Reflecting on his eight years at WWDMAGIC, Chris Griffin, former president of the women’s trade show and current president of Sourcing @ MAGIC, discussed the changes through his tenure that have defined the show as an event, not just a business convention.
“I started in August 2007, and we’ve really taken the show to a completely different place,” he said. “As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, I think it’s our responsibility to move the show to a new place, keep it relevant and leave it better than when we got it. It’s a careful kind of balance. On one hand, you’re a steward because you’re taking something that has amazing heritage and you don’t want to mess that up. On the other hand, we never want to become a museum. We can’t ever rest on our laurels. We’ve got to reinvent and pay attention to the trends and where things are headed. Maybe that means letting go of something because it has had its run. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. That’s the thing I love — every six months you get to do it again and maybe fix something you didn’t like before or expand on something that was really interesting. Not that many businesses give you that opportunity.”
Griffin talks a mile a minute, but he’s passionate about his job. He comes bearing relics for his own visual timeline of the show: blow-up posters of Betsey Johnson and the “Dreaming of Chanel” book jacket, a WWD 100th Anniversary coffee-table book, even a jar of L’Oréal’s Magic Smoothing cream.
“Our job is to educate, to inspire, to motivate. It’s not just laying carpet and selling booths,” Griffin said. “We reflect our industry, but we also need to nudge it sometimes.
“There’s so much out there, and we try and shine the spotlight on what you should pay attention to,” he said.
For example, the February 2012 show featured a 50-by-8-foot iPad art wall just after Apple’s tablet launched. Brands including Jessica Simpson, Levi’s, Free People and French Connection loaded them with content.
The blogger lounge in August 2011 featured panels where bloggers explained why retailers should follow them and what crowdsourcing is. These are just two new things that have become part of the fabric of fashion and retail.
The show has always been a hub for buyers from around the world, and its brands have reflected that as well. “As the world gets smaller and globalization continues in every sector of fashion, [we are] able to give a platform for a cluster of Tokyo brands and a cluster of French or European brands,” he said of the various international pavilions and areas like Heart of Pret and Japan Fun Time.
Desigual, the Spanish young contemporary brand, one year put the “show” in trade show by bringing Cirque du Soleil to its booth, for one of the biggest spectacles in memory. “Maybe that’s made it harder for brands and for us to some degree, but in the world of the 24-hour news cycle and the Internet, people should expect to come to a fashion trade event and be entertained and compelled to walk into booths and explore,” he said. “And shame on us if we don’t provide that.”
As for the present, Griffin is proud that the MAGIC brand has extended to New York with the Forward show that made its debut this month.
“We knew for some time that our junior and young contemporary brands would be interested if we could do something in New York, because they do well with us in Las Vegas. So Forward is a culmination of years of back-office work.”
Looking forward to February, he said, “Part of the key is being in the moment, and the only way that happens is if you don’t plan too far out. So we get through the August show and then start to clear the decks mentally — and look forward.”
He foresees a further delineation of the overall women’s business, continued integration with ENK (now called Project Womens), and streamlining the number of labels and brands to make it simpler for buyers.
“We’ll continue marketing from a vertical stand- point. We’re up to what, 12 shows now? We had to shift to more verticals because there are too many shows, too much overlap. Someone who buys women’s would end up getting 50 different e-mails and now they’ll just get an e-mail that speaks to women’s and they’ll click on that and all the shows that touch that category are represented. I think there’ll be more of that going forward.
“We are in the business for selling exhibit space, but I view that as such an understatement,” he concluded. “When you walk into Accessories and see the showcase we created with the Accessory Council, those are things that alter perceptions and get people energized. And when you’re energized, you write more.”