NEW YORK — Barneys New York. Big Drop. Bloomingdale’s. Patricia Field. These New York stores don’t have much in common, but according to designers of trendy, cutting-edge merchandise, they’re among the best of the fast fashion retail set nationwide.
The list of retailers who do a great job creating, jumping on, merchandising and selling fast fashion breaks down into three types:
The trend creators: Those little places — Patricia Field and other New York stores, such as Union, X-Large, 555 Soul and TG-170 — often tucked away in on-the-edge neighborhoods and frequented by the urban youths who are mostly responsible for creating the Next Hot Look. Oftentimes the owners of these stores insure they have the newest looks first by creating their own lines — which they might make available for wholesale — or by backing young designers in exchange for exclusive merchandise.
For example, Patricia Field does House of Field, Union is launching its own women’s T-shirt line, Big Drop provides some funding to young designers in exchange for exclusivity, 555 Soul makes the Strictly for Ladies line and TG-170 showcases the work of up-and-coming designers from its Lower East Side neighborhood.
The trend supporters: The well-known, upscale specialty stores like Barneys — in its CO/OP department — and Fred Segal on Melrose in Los Angeles, considered supporters of the Next Hot Look. However, their resources often hop on trends rather than create them.
The trend followers: These are the huge department stores that can sometimes move quickly to bring in a trend as soon as they hear about it, but usually come in on the news several months after the trend creators have introduced it. The store that received the most points from vendors was, hands down, Patricia Field, located in Greenwich Village and an arbiter of downtown New York style for 27 years.
“Undoubtedly, the fastest hand is Pat Field’s,” said New York designer Amanda Uprichard, who does the Living Doll line. “It’s a street thing there — Seventh Avenue couldn’t have predicted the stripe trend and that came from the streets. At Pat Field, it’s the combined energies of the people who work there that keeps it on the edge.”
Uprichard cited as trend creators: Union, on New York’s Spring Street; Romp, with a store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and another on lower Broadway in New York; X-Large, also in Los Angeles and downtown New York, and TG-170, on New York’s Ludlow Street.
“They’re not the big stores, but these are the people who create trends and don’t wait to see how they’ll go over,” she said. “Others, like NaNa [New York] and Up Against the Wall [Washington, D.C.] — they get in quickly, but they’re not the first. And Bloomingdale’s, they caught onto the athletic stripe trend pretty quickly. I’d been doing it since July, and I got in to see them with it in October. They didn’t buy it from me, but I thought Kal Ruttenstein [senior vice president of fashion direction] and Kim Koshiol [associate fashion director] were so cool. They’re obviously onto something.”
Located at 151 Ludlow St. on New York’s Lower East Side, 555 Soul is a store that wholesales its own women’s label, Strictly for Ladies. Katie Baggott, vice president, said she counts Patricia Field, Big Drop and Barneys CO/OP — as well as her own store, of course — as hot on the fast fashion beat.
“Those stores definitely know what’s happening,” she said.
Susan Balcunas, who runs House of Field, Patricia Field’s wholesale division, cited a diverse number of stores that she considers on the cutting edge. She said Untitled in the South Beach area of Miami Beach is best for “high-fashion trendy looks,” preferred by its celebrity clientele, and American Rag in San Francisco and F/X in Toronto are tops for “trendy looks that are tasteful and of good quality.”
The best stores for what Balcunas calls “the rock ‘n’ roll/bondage/punk scene” are Fantasy Unlimited in Seattle “for keeping up with the alternative rock ‘n’ roll club thing out there,” and Enzs, a New York store in Greenwich Village and on the Upper East Side, for “a look that’s very tight and brash.”
“It’s definitely the specialty stores, like Pat Field, that are the best at fast fashion,” she added. “Macy’s makes an attempt, but they bring it in quite a while after it’s been in the specialty stores. The small specialty stores are so good at it, because their salespeople are part of the whole club scene.”
Candy Store is a New York showroom that specializes in trendy club wear collections, including Atomic Age, Petticoat Lane, Madhouse and Retango.
“It’s quite a spectrum,” said owner Candy Blum, of stores that do fast fashion well. “At the top is Barneys CO/OP. They do it right, covering a little bit of everything. They’re very forward, fresh and trendy. Also, Fred Segal on Melrose, which is one of those stores everyone shops for the newest things. Then there are the trendy local stores, like Know Style on West 8th Street.”
Of the national stores, Blum said Merry-Go-Round, for all its financial problems, “is writing a lot of business. It’s getting even more trendy, and stores are being merchandised by theme. The buying is very organized now.”
She cited Macy’s Herald Square and Nordstrom’s New Jersey locations as department stores that have been making headway with fast fashion.
“Those stores aren’t right on the edge,” Blum said, “but they’re looking more forward than they were.” Betsey Johnson and Chantal Bacon, her partner, agree that in terms of creativity, “all those little stores on the Lower East Side are the best,” as Bacon put it.
“Those places on Ludlow Street and on East 7th Street in the East Village, where they make a lot of the clothes themselves,” she continued, “those are the most innovative and chancy.”
Of the stores Johnson sells to — which tend to be larger specialty stores and department stores — Bacon said Patricia Field is the best at fast fashion.
“Pat Field seems to be the only one who really will try something new,” she noted. “They understand it immediately. You don’t have to explain and wait for them to catch on.”
Ray Goodman, owner of Trash & Vaudeville in New York, a quintessential East Village rock ‘n’ roll store, wholesales Tripp, a trendy sportswear line, to other retailers. He noted that much of what’s in the Tripp collection comes out of popular items he makes for his own store first.
“Commander Salamander in Washington, D.C., does a good job,” Goodman said. “They’re real sharp at buying and spotting trends. They definitely know what’s going on. Of course, Fred Segal on Melrose is one of the greatest.”
On a larger scale, Goodman cited Macy’s Herald Square and individual Nordstrom stores as leaders in fast fashion. “From our experience, they do jump on trends quickly,” he added.
Ady Gluck-Frankel, founder of Necessary Objects, a junior sportswear firm that is known for getting on trends quickly, named Bloomingdale’s — “by a mile.”
“Kal Ruttenstein’s strong leadership always proves inspirational,” she added. “Together with his talented team, they put together the most current product selection, presentation and overall marketing. If there’s a trend happening, Bloomingdale’s has captured it first.”
And that, point out vendors, is what fast fashion is all about.