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Vintage CHANEL: Fashion Week Special

Vintage CHANEL: Fashion Week Special

September 5, 2014

Many years before I killed my career I was the Chanel Ready-to-Wear Specialist at Saks Fifth Avenue in Phoenix. It was at the time my dream job.  It was my second job where I had a base salary and a commission structure attached, although nothing like the pay structure of medical device sales.   Ironically though what I was selling at Saks cost more than most devices used for surgery.  This job also taught me many things but none quite as important as knowing your customer and your market. Over the next few days I’ll share my lookbooks* from my time as Chanel RTW Specialist and how I was able to take what I learned in retail and later apply it to medical device sales.

Logo Page

Chanel would send customers and the stores that were licensed to carry Chanel a hard covered book (a mini lookbook) with photographs taken by Karl Lagerfeld, head designer and creative director at Chanel.  A lookbook is the entire collection (usually photographed straight from the runway) and supplemented with models in stills of what may not have made the runway (or didn’t photograph well on the runway).

Chanel Collection Printemps-Ete 1995 Cover

Chanel Collection Printemps-ETE 1995 Lookbook*

There are pieces that are designed specifically for the runway and are what is known as editorial pieces, or pieces meant only for the pages of fashion magazines and not really meant to be worn.  That’s never stopped people from trying to wear them though. As a Ready-to-Wear Specialist it was a nightmare when a client wanted one of these pieces.  Below is one such piece:

Chanel Editorial Printemps-Ete 1996

Chanel Collection Printemps-ETE 1996 Lookbook*

When dealing with clients who can afford items in the Chanel price point (nothing under $1,000) they’re not accustomed to being told no, don’t understand the concept that very few were made (“Just get them to make more,” said one client who didn’t understand production was already two season ahead, and that it didn’t come in a DD.  (This was great training for later in life having to deal with some surgeons). 

Chanel Collection Printemps-Ete 1995 Claudia Schiffer

Chanel Collection Printemps-ETE 1995 Lookbook*

The Trunk Show, a traveling caravan of the most wearable items from the collection, made it much easier for clients to pre-order from the collection.  Again, expectations had to be set.  The models were tall and thin; and, while I understand not everyone is built like a runway model, clients often became challenged when dealing with the reality of their size and ordered incorrectly. (If you watch the wedding show Say Yes to the Dress on TLC, it’s like when a bride orders for the size she wants to be but actually isn’t-now multiply that by at least four times a year with the same person). 

Chanel Collection Printemps-Ete 1995 Claudia Schiffer Hair Bow

Chanel Collection Printemps-ETE 1995 Lookbook*

Chanel is notorious for running small and by small I mean basically cut for children.  Nothing levels a woman like having to upsize and in Chanel I always tried to prepare people to go up two to three sizes.  (Best not look at the size tag or the price tag for that matter).  Think I’m kidding? It was shared with me that a famous woman was so upset about the sizing that her staff bought two of the items (one in the size that fit her) and one in the size she thought she was and the staff sewed the smaller tag in the larger garment (every day).

Chanel Collection Croisiere 1995 1996

It also wasn’t uncommon for women to by two of the same thing (despite the average suit running about $3,400) sometimes in two different sizes for “fat day and skinny days” or because they had homes in multiple locations.

Chanel Collection Croisiere 1995-1996 Cover

I loved when the books would arrive.  Most are beautifully done, hard covered, and were great coffee table books (I was in college-no money was spent on coffee table books). My least favorite is probably the most popular with Claudia Schiffer on the cover. A little to campy for my taste.  I’d often take the images from the books and frame them.  Karl Lagerfeld isn’t only an amazing designer he’s also a very talented photographer.

Chanel Collection Croisiere 1995 1996 Amber

This was also an era where supermodels graced the covers of magazines, runways and Chanel Lookbooks. Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen, Amber Valletta all had an elegance that I just don’t see with Twilight’s Kristen Stewart. 

Title Page Chanel Collection Automne-Hiver 1995-1996

The next collection helped me understand why knowing my market and customer was important.  Chanel was often thought of as “expensive old lady suits” in the Phoenix market as one of my customers told me. It wasn’t until I sat with her and showed her the collection that she saw many things that didn’t look like old lady suits. It’s what Saks was buying (or not buying) for the Phoenix store that gave a dated impression to many buyers.

Cover Chanel Collection Automn-Hiver 1995 1996

Getting to know my customers, working with the buyers and making sure there were Truck Show orders of items my customers wanted increased Chanel sales in the Phoenix store 46% in one quarter. Just because a client pre-orders from the Trunk Show does not always mean it translates to a sale when the item arrived.  No money changes hands at the time of the Truck Show, typically.

Models Automne-Hiver 1995-1996

As someone who understood commission I know that when a client orders an item they can be flush but when it arrives in three months they may not have the money for whatever reason.  One thing I did to secure pull through on sales was to have the client buy a gift card for the amount of the item during the Trunk Show; and, I would secure the gift card and run their purchase when it arrived.

They could still return the item if they didn’t like it; but, I noticed once something is paid for and they’re waiting for it (for moths) 90% of the time they do not return the item.

*All Lookbooks shown are for sale.  Please email if interested or to request additional information. Thanks for reading Melayna


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