Q&A: Sari Sloane

Forget a casual day of shopping. Saturday afternoon at Intermix is a veritable scrum of PYTs in pursuit of all things "It."

Forget a casual day of shopping. Saturday afternoon at Intermix is a veritable scrum of PYTs in pursuit of all things “It.” As vice president of fashion merchandising, Sari Sloane is responsible for stocking Intermix’s shelves with the latest in contemporary and high-end fashion. Here, she talks about trends, new talent and thriving in tough times.

This story first appeared in the August 14, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

WWD: What are some of your biggest trends for fall?

Sari Sloane: Leather. We’re seeing a lot, we’re selling a lot already. We’ve been selling a lot of leather jackets and pants. Helmut Lang, Mike & Chris, Twenty8Twelve [by s. miller].

WWD: It’s an ongoing issue: Do clothes ship too early? Have people been buying leather in the heat of August?

S.S.: We don’t buy collections. We buy specific items, key items and trends within all of our designers. A leather jacket might be seen as being a heavier fall item, but we don’t merchandise it that way. We’ll merchandise it with a little tank top and a pair of cutoff shorts, and all of a sudden, what’s considered a fall item becomes something that is much more buy now, wear now.

WWD: Have you altered your strategy with the economy?

S.S.: Every item has to be a must-have item. There’s no room for the extra.

What’s an example of an extra?

S.S.: It’s more that we’re being specific within the styles. Rather than picking eight styles from a delivery, I’d rather have four and have them be the “It” styles and buy twice as much of those. Buying narrower and deeper into the key items. So far it’s been working.

WWD: Does that mean that you’ve been buying less from emerging designers?

No. It’s at an item level. In an economy like this, our strategy is to maintain our fashion-forwardness, really buying the must-haves of the season. It’s more important than ever to have the newest designers, the latest product, and to have it in stock, because that’s what drives your business.

WWD: Have you been buying fewer European labels?

S.S.: You used to go to Europe and find a lot of emerging designers there, and now with the euro, it’s very difficult. All of the biggest collections are already working on their pricing structure so that the American market can still continue to support the brand. For us, it’s just about being cautious when we’re buying new European labels.

WWD: Speaking of emerging designers, you’ve launched quite a few.

S.S.: Yes. Young designers and relaunching established brands. We launched Elizabeth and James last year. We relaunched Hervé Léger exclusively. We brought back Givenchy and Balmain. We were the first [U.S. retailer] on both of those. We launched Current/Elliot jeans this year.

WWD: What is your criteria for launching or relaunching a designer?

S.S.: Two different things. One is just finding something new and buying it and seeing how it goes. The other is finding something new, knowing that it’s going to be a big hit, taking a big position, which entails a big risk because you’re doing something that’s unproven and securing exclusivity at the same time. Hopefully it takes off and you get a long run out of it before it’s in any other competitive stores. The key when we’re launching someone is that we really believe in it. We make sure that, from management in our buying office to our sales teams in all of our stores, they know the product and they get really educated. For us to relaunch older designer houses, particularly European, is really important because it’s what keeps fashion fresh. So many of today’s big and important collections out there are old houses that have amazing new talent behind them.

WWD: Is there anyone you wish would make a comeback?

S.S.: I’m excited that Balmain is making a comeback. That’s one that we really believe in and love.

WWD: Have you been taking a turn toward more luxury brands?

S.S.: We’ve always had designer luxury brands. At the same time we aren’t only a designer boutique. We’re much more of a lifestyle store so we offer the designer luxury pieces as well as whatever is the latest thing.

WWD: What would you like to see on the spring runways?

S.S.: In the pre-collections, there’s definitely been a lot of color. I’d like to see it continue, and more mixing of masculinity-femininity. The past two years were such a dress-oriented time. Fall is really about separates and mixing, and I’d like that to continue.

WWD: Any collection you’re really looking forward to?

S.S.: DVF, Stella [McCartney], Yigal [Azrouël]. I’m very curious and excited to see Chloé’s new collection with [its] new designer.