Ever wonder how your favorite pair of denim got into your favorite denim store? A couple of weeks ago I got to tag along, with Lisa Baldwin, owner of Chantilly Blue in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, as she traveled to New York City to the ENK trade show known as Coterie. And yes, it was as incredible as you think it would be.
Pictured above is the ginormous Javits Center in New York City, basically a convention center on steroids. Every year, twice a year, clothing companies purchase floor space to exhibit their collection to buyers from stores all over the world. It is fashion porn as far as people watching is concerned. Some look like fashion victims, while others will have you wide-eyed as they walk by in a trail of fabulous. It’s loud, it’s crowded, it’s amazing. Here’s what I learned….
It’s cool to wear sneakers.
From 18 year olds to 80 year olds, sneakers were the fashion footwear of choice, for men and for women. The new trend, dubbed “athleisure wear”, incorporates a street style spin on gym wear basics. The most significant staple of this trend is the idea that sneakers, yes I’m talking Vans and Nikes, can make any outfit, and I mean even a dress and fur coat, turn instantly downtown cool. This trend is still up for debate in my mind, but I love the idea of form matching up for function, especially since the Javit’s center is literally hundreds of thousands of square feet. Still, there was no shortage of sky-high stilettos. Women tentatively teetering with every step, like watching a giraffe try to tip toe its way through the plains.
Some brands think they are cooler than others.
Here, you pay for space. The bigger your exhibit space the more exclusive you can make it. You can decorate it any way you want, essentially creating a mini showroom for your company’s clothing collection. Some booths have walls with someone standing guard with a clip board at the entrance.
The clip board holders act as “bouncers” of sorts outside of their booth, they ask questions like…
“What store are you with?
Have you seen our fall line?
It’s fabulous. You’re fabulous. Do you want to sit?
Whose your rep?
Do you have an appointment?
I’m not sure I can sell to you. What’s your zip?
Do you want some sushi?”
Yes, that last one threw me off too…but AG brand denim had a mini Nobu sushi restaurant inside its ultra cool booth. There were only four tables, and you may feel like you are sitting on someones lap, but where else are they offering you sushi and sake at 10am?
It takes a lot of coffee and a lot of chocolate.
Most booths do not have an in-house designer sushi restaurant, but candy and coffee are everywhere. Of course there is a Starbucks at the Javits center, with a line about a mile long. But you’re gonna need the extra stimulation to keep you focused. Some brands have literally hundreds of items packed into one collection. And then comes the weird part. Even though it is February, the store owners and buyers are there to order their store inventory for FALL, not this Spring but FALL 2015. And since Lisa didn’t bring her magic crystal ball, at least not that I saw, this is where the hard part comes in.
Your head will explode from making so many decisions.
A rep will show Lisa all of their offerings, with different available delivery dates. Most stores start to take delivery of Fall merchandise in late August. Yes, it’s backwards, but the industry has been running this way forever. It has to do with the lead time needed to design an item, order fabric from a factory, produce samples, take orders and then go to the factory production. Consider shipping times with all of this and you quickly realize how fashion is not an on-demand fast food industry, but rather a hedge your bets kind of gamble. Lisa needs to consider what her customers will want to buy for Fall. She won’t know the weather,(again, a crystal ball would help), so she has to rely on research and experience to choose what styles, colors and sizes to order. Luckily she is very good at what she does and she knows her clients very well. I am just glad it was not me that has to put my money up front and make guesses as to what will and won’t sell.
Bring a buddy.
It was a special treat for me to come along for the day, Lisa usually tries to go with her partner in crime, otherwise known as Clay, her hubby. He helps Lisa to navigate the floor map, try on clothes (just kidding!) and keep her caffeinated. Plus you need someone to point out all the fascinatingly good and bad outfits you will see all day long. And yes, these two really are that cute!
There is something for everyone.
Thinking you want to stock your store with white fur?
Or how about a sequin and embroidered bomber jacket? in green?
Want to buy from the same company that makes dresses for Princess Kate?
Or how about a brand called Moose Knuckles? Lisa passed on this one…I wonder why…
I truly would live in these sequined caftans…I just need the yacht in St. Tropez to live on.
And the Chaser brand t-shirts? I will take one of each…thanks. Chantilly Blue just started carrying Chaser and I cannot get enough.
The main reason Lisa is the owner of Chantilly Blue? Denim, denim and more denim. This is not an easy pick. There are hundreds of brands, cuts and styles. Lisa narrows it down by committing to denim brands that are only made in the U.S.A. From there she touches every fabric, looks at every cut, and examines every color. She knows what works and she makes sure she doesn’t settle for less.
A huge thank you to Lisa (and Clay!) for letting me tag along for the day. The whole show is a 3 day event but I am not sure I could do it for 3 days. There is french techno music and lots of Zoolander “blue steel” expressions. The city itself is beautiful and bustling. I love to see the sights in New York, fashion and style are everywhere, on every building and every corner. Although as we drove away, back toward our quaint rolling hills of Chester County, the soothing sounds of silence took over. When it is all said and done, I love being able to come back home to enjoy our sleepy and oh so special little town.
*Insider Tip – Plan Ahead
The fashion industry does not listen to the weather, so to get your best selection for spring and summer try your best to shop early. If you wait to buy shorts till August, chances are the stores will already being stocking up on winter sweaters. It doesn’t really make sense but it is a constantly moving machine that needs to cycle through the seasons. Not sure what you need for spring and summer? Don’t wait till the temperature hits 70. Schedule an appointment with me now to get a head start. We can clear out what’s not working, figure out why, and put together a conscious shopping list. Curating a closet you love isn’t easy. It takes time and patience to shop for your specific needs as opposed to adding in odds and ends. But if you take the time now it will be well worth it. Have a favorite go-to store like Chantilly Blue? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Tell Lisa what you are looking for. She is super organized and she can always let you know if it is something that is coming in on a future delivery. She listens to her customers and takes account of their needs. This is why shopping small and shopping local is truly THE BEST!