The days following a fashion show are a relief for the designer and his or her runway production team, but the busiest time for retailers and sales reps. After all, the clothes would never make it past editorial spreads if someone didn’t work hard to bring them to local fashion emporiums. Curious to see fashion week from a different angle, the retailer’s point of view, I tagged along with Heiji Choy Black of Hejfina on a buying appointment for Alexander Wang, a few days after his New York show in September. Wang’s fans (which seem to include legions right now) often praise his clothes for making one feel like an off-duty model. A fantasy, to be sure, but Wang has tapped into this aspiration like no other designer of the moment.
Here is what I learned:
Who sells the merch?
Store buyers form relationships with certain vendors and usually meet with the same rep every six months. Catharine Chung is the lovely salesperson Choy Black works with. As Chung sells the line, she conveys tidbits about the collection, directly from the mouth of Wang. Examples? Wang often tries to expose the ankle because he says it’s the skinniest part of a girl’s leg. She also lets us know that Wang was inspired by the classic composition notebook cover for a silk pattern, and that a sexy dress was in fact made from bathing suit material. (Imagine how fast you would dry if someone spilled a drink on you at a club!)
The breakfast of fashion champions
Choy Black’s secret early morning weapon? She comes to the Soho showroom armed with a bottle of Kombucha, the fermented tea known for its healing properties, admitting that it helps curb stress and keep her healthy during a grueling fashion week.
What’s the process like?
Choy Black attended the Alexander Wang runway show and already has a good idea of what she’s interested in buying. Those things go immediately on a separate rack, and then she uses a fit model to see about a dozen looks from what she’s pulled, and then takes pictures on her own camera. A few things Choy Black tries on herself as well. Buyers are given line sheets, which have a simple sketch of each look and are used as a reference point later when making the buy.
What gets the kibosh?
Choy Black likes black because her customer likes black. She often picks up colored styles, and asks if they also come in black. A lilac blazer had a great cut, but in the end is deemed "too Miami" for her clientele.
How long does it take?
Choy Black is fast. In two hours, she’s seen the 41 looks from the runway and has basically determined what will sit in her Chicago store this spring. Her final decision will be sent to Chung via e-mail a week or so after the buying appointment. Choy Black ends up ordering about ten styles.
What’s it like buying for a store during an economic downturn?
Via e-mail, Choy Black has this to say: "I ordered less than last season as I’m being cautious across the board with all of my brands. I want Hejfina to stick around a long time, and that means smart, careful strategizing about how much stock to carry through these difficult times. Although Alexander Wang is definitely one of the best selling brands, I nevertheless have to pare down on spending right now."
When will the merchandise arrive in Chicago?
The collection is spread into three deliveries, with pieces arriving at the end of January, in February, and at the beginning of March.