Coming from the editorial side of things, I never really "got" trade shows. At least trade shows in the sense of Magic or Bread and Butter.
My thoughts were: Why do buyers pay to attend a big fair packed with a gazillion vendors if you can see them individually on the runway for free and--if you like them--visit their showrooms a couple of weeks later?
Well, I was taught a big lesson from the buyers behind Oak, a mini-chain of boutiques in Brooklyn and New York which sell plenty of under-the-radar designers like Kai-aakmann and all-time favorites like Rick Owens and Alexander Wang.
They sat down with me on Monday at Capsule's new women's salon--which took place at the Angel Orensanz Foundation in New York's Lower East Side neighborhood--to chat about why trade shows are so damn important to their business.
Head buyer Kimberly Christenson and co-owner Louis Terline told me that they do indeed discover new designers at trade shows. It's not, as I had assumed, always through word of mouth or fashion week buzz. "We do attend fashion week in New York, Paris--and this year, Korea--because we like to see how the designers put their clothes into the context of a runway," said Christenson. "But we do a lot of scouting at trade shows."
The Capsule group focuses on menswear, and this latest show was their first foray into women's clothing. This year, buyers from Oak have already attended several Capsule events and plenty of other shows like Magic in Las Vegas.
In terms of new designers the team is excited about for fall, it's Rodger, a New York-based unisex label that skews avant-garde, something Oak's customer loves. They're also looking forward to further promoting the store's three in-house labels: Oak, which does high-end basics; Oak Black Label; which focuses on more directional designs; and a.ok, a diffusion line available on the bottom level of its Bond Street flagship. a.ok offers cheap-yet-cool basics; the bottom level also carries lower-priced but still well-designed labels like Blank Jeans.
When it comes to trends, Terline says he's loving more blouson pants for autumn. But the real story is the long skirt. "Extreme proportions have been so important for the last couple of seasons," says Terline. "The long skirt is certainly an extension of that."
I eventually left Christenson and Terline to do what they came to Capsule for: scout the latest and greatest. The duo will set up showroom appointments with the designers they like in order to further explore the collections.
On my way out, I ran into the lovely Peter Jensen, who was manning his own booth. What I learned from Oak, Jensen and Capsule in general: While runway shows play a role in sales, and so does word of mouth, the old fashion trade show still works.