One of the skills of buying for a designer boutique is knowing what people will be wanting to wear next year. Emma Lloyd shares her insider knowledge as she returns to Suffolk from the London fashion scene.
These last two weeks I have been fully immersed in my bi-annual pilgrimage to the fashion world of London where I have been buying Spring Summer 2012 collections.
Not to be confused with shopping (as my husband sometimes calls it), buying is a different skill altogether as I pre-order all the clothes, shoes and accessories I think will be popular choices with my customers and will sell in my boutique in another six months time.
I stock collections from some fantastic premium brand designers who open their showrooms to retailers like me twice a year. I get invited to view the Spring Summer collections in July/August, followed by the Autumn Winter ones some six months later, around February time. There is a real buzz of dashing from showroom to showroom, carefully selecting the pieces I want to stock which I think are in keeping with the Marianna brand - sophisticated, exclusive and stylish with a twist. Im a firm believer that fashion should make people feel good, look their best and be comfortable. At Marianna we certainly dont like people to leave looking like fashion victims.
But get the buying wrong and your store is doomed, however good a sales person you are. The budget can only be spent once and expensive mistakes can cost your business dearly.
The range of clothing on offer to me is vast, as at French label Joseph, for example, whose showroom is in swanky Sloane Avenue. Here you will find rail upon rail of clothes and accessories to choose from, while young, 6ft tall models sashay around showing how the pieces look on a clotheshorse. One of my skills is translating this into how the pieces will look on a real woman those of us who are not so long of leg or lucky enough to have a washboard stomach.
People often comment that it must be great fun when buying the new season collections (and indeed it is) but my business hat is firmly on as I decide what to buy for the season ahead. What I think my customers want and what I believe will sell is critical for the shop to succeed and I am not buying to simply extend my own personal wardrobe.
When faced with literally thousands of garments, the skill is in carefully considering the key styles and colours, how they will work for ordinary women who have bum/tum/upper arm issues (thats most of us) and what are the on trend pieces versus those that are classic investment buys.
Of course, its also imperative to keep track of the ratio and volume of coats, dresses and tops I am ordering from each collection, so as not to end up with a shop filled with rails of trousers for example, and not a skirt in sight. And of course I need to stick to my pre-determined budget which sometimes means saying no when the account managers are pushing for increased orders from me. Knowing the intricacies of my business finances, sell through figures and top-performing brands is crucial. My finance background in the insurance industry has been a valuable asset.
Because the price point of my collections is expensive, the quality has to be up to scratch and I tend to stick to natural fabrics like cotton, silk and cashmere.
Often, Ill have individual customers in mind when buying a particularly expensive item. Having close working relationships with many of my wonderfully loyal customers and knowing what previous purchases are already in their wardrobes is a huge advantage. Customers can be amazed when reminded of something they have already bought from my store that will work with a new item, especially when they have forgotten about it themselves!
Ann Louise Roswald is a top British designer whose beautiful creations I have stocked at Marianna for the last seven years. (www.annlouiseroswald.com). Her ability to cut clothes that really flatter the female form is quite outstanding and her beautiful silk dresses are often spotted on a celebrity or two including Zara Phillips and Fiona Bruce. The showroom is an old toy factory and Karen, the sales and marketing manager, never fails to tempt me with the stunning embellished delights that are perfect for weddings, cocktail parties and other formal events. When Karen showed mea simply gorgeous cream dress and bolero jacket last week I confess I was weak. How? Well, lets just say theres an extra one winging its way over to my shop next year in my size.
Those of you familiar with my boutique will know it has strong Scandinavian influences and I stock plenty of beautiful brands from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Sadly I had to decline my invitation to Copenhagen Fashion Show last week and instead popped along to the Notting Hill showroom for two of these labels, namely Rutzou and By Malene Birger.
I love the buying season, however intense and long the days are. Of course I miss my boys (who just happened to climb Scafell Pike whilst I was away!), but who would complain about staying in a posh hotel and sipping champagne whilst getting a feel for the popular fashions we can expect in a few months time?
So what underlying themes did I take from the numerous Spring Summer 2012 collections I viewed? Well, no longer a fleeting trend, sustainable fashion is here to stay with organic fabrics becoming the norm. And its fair to say the futures bright with some high-pitched colours to look forward to, including bright reds and majestic purples.
In the meantime however, lets bring on Autumn Winter 2011 and all the glory of lace and snakeskin!
33a St Peters Street, Ipswich IP1 1XF
Tel 01473 225666, www.mariannaboutique.co.uk
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