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2012 April 26

The Buyer Dishes! H&M's Nicole Christie Decodes 'Fashion Star'

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Nicole Christie, Nicole Richie, and John Varvatos Nicole Christie, Nicole Richie, and John Varvatos
Courtesy H&M
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(NEW YORK) There's a duo of Nicoles on NBC's Fashion Star, and while you're probably quite familiar with Nicole Richie, acting as a mentor alongside John Varvatos on the interestingly biz-skewed small screen style throwdown, it's about time you meet Nicole Christie, buyer and communications manager for H&M who dukes it out via bids with buyers Caprice Willard from Macy's and Terron E. Schafer from Saks Fifth Avenue. Christie hosted a bash at H&M's outpost on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street alongside Varvatos, Richie, an the show's slew of designers earlier this week, and your Daily caught up with Christie for the scoop on what she's looking to buy, how the retail landscape has changed during her time in the industry, and getting stared at on the subway.
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV 

What happens on Fashion Star when the cameras stop rolling? 
Even though it's really competitive between the buyers on the show, there's a lot of discussions behind the scenes about the designers and what we like and don't like. It's surprising! You'd think we would keep our cards to our chests more often, but we realized early on that we needed to have open conversations in order to agree on a grand prize winner at the end.

What's your biggest advantage of buying for H&M on the show, versus Saks or Macy's?

We're invested in the entire process, from the design stage until the garment hits the sales floor. It's because we're a design house, and we don't buy other labels, unlike Saks or Macy's. We find designers from all over the world; many of them even move to Sweden to work for H&M! Also, we're set apart by our great price points. 

What is that H&M process? 
We're not really concerned with what looks good when a designer sets the garment down in front of us; it's about what happens from beginning to end that matters as well. We also have a very collaborative style with the designers, so we know what works and what doesn't; H&M gives input throughout the process. Yes, we want designers to think really freely and creatively, but at the end of the day this is a business and you have to think about the commercial side of the equation as well. 

Have you cribbed any tricks or observations from your fellow Fashion Star buyers' techniques?
It's interesting to learn how each of us structure things differently based on our business' needs. But there's not a lot I didn't know; I've worked for Bloomingdale's and other traditional retailers before.

So are they doing things the same or similarly to when you were in the department store scene?
Seeing what those stores are looking for today is interesting; it's different than what it used to be. Retailers across the board are trying to adapt to the economy and the demand for value; even at Saks Fifth Avenue! High-end retailers weren't paying attention to that in the past. 

Is there anything that really doesn't have a place on the H&M selling floor?
If it doesn't complement or add something to our collections, we're not going to go for it. Bouclé jackets in the spring? We're not interested!  

What's the real deal with working alongside the show's mentors, Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson, and John Varvatos, plus host Elle Macpherson? 
We are all our true selves after 14 hours on set, I'll say that much! 

Have you been fielding lots of cold calls and pitches? 
Yes! On LinkedIn, Facebook, everything. People want advice on furthering their design careers, and details about getting on the show. This is really opening the dialogue about what it takes to sell a collection, not just what it takes to sell a design. Designers have started to think differently about their ambitions because of Fashion Star. On the show, the type of strategic thinking we're seeing is amazing compared to when the designers first started; six episodes in, they're really getting it. 

How does the in-store action for
Fashion Star threads compare to, say, Marni for H&M mania? 
People come in to buy the garments and end up talking to each other; they end up hanging out and talking about the show. They're involved in the plotlines, so they often buy based on their favorite designers or buyers.

Do you get recognized often nowadays?
I grew up in New York, and I think New Yorkers are just so unaffected. Celebrities walk by all the time. But it's really the staring that I've noticed; I'd rather people just talk to me. 
Where is the staring most rampant? 
The subway is where I've seen the biggest change. I didn't understand at first why people were staring at me - it makes me wonder if there's something on my face! And then I realized. 

Do you get recognized often nowadays?
I grew up in New York, and I think New Yorkers are just so unaffected. Celebrities walk by all the time. But it's really the staring that I've noticed; I'd rather people just talk to me. 

Where is the staring most rampant? 

The subway is where I've seen the biggest change. I didn't understand at first why people were staring at me - it sometimes makes me wonder if there's something on my face! 

 




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