In our long-running series "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion and beauty industries about how they broke in and found success.
Maud Barrionuevo might not be a street-style mainstay or a must-follow Instagram star. But she has been stocking some of the world's chicest shopping destinations – LVMH-owned Parisian department store Le Bon Marché and, more recently, its e-comm offshoot 24 Sèvres — with a stream of the most desirable products around for over a decade.
It's unusual in this industry that someone might stay at one place for over 15 years, but that's just what Barrionuevo did, starting out in childrenswear at Le Bon Marché and working her way up to become the head of buying at 24 Sèvres in October 2015. Since then, she's been building up the relative newcomer to help it become a major global player in the luxury market. It surely helps that she spent the previous five years leading the international luxury brand buy, working with brands like Givenchy and Alexander McQueen.
"We've learned a lot since the launch from our customers — with the feedback that we have, and the events we are doing with them," she says over the phone from Paris. "We were quite surprised to have such tremendous response from the U.S. and we have a major audience in the U.S., which is great; we're quite happy that they understand this French approach that we're providing."
We chatted with Barrionuevo to learn just what that "French approach" is, why she's never been tempted to work at another company and what she thinks it means to be a buyer today. Read on for the highlights.
What first interested you in fashion?
I think the first thing that interested me was the products: the creativity around the products, the fabric, the architecture of the garment, the craftsmanship behind the product. It's also because it's a world where it's very versatile, and you can be one day a woman and the other day another woman if you want to just by styling yourself differently. These are the two aspects that I'm interested in.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I studied in a French business school called EDHEC, where you have a global overview of marketing and also different aspects, like legal and business analysis and things like that. I always specialized my internships on fashion companies during my studies because I had the idea to move on and to work for a fashion company, and I was also a member of a student association, who organized a young designer contest at the time.
Did you know that you wanted to be in the buying side?
I was maybe not so aware what was the buyer at that time, but I had the idea to be a product manager to work directly on the product. The occasion and opportunity came with Le Bon Marché to start with them as a buyer for the children area. It was really very exciting to see that it was the perfect job for me, because it was creativity and the love of figures at the same time. Both sides of my brain were excited, or working, let's say, at the same time.
How did you get started at Le Bon Marché?
I was appealed by a job listing, so I had an interview first with the general manager at that time. He told me that he was looking for young students with potential to be buyers and the first step was to work with him directly during one or two years on different projects, and then to learn the job of what a buyer is.
How did you work your way up at the company?
I had the chance to change my buying area every two to three years; it was a renewal for me as a very exciting mission each time. I started with children, then I worked on sportswear — men's and women's. Then I had to buy contemporary brands, with new brands at that time, like See by Chloe, Étoile by Isabel Marant, Paul & Joe Sister; so many brands started to launch their second line and it was very exciting time for us because it was absolutely a tremendous response from the customers. Then, I had a chance to work for the luxury branch, and I worked on all categories: leather goods, ready-to-wear, jewels and shoes.
Why did you want to stay with Le Bon Marché for so long?
Because each time I had a new challenge; they offered me a new product with new challenges to tackle. So for me, there was no point to change. At the end, the last job I had, I really wanted to discover another point of view. They just came out with this new venture of 24 Sèvres and I thought it was really it was really good timing for me to discover buying online; it was the way I wanted to grow. Another option could have been to go for houses, like other LVMH houses, but I thought it was more interesting, because it's the way the commerce is evolving, toward digital.
How has switching from the department store to digital changed your job?
Well, it's quite different. The buyings are different because, when you're online, you have to buy more visual pieces and it's also a question of buying them more in-depth rather than Le Bon Marché buying a whole story, so building the buyings around a theme. It's quite different online, because it's more a question of having a very visually appealing page and it's a different way of approaching merchandising. You have to keep in mind that dark colors are more difficult to take a good picture of, and things like that. And also, people are not afraid to buy some very expensive pieces online, so we can display the fashion pieces easily and they're looking for them on the websites.
How has social media changed your job?
I think it's a direct link to customers, because you can easily see their expectations through social media. It's also much easier to discover new brands, new emerging brands or trends. For instance, we featured some new brands because they were on Instagram and they were quite strong, like By Far or Ganni. It's also not the only tool that we can use; we'll also use our own network to discover new brands. But, in a way, we're moving to the customer and their voice through social media.
What does your day-to-day look like?
It really depends on the moment. For instance, right now we're having the fashion week for menswear and during fashion week, it's a crazy time. We have to balance our timing between showrooms and fashion shows; we're trying to go to and to see as much as possible, as many brands as possible. The idea is to do the buying, to see all the major brands, but also to approach new ones and to do prospection and also to be there during fashion shows. So it's a tough period — very exciting too. We're in the middle of it and next week we will have haute couture week, and then the many fashion weeks are running out until Paris.
What are you looking for in new talent?
It depends on the buying strategies that we have. Right now, on the site, we're having a very good response for all accessories, so we're looking at many brands specialized in leather goods, shoes and sneakers which is not any more a trend, it's really a global category. It's so huge and important that we have to push more for this sneakers.
Ready-to-wear is still good; we have to stabilize and work deeper with the brands we are carrying. And we don't want to propose too many brands, because we have a strong vision of our editorial line and for right now, we'll stick to the brands that we have. Maybe we'll have one to two, three more brands to give new names and to speak about new brands, but still, it's really only the ones that we want absolutely.
How do you set 24 Sèvres apart from other e-commerce sites?
Mainly it's all about DNA; this "Made in France" and this French DNA mix-and-match approach that we have. It gives a different tone and voice to the website. The way we're working with brands also is really to try to provide exclusive products every month, so having some capsules with them. The way we're displaying and having our merchandising on the site, having a "Look of the Day" everyday, it's so important to give our vision of fashion. It's a lot of work, but I think customers are quite keen to discover each day this new proposition with our own point of view. The background of the page of product is quite different from competitors who display only on white backgrounds.
So many different points, from the contents, to the assortment that we propose, to the exclusive brands that we have on the site, make us different.
How do you feel like someone can develop talent as a buyer?
I think the beginning is to be passionate about fashion. It's not only the glamorous part that we imagine, being at fashion week and to see fashion shows, it's a lot of work. We can say work hard and earn your way to the top, not to just to go to the events. It's a lot of long nights and days to work in fashion.
What do you wish you had known before starting out in your career?
The industry has evolved quite a lot since the start of my career; I think it's more and more analytical, so you'll have to be very focused on the strategy that you have and focus on the feedback coming from the customers. The industry's moving very fast now, and their expectation is also moving very fast, so you have to be on the same path, and to be really attentive. Pay attention to the signs of the market globally, and specifically of your customers. I think this is the key of everything, to be relevant.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.