A conversation with Jeff Garelick, Director of Sales for Wilkes Bashford.
Phipps: One of the things I'm interested in is how brands and designers evolve, and I wondered if we could talk a little bit about the process of finding your direction at Wilkes Bashford. How did you evaluate where and who you were, and where you wanted to go? What is that process?
Garelick: So, Wilkes Bashford the man started Wilkes Bashford with the vision forty-five years ago. To sum up the core vision: the finest of finest in terms of materials and construction. We want to offer the highest in quality in terms of materials and construction. So those are hallmarks of the vision about who we are. The next piece would be, how do we present fashion which is modern yet timeless, and will truly be pieces that people will love for years. We're not really in to what's of the moment, that two years from now you won't have use for. That's really an area that the buying team looks at. It kind of falls under "value", how do we find pieces that have great value to our clients, both aesthetically and also as an investment. When you're purchasing at this level, it is an investment in your wardrobe. The other thing is that in addition to offering these collections, it's the styling aspect of it. Our goal is to dress people so that they feel very confident with what they're wearing, and comfortable. And also appropriately dressed for the times and their engagements.
From the Wilkes Bashford runway show at Simon Fashion Now, Stanford Center. Models: top, Ana Rodriguez, Miss Texas USA 2011; bottom, Brooke Daniels, Miss Texas USA 2009. Photographs by the author.
Phipps: Could you talk a little bit about the process of adding a new designer line. How does that happen?
Garelick: So that can happen a couple of different ways. One way is that a client will mention that they were traveling, they were somewhere where they saw a collection. If a client gives us feedback, we take it very seriously. At the store level, usually that would come to me, and I would get in touch with the buying team, and we'll begin an investigation. Other ways that might happen is through Press, or buzz. That a designer or collection is "hot". So then our buying and merchant team will go and investigate. The other way that might happen, we might recognize a need within our clients' lifestyle. We might realize we need a cashmere collection, but we need it in brights, if bright colors were a trend this season, say. Then we would go out and do some research. And of course, we read the blogs, we're on Pinterest.
Phipps: What's a blog you personally read? Do you have an everyday morning blog?
Garelick: It's interesting, I have switched from blogs to Pinterest. Because I find Pinterest just a little more efficient. What I do is follow a couple of people on Pinterest that cover a lot of fashion, then I take what they're showing and pull out my favorites. It's been an incredible tool, because what I found with blogs is one day there's a really nice update, but then you take the time to visit the next day, and now there's nothing. Or for three or four days.
Phipps: So who do you follow?
Garelick: (laughing) Some guy named "Alan"?
Phipps: (laughing) That's great.
Garelick: Yeah. Harper's Bazaar. Because I know a few people who work there, and they were easy to find. And GQ. But then there's so many people who are passionate about fashion, and they're grabbing things from all over the place. I find it's become an incredible tool.
Phipps: What's a print source you read regularly?
Garelick: Women's Wear Daily!
Phipps: (laughing) Surprise.
Garelick: Yes. Also, Monocle. I love that magazine. If you're in the fashion business, it's a great magazine. They do style, design, travel. And it's international. So it gives you a broader view.
Phipps: So again this will take me a minute to setup, and I'm also not so sure how to ask this question. For example, I'm not so in-the-loop about contracting in retail, who has the power and where the power comes from, if you have multi-year commitments with performance clauses. But let me try: My question is about choosing a designer's line. Do you prefer to have a long-term relationship and find identity with that kind of relationship? Say, the thing you most hope for in taking a designer's line is that you feel it's proven and so you expect it to be contemporary and chic season after season. So it's a kind of relationship of "trust and faith" like that? Or do you feel it's more advantageous to have more turnover and flexibility than that? It's the inevitable thing in fashion, that someone's in, someone's out, someone's up, someone's down, and so you scout constantly and aggressively for new lines, and who you carry is evolving all the time? How do you choose the lines you carry?
Garelick: It's a little bit of both. Everything we do, we think about relationships. We like to have long-term relationships with designers, but not at the expense of not being current. So it's sort of a two-sided piece. Long-term relationships like Oscar, Akris, Valentino, Cucinelli are incredible, because it really becomes a partnership. And then, Jason Wu, and designers that are new. We seek them out and experiment, and if it becomes long-term, fantastic. If, for various reasons, it's short-lived, it's unfortunate. But we're only going to have collections in the store that we truly think people would be interested in, regardless of the time period of the relationship.
Phipps: Are you ever willing to take a line, because you feel it's a good style or fashion choice? Even if it's not popular. Say you take it as a kind of style-leader choice?
Garelick: Yes. Because people look to us for style and fashion direction. So if we see a collection that we think our clients would enjoy, even if the collection had no Press, it wouldn't affect our opinion. We would bring it to our clients and let them make the final decision.
Phipps: But how about something that's a little more avant-garde, say Comme des Garçons, for example. Would you ever take something like that just because you think the collection is a style-leader?
Garelick: Maybe. Maybe. We don't have a lot of avant-garde collections right now, but that's not to say that in two years we might not. We find our current clientele doesn't come to Wilkes Bashford for avant-garde fashion. But, we have had Yohji Yamamoto before. Commes des Garçons has been in the building before, so you never know.