Aïssa Widar, menswear buyer
“The next months are going to bring about many changes that we’ll have to adapt to.”
In the world of fashion, the profession of buyer is not always familiar to the public at-large and yet, it plays an essential role. A veritable link between a brand and its clientele, the buyer’s selection defines a proposition and a certain vision of fashion. Between trends, the relationships with different actors in the sector, or even key moments of the year, we decided to look into it further. We therefore met with Aïssa Widar, menswear buyer and a perfect representative of this profession.
Can you explain your current job?
I am currently a buyer for Galeries Lafayette and BHV Marais, for all the stores in this network. I manage a portfolio of some thirty brands that correspond to the contemporary market. My role is to define and drive an offer of premium and differentiating brands to satisfy our clientèle, and I’m always on the lookout for products that are both desirable and sustainable.
How did you get here?
My training has “business” at its foundation thanks to a Masters of Management with a major in Finance from the Sorbonne, which I complemented with a year of specialisation at the l'Institut Français de la Mode via post-graduate studies in Luxury, Fashion & Design Management.
It’s been 10 years now that I’ve been making my way through the fashion sector, in different jobs at different levels. I started off at the Bon Marché when I was still a student and then moved to Le Printemps for a final-year internship, with stops at Lanvin and Saint Laurent. I then became a buyer within the Galeries Lafayette group, where I’ve been working for over 5 years.
During my Management Studies at the Sorbonne, I started working part-time at the Bon Marché (on Saturdays) as a sales associate. This contact with the world of department stores, its products and its clients, opened my eyes to the obvious: Fashion was it!
I then had the chance to go to the Institut Français de la Mode in order to deepen my knowledge of all the subjects linked to product but also brands: whether it was their identify, their strategy or their positioning.
In addition to my natural passion for the world of fashion, my experiences gave me deep understanding of an industry that has sharpened and shifted over the years, and the more time went by, revealed a passion for the world of department stores and selective distribution.
What is it about being a buyer in the fashion world that stimulates you?
I think it’s because this is a milieu that places importance on the expression of different personalities, as there is a breadth of profiles and types that is very nourishing and allows for human development.
I come into contact with this diversity at the Galeries Lafayette every single day.
This is also a milieu in which creativity is expressed. This is in fact the heart of our job. As a buyer in the world of fashion, you get the opportunity to see beautiful things, beautiful collections, and beautiful products, which nourish a big part of dreams and emotions.
What is really stimulating and specific to the job of buyer in the fashion world is our capacity to anticipate trends and take a chance on certain designers. It is also a world of passionate people!
What criteria helps you decide which services will be offered in the boutique?
We aim to offer our clients a complete cross-channel experience, so that they can take care of everything in our boutique: pick up an order, return an internet order, book a personalised appointment to try on a product seen on the internet, pay using various digital payment modes, etc.
How is your year structured? What are the critical events?
In menswear, the year, for a buyer, is focused on two seasons: Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. The most intense times of the year are mainly those around the periods in which the brands present their collections: December/January for next winter’s season and June/July for the following summer. During these two periods, buyers go from one appointment to the next non-stop, placing their orders for the stores.
Professional trade shows are also essential: Who’s Next, le Man, le Capsule in Paris, Pitti Uomo in Florence, CIFF and Revolver in Copenhague, Seek, Premium and Panorama in Berlin; these are just a few as there are many more. They are essentiel because they allow us to sharpen our radar so that we can renew the offer for our clients and just generally take in the mood of the moment and capture the trends and transformations that the market is experiencing.
There are also, obviously, the Mens Fashion Weeks, in January and June of every year, which are all over the international media and are very powerful marketing tools for fashion brands.
In addition to its exceptional character, the post-confinement period that we are now undergoing is very interesting because it is going to undoubtedly lead to many sector mutations, particularly after the announcement from certain brands that they will be changing pace (for example there is Saint Laurent which announced that it would be presenting its collections according to its own agenda). The next few months are going to bring numerous changes that we are going to have to adapt to.
How does one stand out in this milieu?
You hit the nail on the head as one of the main challenges for a department store is to differentiate itself.
This happens several ways. One is to offer our clients an exclusivity for certain brands, but also for certain products within these brand’s range. We may even strike up partnerships with these brands to develop exclusive products that align with certain themes within our stores or with certain periods of the year, like Christmas. Brands are happy to join us in “theatrilizing” our spaces as they are very conscious of how important it is to propose different stories that can tap into the creative energy that the Galeries Lafayette offers.
The differentiating experience in the store can also be expressed by the chance to express something different at a pop-up, like capsule collections or featuring a collaboration between two brands, for example. They are featured within the store in ephemeral spaces that are very visible thanks to the visual or design concepts which are often different and even exceptional.
Moreover, we can differentiate ourselves through the messages and values we stand for. For example, two years ago, we launched the “Go for Good” label to signify more sustainable fashion. This subject is taking on a more and more important role in the consciences and actions of consumers and it is essential for Galeries Lafayette to take on a major role. This is an engagement of our Group, whose mission is to do this for the long haul and which Galeries Lafayette highlights every year in the month of September via our "Changeons de Mode” (Let’s Change Fashion) initiative.
Beyond negotiations with the brand, what is the critical step of the buying process?
The critical step of the buying process is to make the right choices for our clients during our appointments at the fashion shows and in the showrooms. That is the moment where we define a selection and choose the pieces to make it up. Even if we can tweak things afterwards, it is really at that moment that buying decisions are made.
What criteria are used when choosing between one piece and another?
At the end of every season, the buyer draws up an evaluation of how a collection did, which allows the brand to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of its collection. This analysis includes the types of products as well as the the product categories that were most - and least - successful.
We also work with an internal trend forecasting office that shares with us the main trends of a season (materials, colours, main products, store themes...) which also impacts our choices when we are considering our options during our buying process
Finally, we work closely with brands as they can also have an input thanks to their knowledge of their own collections, the key looks they will be proposing, or the marketing focuses they will be rolling out during the commercialisation of the collections in question.
At any time does your personal taste come into play?
The only time that personal taste comes into play is when the buyer him or herself is part of the brand’s target group … but I think that is pretty rare. A good buyer should know how to buy anything. It is really the analysis and understanding of the client that should drive a buyer’s choices. In fact, during the showroom appointments, imagining how the final client, the product’s target audience, will react, is what should impact the buyers’ choices. This allows for more targeted choices in addition to the criteria we just mentioned.
What, according to you, is the main quality of a good buyer?
For me, the principle quality of a good buyer is curiosity: his or her thirst to discover new things, to be as curious about people as trends; and not only in the world of fashion. There’s also music, travel, architecture, design, cinema, art, literature, magazines, concept stores, bars and restaurants…
The most recent things you fell in love with in menswear?
I adore Nanushka for men, which is a “contemporary house for modern men.” This brand proposes a complete wardrobe, with a creative touch and refreshing colours. I also really love Casablanca, a Franco/Moroccan brand created in 2018 that is really on the up and up right now, and deservedly so as the collections skilfully mix influences from street to exoticism. Finally, Random Identities, created by Stefano Pilati (the ex-artistic director of Yves Saint Laurent) which explores the fusion of genres with a no-gender collection that is very savvy and of the moment.