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At a launch party at Macy’s Herald Square on Tuesday night, Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s Inc.’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, hailed the show as “the first of its kind.”
“In the fashion business, we usually have to wait six months from the time we see it on the runway to the time we get it in the stores, so this is the idea of an instant gratification for the consumers, as well as an instant response from them,” Lundgren said. “The way the product is bought today by buyers, there is tremendous amount of press and evaluation by fashion editors. Now the consumer is going to judge the clothes and, ultimately, that’s what matters in the business of fashion.”
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Saks’ Terron Schaefer, one of the three buyers on the show, echoed the sentiment. “In most of these shows, you vote with your telephone, but here you vote with your wallet,” he said. “These clothes are real. They’re not bibs of lettuce or laced doilies sewn together. It’s not such a fantasy kind of pie in the sky.”
“Fashion Star” was filmed in the summer, allowing the retailers to produce their orders according to their needs and with price points suited to their target audience, though it remains to be seen how customers will respond to the designers’ clothes at varying tiers throughout the show’s cycle. If Saks produces a designer-priced look one week, how will H&M interpret a mainstream piece by the same talent the next?
H&M’s Nicole Christie said that the approach to buying and producing the clothes is similar to other merchandise the mass chain offers. “We bought quantities comparable to our normal order size so we can supply 101 stores across the country and also online,” she said. “It’s doing really well. We believe in the garments we bought, and so we anticipated it.”
While Christie wouldn’t say how the earnings would be distributed, she said there was a profit model and a serious business proposition, in addition to it being a marketing vehicle. “For us, it’s a great platform to expose the brand to more customers and viewers in the country, but also in so much that we are part of the plot and structure of the show. Any investment we make in the show is geared toward the garment and the business. I also think it’s important in the context of how the average viewer understands the design and retail process. It’s important the customer understands that at H&M we make educated decisions.”
It’s likely that the show’s entertainment value will provide the common thread.
“Fashion is entertainment,” said Macy’s Caprice Willard, another buyer on the show. “People almost care more about the red carpet than they do the awards shows. Our customers are far more savvy than they have ever been before. In this day and age of technology, you can Google everything you want. No one is coming in anymore and solely counting on the sales associate to give them everything they need. They come in very well armed. If we want to stay the expert, we need to evolve as well, and being part of ‘Fashion Star’ is another way of doing it.”
If Michael Kors’ stratospheric fame is anything to go by, the judges are the ones who have the most to gain from the experiment, though Varvatos claimed it wasn’t his motive behind joining the show. “I have a full-time job, and that’s what I am focused on,” he said. “I am just going with the flow. My dream is not to be a television celebrity.”
But he probably won’t mind if he becomes a household name in Middle America along the way.