Anyone who’s worked in the industry in the States for at least a year knows how Vegas can be in late August. It’s that wonderful time of year when Project, Magic, the Exclusive, the Accessories Show, Pool, and ASAP all collide. It’s like turning the hose onto an anthill–thousands of fashionistas and wannabes scurrying this way and that, knocked about by an inescapable, mysterious force, silently screaming “save me! save me! please! oh for the love of McQueen, save me!”
Or that could just be me.
Make no mistake–I am about the most unfashionable designer ever. If I’m clean, professionally attired and armed with symmetrical eyebrows, I’m done. Being swallowed up and elbowed by wave after wave of pretty young things dressed to the hilt, armed with The It Accessories (multiple show badges and free Project bags) is not my idea of a good time.
That said, I had a great time in Vegas this time around. I wasn’t required to work the booth, so that in and of itself was fabulous. I got a great room. Some of my closest L.A. girlfriends were also there so we got to walk the shows together, in between unhurried meals and lots of laughing. Talking shop with two of my most amazing colleagues and fellow Otis veterans really got my juices going.* Nothing else gives me quite the same zing.
So my mission was to walk Project, Magic, and the Exclusive, to see where we need to be next season, because it’s about time we moved. I took a lot of mental notes, had a chance to sit down with my VP and mull over some things. We walked the shows separately, but ended up having similar ideas on how to proceed. My sales guys are going to have a collective heart attack, because as a rule, they hate change. Whatever, boys! It’s not up to you! If you lazy asses did your jobs, we wouldn’t have to force such drastic measures on you! (Um, I don’t particularly love our sales guys.)
But enough about work. I don’t like to delve into too much work details.
Project was fascinating. Super busy. The foot traffic just absolute madness. The utter atrocities that sell just shocks me. I’m telling you, ugly crap sells. It’s all about marketing and who you know and it makes me sick to my stomach. (It also makes me kinda hopeful that even my crap may sell.) It appeared to me that Project is for not-quite-established companies. It’s pretty inexpensive. (I think about $4500 compared to Magic’s $20,000 for the same amount of space.) You don’t need to decorate your booth with much. Just a couple of mannequins and racks of clothes. There were obviously a lot of more established labels there too, and they lined the “red carpet” with their big jazzed up booths. The outer edges were very quiet. My opinion is that it’s a good show for people who rely mainly on random foot traffic for sales, as opposed to appointments like the bigger dogs.
Magic was also fascinating, but in different ways. If you ever questioned how big and at the same time how small this industry is, just walk around Magic. Something weird happened to me at Magic. I became uncontrollabe cattiness personified, constantly whispering snide commentary to my friends. I felt like a sarcastic jerk robot in some nightmarish real-life version of the worst episode of MST3K ever, in which case, I guess K does stand for Karl. It was not pretty.
All the booths at Magic are decorated. Perry Ellis had its newest comic book style ad campaign blown up to 20′ tall. Levi’s had a staircase going up to a second floor. Others had fake plants and faker leather couches. They built small worlds in their booths, some bigger than the zoloft.** Magic is more organized in terms of grouping markets (designer mens, juniors, eveningwear, etc.), but it’s still very easy to get lost. At one point, I said, “Man, everyone is just doing the same thing! Wait, I’ve been here already. No, really, I think everyone is just doing the same thing. Ah! I can’t tell anymore!”
The West Coast Exclusive, compared to the other two, was like stepping into a mausoleum. Quiet. I’d write “zen” if it wasn’t for the unsavory aroma of desperation and day-old hot dogs in the air. Definitely a place people mostly went to if they were pointedly seeking out a particular label. More appointment based than the other two. Older crowd, mostly. Lots of shoes and ties, for some reason. Heavy on the menswear, save a row of contemporary womenswear, whose fresh colors and young, bored salesgirls looked completely out of place. Oh, and a booth for borderline fetish leather, which within the context of show, almost made me laugh out loud. My sales guys consider it the place for the “right kind of appointments”.
Anyway, those are just some notes on the shows from an exhibitor’s point of view. I’m sure others see it very differently than I do, especially the buyers. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.
*I’m not sure if it’s just Otis or all other schools, but if you made it out of there alive and functioning in the industry, there’s this bond, even if you weren’t that close at school. So many go into the fashion department at Otis and never graduate, that if you made it all the way through, there’s some serious mutual respect going on, obviously some more than others. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. And yes, I ran into a lot of Otis kids in Vegas, of different classes, including a bunch I used to tutor, and it was definitely an acid trip down memory lane.
**The zoloft is the name of my apartment, because my name is Zoë and it’s a loft and people consider coming over to be a great antidepressant. Heehee.
and my feet and ankles are so swollen I feel like an elephant. My 3-day tolerance capacity for Vegas has turned into a 30-hour tolerance. Literally, about hour 29, I was seriously wanting to go home. I mean, really, I get off the plane, and the boy has 1. driven my car to the airport because he knows I love to unwind by driving home 2. bought me a carton of cigarettes 3. planned to whisk me off to sushi dinner 4. saved me a parking spot really close to our building (he parks in the garage because he has a convertible) and 5. arranged his schedule to do laundry tomorrow with my dirty travel clothes. Who wouldn’t want to come home to this?
Despite my exhaustion, I am pleased because I think the trip was very worthwhile. Got some more excellent feedback from my debut collection (“…soooo much busier than last year…definitely more orders…surprising for Spring for us…”), saw a lot, talked a lot of shop with people I respect, and I think I know how to make a stronger presence at the shows next season. It’s just a matter of getting my boss to agree. Hee.
Oh, and my darling boss put me up in a beautiful palazzo suite in the Venetian all to myself. But, man, nothing beats your own bed.
I have a 7:30am flight to Vegas tomorrow morning and I haven’t packed yet. I’ve been spending the last few days mulling over the questions you readers have had, regarding the role salesmen play, the industry in San Francisco, and creativity. These are harder questions to answer than what lies on the surface, and my opinions may be a touch controversial.*
Gotta go pack. Gotta get some sleep. What with airport security being what it is lately, I’ll have to be up at 4am. I’ll be in Vegas by 9am. Check in at the hotel, check in with our company booth, meet up with my VP, walk Project Show and Magic**, meet up with some friends from L.A. doing the same, go to sleep, wake up, lather, rinse, repeat, catch the 7:30pm flight back to SF. Go to office and work Wednesday through Friday, catch a flight to San Diego with my friend M for a mini vaca to see our friend J and come back on Monday and hopefully not set foot on an airplane for the rest of the freakin’ year. I’m already slated to go to Vegas on business again in early January. Oy. I’ve had a great year so far, with some amazing experiences, but I am not a fan of flying.
*While I have no problems opining the unpopular stance, I’ve been trying to word things in such a way that people don’t start semantics debates on my blog. While I love a good argument, I despise semantics debates. Nitpickers bug the hell out of me.
**I’m not working the show. I’m going to see if we need to move to another tradeshow and where within a different show we need to be placed.
Not by any means. To call myself a photographer would do the actual pros a great injustice. Consider me a fiddler of cameras and bows, if you will.
My friend M happens to be a fantastic burlesque performer and sometime model who was wanting to play around with some new concepts. So I had her come over and this is what we came up with. Or, at least, these are some of the more “clothed” shots.
So Danielle asked me to participate in her sketching posts, and I reluctantly agreed. Sigh. Well, I’m not exactly pleased with my results, but a promise is a promise.
My weakness has always been drawing a man and a woman together, in fashion illustration proportions, composed and proportioned well in relationship to one another. I was listening to some latin music over the weekend, so I ended up with some melodramatic posing.
Well, here it is. Not happy with it at all, but I guess that means more practicing.
I’d like to extend a HUGE CONGRATULATIONS (holla, babeeee~) to VC reader and fellow SF designer Jeanne Feldkamp, creative director of The 615 Project, for being one of a select six to showcase at this year’s Gen Art San Francisco Fresh Faces Fashion Event!
Jeanne and the boy, Assaf, actually met in New York (Jeanne was also one of the finalists for the Gen Art Styles 2006 competition, same event, different category/competition as me). She went up to him at the event and said, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” We met in New York, at the event, separately, and arranged to have coffee at Assaf’s and my regular haunt. Turns out they’re both regulars at the same coffeeshop up the street from my house and her studio and that’s why Assaf looked so familiar to her! Totally a “small world” moment.
Anyway, the event is on September 16, and you can find out more info and buy tickets here.
I have the blahs. Loss of appetite, sleeping more than usual (8 hours during the week, 12 on weekends), feeling unproductive and lacking energy. I force myself to present full energy at work and then I come home drained. It takes effort to return emails. Ugh.
On the plus side, my assistant is super efficient and wonderful. Fast learner, no attitude problem. Good sense of humor, good sense of style. I absolutely love having competent people around me. I almost get a high off of it.
The New York tradeshow was super busy, busier than it had been in years for Spring. I’m very excited about it, because it was my debut collection. The last couple of weeks has been filled with sending out samples, photos, swatches. We’ll see how many orders we get. The buying season isn’t over yet so I’m just gonna save my excitement until then. In the midst of all this, while wonderful, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would be doing all this stuff if my sales guys were up to snuff. Isn’t this the kind of stuff sales people do? Send out swatches and photos and linesheets? At my last jobs, our showroom took care of that part. Hrm. Maybe I was previously spoiled?
The big drama at work now is that the CEO thinks we waste too much electricity and wants to turn off every other light in the main office. As it is, the light in my office is poor, so much so that I call it “the cave” and I have to go to the main room to match colors. (Samples to control skins, leathers to knits, and so forth.)
I miss drawing. Danielle’s sketches have me thinking I should probably get in some practice (I only work with flats 99% of the time at work), but like I said, I have the blahs.
Help a girl out? Give me a topic to blog about? What do you want to know?
The fact that I even feel this strongly compelled to write a post on the importance of follow-up makes me irritable. Once upon a time, I thought follow-up was a given; I’m no longer so naïve.
Excuse me if this starts to sound like a rant, but I find it so absurd that this key component is so lacking in people’s professional standards of behavior I almost hit the roof Friday.
These notes are compiled from my experiences in both the design and production sides:
1. When going through the hiring process a few weeks ago, I automatically rejected anyone I interviewed who didn’t send me a follow-up email or phone call in 24 hours. I was astonished at the follow-up/not ratio, despite their enthusiasm for the position during the interview. (San Francisco must have more great actors than I thought.) People put themselves first. If they’re not going to find their own employment not worth a follow-up email, I don’t trust them to do anything else, quite frankly.
2. Always attach a “please confirm” note on your emails and make sure you get a confirmation. Half a dozen very important orders will be shipped late because the factories are saying they never got an email about such and such. Send emails with a “read receipt” if you have to. I’m sure my customer service person did not enjoy spending an hour getting extensions, and I’m also sure she is chewing out our overseas production manager as we speak to anyone who’ll listen. I’m also sure that the customers’ trust in us has gone down a notch. I say “a notch” in this case because these are customers who’ve bought from us for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS. You will probably not be so lucky.
3. UPS and FEDEX are not fool-proof. They have tracking numbers for a reason. If something is important enough for priority overnight shipping, make sure they got it the next morning. Track that thing down! Email the recipient with the tracking number, request that they contact you upon receipt of package. That way, if they don’t get it, 1. they can’t blame you and 2. problems are easier to solve from the beginning, not after they’ve snowballed into something much more complicated. (Speaking of snowballing, that brings me to “small problems”. Do not gloss them over. NIP IT IN THE BUD, RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Tell your supervisor if necessary, or a colleague that can help you. I can guarantee you that any backlash will be less severe at this point.)
4. If you tell someone that you will find out the answer to their question by the end of the day and the day has passed and still no luck, call them back and let them know you’re still researching and you will get back to them in 24 hours. Let them know that you haven’t forgotten about them. It takes approximately one minute out of your day, including dialing.
5. I had this vendor rep who would only contact me after I had sent them about 3 emails and 2 voicemails, on average, in the beginning. It steadily got worse. I let it go for a while, thinking everyone has their busy season. After about six months, and two almost-crises later, I realized that my headache was not going to go away, so I spoke to their boss. Now I deal with the company owner directly, that person no longer works there, all of my P.O.s are being delivered on time, and consequently I send more and more work to them whenever I can. And honestly, because the company owner and I have built up a good relationship, I call him less, because I know he will contact me when I ask him to (noted on a P.O., via email, etc.). It was the previous lack of response that had me anxiously calling all the time. This is the industry. If you can’t deal with this scenario, you don’t belong here.
6. It all boils down to excellent customer service. It doesn’t matter what you do, what industry you’re in, how high up the ladder you’re at. You should be treating all professional relationships as if you’re customer service. “CUSTOMERS” ARE NOT PEOPLE WHO BUY THINGS FROM YOU; THEY ARE ANYONE WHO DOES BUSINESS WITH YOU, PERIOD.
I don’t care if you have to turn your computer monitor into a surrealist daisy with post-it reminders stuck all along the edges, make sure you remember to follow-up. Writing in all caps irritates me, but the fact that I find them necessary right now irritates me more. Simple and consistent follow-up emails and phone calls are the easiest way to build up your professional reputation.
Reader Simon left this comment in response to my final dress photos:
“…You did a great job on this project. I simply cannot believe you design the “other” stuff during the day and are not driven nuts with all that creativity within. Like a fine chef working at Chili’s.”
I’d like to respond to this, and not to ridicule Simon in any way, but mainly to clarify a few things about myself.
I don’t consider the work I do at my day job creatively stifling, or beneath my abilities, or any of that jazz. I think of it as a different design problem that requires a different solution. My day job requires that my designs be simple, clean, wearable, versatile, and expensive-looking; my jackets must take the utmost advantage of the medium (mainly leather). We have a particular customer profile we target. We have particular pricepoints to consider. We have a certain reputation to maintain because the company’s been in business for so long. It’s not easy. If it was easy, the previous designer’s collections would have sold.
Every project that I do on my own, I challenge myself with a different set of design issues, hoping to find the best solution. Can I create a collection of sleek, urban work-friendly clothes for the young professional at a contemporary pricepoint? Can I design a group of knock-their-socks-off evening gowns based on the design direction given? Can I put together ensembles for the tweens back-to-school market that all girls will covet?
I don’t think creativity is about creating the most spectacular thing ever. I think it’s more important to be able to find the best possible solution to a problem. In fashion, that means considering more than just the look of the dress.
P.S. Simon, thanks for reading, for the lovely compliments, and for giving me a topic to chew on. 🙂
Now that I have a moment to relax, it’s time for me to get sick. It happens so often, I don’t know why I just don’t schedule it in. It’s always go go go go GO GO GO GO GO GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO finish collapse sickytime.
But before I chug some Nyquil and pass out, I’d like to wish a big congrats to reader Andrea, for being accepted to my alma mater Otis College of Art and Design. I wish you all the luck in world and I hope you find your years at Otis as fruitful as I did. I can’t wait for our coffeedate next week! I’ll prolly be over being sick by then.