SUSAN HERRON, WHO DUBS HER CONTEMPORARY SHOWROOM “COLLECTIONS OF COMFORT,” DISCUSSES THE RETURN OF FUN CLOTHING AND THE IMPORTANCE OF CREATING AN INVITING ATMOSPHERE.
Byline: Elaine Glusac
Lines: Barbara Lesser, Putumayo, Cream, Tom Tom, Love Tent
Years in the industry: 15; 10 as a business owner
WWD: To what do you attribute the rise of popularity in contemporary lines?
Herron: If you look at the Sixties and the Seventies, what we were wearing was fun, and we were having a lot of fun. I still have my first pair of hip-hugger bell-bottoms. Thinking back, I would have put all my clothes in a scrapbook if possible.
Then there was the Eighties, and I didn’t have any emotional attachments to anything. It seemed like a decade that was lacking identity. So to me, the Nineties are a time when we’re once again celebrating the freedom of having fun while still expressing our style. And fashion expresses our personality. I think everyone’s having a great time.
WWD: Are retailers responding?
Herron: They’re telling me that through their orders. I feel we have made a complete circle. Everything that my stores told me they did not want [a few years ago], they’re asking for today — like lime green, tangerine and powder blue with brown, tiny Ts, hip-huggers — everything that was a no-go. For as long as I can remember, I couldn’t sell anything in lime green. It’s stronger than ever in the past year. And people used to want long, oversized jackets that covered their hips and I couldn’t sell anything sleeveless. Now we’re getting into halters and hip-huggers and crazy colors. It’s fun.
WWD: Is fashion that wakes up the wardrobe a good stimulant for business?
Herron: Yes. We were so safe in the Eighties. It’s time to quit being so safe. Let’s have some fun with it.
Another thing could be that contemporary clothing has a much more hip, carefree, youthful attitude. Haven’t you noticed there’s a lot fewer people aging these days? I don’t see as many people growing ‘old’ as I used to. It is the time to stay young, and contemporary clothing expresses a much more youthful attitude than traditional clothing.
WWD: What’s your philosophy in doing business?
Herron: I’m a very passionate person and so is everyone in my organization. We are people people, and we’re very enthusiastic. I’ve never been in business for a season. I’ve heard horror stories of representatives who take that approach. When I started in the industry, I wasn’t just selling Cream clothing or Barbara Lesser — I was selling Susan Herron, because lines were going to come in and go out of my showroom, but I always had to be here. I developed a rapport and trust with my customers so that whatever I had they would always give it a look, and if there was any way they could fit in it their stores, they would definitely try it. Yes, the item has to be right, but the rep is very important. I think I’m my customer’s single most important source of information. It’s my responsibility to share with them all the experiences I have seen, things I’ve seen work as well as not work. I can talk you into a style if it’s a winner. But if it’s a loser, and I’ve witnessed people bomb with it, I’m going to talk you right out of that, too. I want you to come back. I want you to get the goods in and sell them out so you have to come back in and buy next season. We want shops to stay in business. If they’re not in business, I’m not in business. Bottom line: I need them, they need me. I think it’s an equal need for each other.
WWD: You’ve put a lot into decorating your showroom with paint, art and flowers. How does the showroom contribute to your message?
Herron: I don’t like sterile surroundings. I think this showroom, like fashion, is a reflection of our personalities. I believe our home — our home of fashion — should be a reflection of our personalities as well as of the clothing we represent. We don’t want a person to feel threatened. We want it to feel warm and friendly. There’s usually reggae music in the background. We want you to feel not only comfortable with the clothing you’re wearing but comfortable with us. I want customers to feel good. I want them to come through the doors. If we’re not smiling and having a good time in here, why would anyone want to come in?