In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
It's one of the busiest times of the year for Alix Rutsey, a menswear buyer for the online retailer Ssense. She's been traveling with her buying team and manager to attend fashion shows and market appointments, and meet with designers. Afterwards, she'll be back at the Ssense office in Montreal, placing orders for the upcoming fall season of menswear from the likes of Yeezy, Loewe, Burberry and more.
Rutsey got her start with an internship at Holt Renfrew in her hometown of Toronto, which turned into a full-time position as a women's contemporary assistant buyer, where Rutsey was able to merge her business degree and analytical approach to fashion. After a few years, she decided to explore the sales side of the business and moved to Montreal to work for a multi-brand women's contemporary showroom, whose clients at the time included Robert Rodriguez, Rich & Skinny denim, Joie and Equipment.
Rutsey's first jump into menswear also involved sales for a global fast fashion retailer called Bestseller. "There's such respect for the garment in menswear and there's so much focus on craftsmanship and quality that I've always been fascinated by it," says Rutsey. "Making the jump was very exciting for me."
A typical day at the office always changes for Rutsey but it usually involves managing the retailer's in-season business or inventory alongside the creating, planning, marketing and studio teams. "We're often in and out of meetings, sharing our buys and what's happening on the creative front," she says. "And then some days are extra exciting." Last month, she worked with menswear enthusiast Ian Connor on a special photo shoot and interview for Ssense's website.
Fashionista was able to catch Rutsey just before she started her travels to Europe for the men's fashion weeks in Milan and Paris. (As you're reading this, she's just touched down in the Big Apple for New York Fashion Week: Men's.) We spoke about fashion show versus market appointments, what it's like being a female menswear buyer and her favorite trends for men at the moment.
Are there any challenges or advantages to being a female buyer for menswear?
With my name being Alix, a gender-neutral name, the response when I walk into a showroom is sometimes, 'Oh, you're not a man.' It's not really a challenge because there are a lot female buyers and women in sales for menswear. And the men's market tends to be a bit more casual, a bit more relaxed, so I can walk into a showroom wearing my Vans with no problem. I love it.
Do you have a preference between attending a designer's fashion show versus a market appointment?
They are two completely different experiences. Shows are wonderful because they give us a sneak peek at the collection. They really allow us to get immersed in the designer's vision. But the showroom is really where our work is. We view the entire collection because not all a brand's pieces will make it to the runway. We see a lot that the public hasn't seen. I love touching and feeling, and being outspoken with the products. That's where I thrive and it's also where I learn how my colleagues interpret the designer' s collection. Then we narrow it through the Ssense lens, which is very forward-thinking and directional.
How do you prepare for a market appointment?
Market is definitely crazy so I try to do as much prep as possible. What a lot of people don't know is that there is such an analytical aspect to it. For brands we already have, I'll look at their previous performance — what works, where we should scale back — so when I see this season's collection, I have a strong understanding of where we've been. We see a ton of brands in a day, running around from showroom to showroom. It's super busy but it's my favorite part of my job.
What are your favorite menswear brands at the moment?
Right now is probably one of the hardest times to choose a favorite because there is so much happening in menswear. This past month alone we've introduced Cottweiler, Craig Green, Phoebe English and Wales Bonner at Ssense. They are all amazing emerging designers with such different perspectives.
I think it's amazing. Androgyny has been a buzzword for a while but it's the reality of what's going on. Of course there are differences designing for men's and women's bodies, but the gender divisions are much less rigid. It's going both ways. Phoebe English, who I mentioned before, was originally a women's designer. Then she put out her menswear collection and it's stunning.
Do you incorporate a lot of menswear into your wardrobe?
I have a lot of menswear-inspired trousers from women's designers because they're tailored to a woman's body. And I tend to stick with T-shirts, sweaters and jackets. I look at a piece and if I love it and it's comfortable, I buy it. It's hard to pick a favorite item but I spend a lot of time in my extra-large Gosha Rubchinskiy T-shirt and bomber jacket.
As you know, the men's market is booming. What are some advances in menswear that you've noticed recently?
The industry is thriving and it's great to see such an interest in this side of the business. I think about the conversations between my guy friends. They talk about menswear designers the way my father talks about cars and sports. It's so commonplace. They embrace emerging designers, take an interest in their own personal style and go to shows or follow shows online.
What are your favorite menswear trends right now?
I really like the tailored sportswear that's happening. There's also this UK influence of mixing sportswear with more traditionally tailored pieces, like a tracksuit under a great coat. Burberry just showed it for fall in London. From Cottweiler, there's more of a more contemporary flair. It's new and fresh but it's functional. I also really like how Wales Bonner and Raf Simons are playing with proportion this spring.
Speaking of tailored sportswear, streetwear is also having a huge moment. Do you think it's separate from menswear? Some designers tend to distinguish themselves from one or the other.
There's so much going on with both and I think that collections are now allowed to have a lot of freedom, which is wonderful. It's normal to walk into a showroom and see a tailored suit next to a pair of sweatpants. It's not important to put a category title on a designer or brand. Is the vision there? Is it new or exciting? I don't think putting anyone in a box is relevant. Men wear women's clothes, women are wearing men's clothes. You don't need these parameters.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Update: This story was updated to mention the brands that Rutsey directly manages at Ssense. A previous version mentioned the brands that Ssense offers for men online.