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By the time you read in Vogue about a provocative young Antwerp designer named Bernhard Willhelm, it is old news to the sales staff at Seven New York, who've been carrying him for years. The progressive Soho boutique and similar stores abroad (Colette in Paris, The Pineal Eye in London, Apartment in Berlin) pride themselves on scouting out the fashion world's new enfants terribles and avant-garde geniuses in their early years, when they're still staging that first show in a funeral parlor. But how do these buyers decide who wins the next golden space on the rack beside Raf Simons, Jeremy Scott, or Preen? How does an upstart creative types in this city, fresh out of Central St. Martins or F.I.T., make it into a store like this? Happen to possess bucket loads of money? Sleep with a fashion stylist at Visionaire?
How do you find designers? I read practically every fashion magazine out there, particularly the progressive ones. My favorites are i-D, Self Service, Purple Fashion, Crash. Common Sense has been great lately. I go to Paris four times a year, which is arguably the most progressive city in terms of shows. I have many stylist and editor friends, and I always try to get their opinion on what they like.
So press does help? Absolutely. We buyers always pay attention to that. If you can get into a publication like Self Service, it's going to trickle down into the more mainstream publications.
What about bringing in portfolios? Yeah, I get like six look books in the mail every day, drop-offs. I swim in them, seriously. I don't think I ever picked a lineup that sent me a look book. For me, I want their reputation to have preceded them, rather than getting this cold call.
What sort of criteria do you use? The entire collection has to be brilliant, it can't just be one or two great pieces. I don't buy collections anymore that are debut collections, I'll wait 'til the second or the third to see how they evolve and where they're going.
Any designers recommended to you recently? Haider Ackerman. He's from Antwerp, and he just won the Gwand prize last year, the biggest fashion competition in Europe that you have to be invited to, basically. Raf Simons won it the year before. I really love his work. Minimal, lots of chiffon, pretty neutral palettegrays, whites, beiges.
Are there any designers who you think have been overlooked over by the press a bit? Cosmic Wonder. They're an Osaka-based line, but they show in Paris. You would never see them in American Vogue, but they could be, they're good enough. Or another designer we've carried for five years, Markus Huemer. He has a cult following among us and he barely gets any press. He's too shy, needs to beat the pavement a little more.
Do you scope out senior year shows at Parsons, Central St. Martins? I look at the results, and see who's getting buzz. I also do a lot of fashion juries all over the world, judging the graduate classes. It keeps you in touch with what's happening in the schools. The last season, there was one really standout kid, but I think he's working for McQueen or something like that. He was scoped out by a house.
Is there a problem with young designers, who work under a big fashion house, breaking out too early on their own? There's that, and it's a double-edged sword. One thing, you can never really shake your association with that house, unfortunately. There's a designer who I really like who launched his second collection in Paris, Nicolas Andreas Taralis, and he worked under Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme. It's great, but I can't shake the association he has with Dior. It looks like Dior from two years ago.
What about trade shows? Trade shows cheapen the image of certain designers; I think it's the wrong way to go. For us, anyway.
Say I'm a young designer. How would you suggest I go about getting into a store like yours, or at least heading in that direction? For certain, don't show until you're ready. Really, there's a huge investment to launching a collection properly. We used to actually produce shows for young designers in our first two, three years of existence, and we were really good at doing shows on shoestring budgets. I don't know that there's too many pr houses offering that right now, because it kind of got swallowed up by the whole luxury phenomenon. All the luxury lines were stealing the thunder and the attention away from the young designers. The advice I would give is to try to find a really cool, young fledgling pr company to properly launch you. Paper was doing those young designer tents at Bryant Park which I don't think they do anymore, which is a shame. At least do a presentation in a gallery.
What are some classic pitfalls? Using really expensive fabrics early on. It's more about the cut, the silhouette, how it fits on the body, the feel of it. A lot of our designers use jersey and sweatshirt material. It's cheaper and makes the prices a lot more accessible.
As opposed to someone who found some unbelievable leather . . . Or yeah, like some silk chiffon that's 50 bucks a yard and they're doing dresses in it that cost $2,000. Again, why should a customer spend two grand on your dress when they can spend $2,000 on a dress from Proenza Schouler or Peter Som?
Anything else? Don't try to cash out too fast. I noticed a bunch of designers who we've worked for, I'm not going to name names, but in the past, they started out doing really radical work. They were barely making any money. But they were getting a wicked amount of publicity, due to how creative they were. They thought they could do basics to increase their sales and it totally backfired, they crashed and burned and now they're gone. They lost what made them unique. As a young designer, if you're going to make basic black turtlenecks, why should someone pay the same amount of money for your basic black turtleneck when they can get a Calvin Klein one? You have to keep going, and the money will follow you.
I guess it helps to have a rich dad. It's gross. But look at Zac Posen.
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