags, and other accessories. You are constantly saying “It’s not for us” or “What are the colors?” or being told “It’s the best silk in the market,” or “This is in the Neiman’s catalog or on the cover of Vogue.” By the end your head is spinning and, I freely admit, you get a little giddy. My brother and I have been known to burst out with uncontrollable giggles for no apparent reason. Silly, but true.

Following all this is when the chess game begins. You sort through the notes and figure what will make the best buy for the store. You think about particular customers. You think what will merchandise with what. You think about reorders. You think about budget. You get a headache thinking. Then, you order. You cross your fingers and pray that what you ordered comes in as ordered and on time.

So, this is a very brief peek into what goes on during a buying trip. It’s crazy, it’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating. It’s not for the meek. I share this so that the next time you go shopping, you’ll have a smidge of an idea of what went into bringing the dress in your hand, into the store. If it’s a department store, it took a team. If it’s a small boutique, hug the owner. They deserve it.