Buyer's Guide: How Do Buyers Approach Fashion Week?

A Buyer's Experience From Runway to the Racks

A view of the audience at the Jill Stuart Fall 2011 fashion show in February 2011.

Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

During New York's Fall Fashion Week, the buzz in the city is palpable. For eight days, nearly 100 designers showcase their Spring 2012 lines at Lincoln Center for magazine editors, stylists, celebrities and, of course, buyers. While Fashion Week is about seeing and being seen for some people, for buyers, it's a critical moment in business.

Amid all the parties and shows, buyers for small boutiques and national department stores alike work hard so that the styles on the runways end up becoming wearable pieces in stores come March. And the road from runway to rack is a demanding one. While the buyers work tirelessly to deliver the newest fashions to customers, the magic of the Fashion Week experience is still a key aspect of the process.

"I love the anticipation of the room for that first show when the first model walks down the runway. There's just nothing else like it," said Nevena Borissova, founder of Curve boutique in Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

I love the anticipation of the room for that first show when the first model walks down the runway. There's just nothing else like it.

- Nevena Borissova, founder of Curve boutique

The Runway Rundown

Much of the planning for Spring 2012 happens months before Fashion Week sets up shop. Durand Guion, Macy's men's fashion director, says that Macy's forecasted Spring 2012 as early as January 2011. So he goes into Fashion Week having done his homework and knows largely what to expect. But in spite of the extensive research, there are always surprises.
"We look to the shows both to validate ideas we've already forecast and to introduce us to new ideas that we weren’t anticipating," said Guion. With enough preparation for the expected, there’s room to adapt to the curveballs designers throw.
While Macy’s buyers try to cover as many fashion shows as they can fit into their schedules, they break the shows down into three categories. “Must-see shows, that is, influential to the world of fashion, brands that we have been tracking but may not be doing business with, and, of course, the emerging brands,” Guion said.
For Borissova, the real understanding of the line comes after the runway show when she looks at the pieces hands-on in a showroom. But she loves going to the shows to see the designer’s point of view on his or her line. For example, a line may seem romantic in a lookbook. But at the show, models styled with rock 'n' roll hair and makeup strut down the runway to a heavy drum and bass music. From that experience, she knows the designer wants to infuse an edge to the line. So ultimately, the runway shows imply the designer’s intention behind the line.
Jessica Caulfield, owner of the Manhattan and Hoboken, New Jersey, boutique Jessie James, looks to the runways as an inspiration and a preview for the showrooms and trade shows that immediately follow. In her contemporary boutique, 75 percent of the clothes on the runway translate into wearable pieces for her store. While the other, more extreme, avant-garde 25 percent of the line might not fit in her store this year, the pieces foreshadow where trends are moving in the future. “Those pieces are ones that expand your mind and allow you to think of what women will be wearing in years to come,” said Caulfield.
Aside from the runway shows, there are also brand presentations all over town during Fashion Week. Borissova and Caulfield frequent these smaller designer showcases, the fashion equivalent of an off-Broadway play, in addition to the runway shows. As opposed to a runway show, these presentations run for a block of time, around 90 minutes, and the models are already styled and out in the space.
Caulfield notes that it almost feels like an art exhibit because attendees can come and go during that time as they please and study the work more closely. While these smaller lines may not seem to be in Macy’s league, Guion says that the game is changing for new, emerging designers. With the collaborations that larger lines have had with hot, young designers in the past few years, Macy’s looks to facilitate those kinds of unions to stay on the cutting edge of fashion.

The Runway Rundown

Bringing It to the Customer

The fashion frenzy doesn’t end when Fashion Week is over. Advanced preparation as well as decisive instincts are key in the buyer’s world because there is generally a very small window to order from the designers after Fashion Week. As soon as the week after the shows, buyers make appointments at showrooms and designer trade shows to write their orders.
Borissova says that this process can often be quite stressful because New York Fashion Week is only the kickoff of a series of Fashion Weeks all over the world -- in London, Paris and Milan, to name a few. But buyers do need to make decisions quickly on spring orders because production starts very soon after the shows. Borissova says that it is a more time-sensitive process in the fall when the holidays curtail the production season.
Guion says that fashion blogs and a connected online audience make it so much easier to take a nearly instantaneous pulse on what trends have the strongest buzz during Fashion Week. While much of their spring forecast has been sorted out before Fashion Week, the immediate online connection to blogs and customers makes it easier to adapt decisions on orders in a short amount of time.
Once the orders are placed, designers go into production, and the orders are shipped around February -- which happens to be when New York’s Fall 2012 Fashion Week takes place. And from there, the cycle continues and the buyers gear up for yet another season.

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