Going to the European shows to pick out the clothes your retail employer will sell seems like the most fun business trip ever invented. But not this season, as buyers face a slew of new economically induced challenges. They are operating on truncated travel budgets and shortened timetables. They have less money to spend and are trying to get designers to lower prices. And then there's the pressure to not mess up, because if they don't do their jobs perfectly this season — which means stocking their stores with merchandise women will pay full price for — they're basically fucked. There is no nice way to put it.
We do not envy Rachel Goldberger and the extra-special pressure she's under as a buyer for Neiman Marcus, which yesterday announced losses of $509 million. While in Milan on her cheaper, shorter-than-usual trip, she didn't have time to go to any shows, but only showroom appointments. She was in meetings from 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. and then returned to her hotel for more meetings with her team. She spent her time in these appointments haggling with designers to lower prices and sometimes trying to convince them to change designs to make items more appealing to shoppers. It's like haggling for jewelry or sunglasses on the street all day. She convinced one house to eliminate a hand-painted floral detail on a sweater to get the price down by 10 percent and improve "dry-cleanability." Some fashion houses saved her the haggling. The Wall Street Journal reports:
At the showroom for the knitwear label Missoni, Ms. Goldberger was thrilled to hear that the Swarovski crystals that appeared on a dress on the runway would be replaced with plastic facsimiles. The substitution wouldn't change the look of the garment, but would lower its retail price by more than half, and make it weigh less.
Where the optimal signage in store windows for past seasons might have read "Think Pink" or "Fall Into Cashmere" this coming fall they could read "Think Cheap" or "Synthetics: Fall's New Luxury." That'd get us to poke around.