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Calling All Designers

Saks Fifth Avenue sets out on a four-city mission to find new talent.<br><br><br><br>Saks Fifth Avenue took to the road in August on a cross-country trek to find new design talent that included stops in Atlanta and Miami. Michael Fink, Saks’...

Saks Fifth Avenue sets out on a four-city mission to find new talent.

Saks Fifth Avenue took to the road in August on a cross-country trek to find new design talent that included stops in Atlanta and Miami. Michael Fink, Saks’ national fashion director and European designer buyer for six years, focuses on finding product to differentiate Saks from other high-end retailers. Finding new talent is key, along with developing programs and packages with existing vendors, he said.

For three weeks in August, Fink and junior market editor Elizabeth Kanfer launched the company’s first tour of ‘Go Sees.’ Held at Saks stores in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and finally Atlanta, they interviewed designers and inspected their lines to see if they fit Saks’ spring 2003 merchandise mix.

“No other retailer travels to this extent to identify new talent,” said Fink.

Although the company has held ‘open calls’ in Manhattan for several years, this is the first time the mountain actually sought out Mohammed outside of New York.

“We wanted to reach designers who have not shown in New York and don’t have representation there,” said Fink. “Some of them aren’t producing yet, and if selected, we’ll help guide them through the process,” he added.

Nearly 300 young designers turned out for the four-city tour, and were given 15 minutes to present their collections and meet personally with Fink and Kanfer. The pair also offered advice to the new designers, some of whom were new to retailing and to the U.S. market.

Beth Sobol, the producer of Miami’s Fashion Week of the Americas, an annual show of Latin American designers, attended that city’s Saks go-see to present ten designers from Mexico, Panama, Trinidad, Peru and other countries, who had never shown in New York. Said Sobol, “Michael and Beth gave very informative feedback about breaking into the U.S. market and the designers were very positive about the information they received on how to reach the Saks client.”

According to Fink, Saks was looking for “simple, understated elegance. Quality, fine fabrics and a younger take on the classics.” Fink reported that California designers presented the best accessories, Miami an increased amount of eveningwear and ready-to-wear, but Atlanta provided the most balanced mix of ready-to-wear, couture eveningwear, contemporary and accessories from its young designers.

Marile Fuentes of Maria Elena in Miami presented jeweled bridal tiaras and handbags. Fuentes, for one, does show in New York, and is already sold in Neiman Marcus and Parisian. But most designers were relative newcomers to the Saks team. Most jewelry designers presented semiprecious or costume collections, but Jacqueline Sanchez of Atlanta and Esther Soued of Miami presented fine jewelry collections.

Fink reserved special praise for Amy Tan, the designer of Amy Tangerine, a 1-year-old contemporary line. Tan’s reconstructed T-shirts incorporate vintage fabrics and are handstitched, embroidered or printed. “Very of-the-moment,” Fink said.

Atlantan Marie Degeorge and Maribel Caban of Meanwhile in Miami, presented couture dresses. “Meanwhile is a first collection which is very architectural, sexy, modern and different,” said Fink, “and Degeorge’s couture eveningwear was excellent.”

Jorge Luis Salinas of Peru showed a line of embellished denim. Fink had judged Salinas’ crochet collection in New York’s GenArt competition, and was “very pleased with his denim collection presented in Miami.”

Another of Fink’s favorites was Miami’s Esteban Cortazar, an 18-year-old high school student who presented a collection of eveningwear and separates in aqua and chartreuse, which he said were inspired by the ocean. “I wanted to dive right into it,” said Fink.

Fink estimates that he found 20-25 new designers he would like to pursue. He will now present press kits, swatches, and possibly samples, to Saks buyers. Production will have to be in place to make the final cut, then the chosen designers will be promoted in store windows, catalogs, press releases and via direct mail. Promotions at the store level may also include a fashion show.

“We will support them in all aspects of promotion,” he said. Aside from that, the team also provides advice and moral support to its young talent. Said Sobol, “This is what new designers dream about.”