For the Record: Eric Jennings
For the Record is The Steel Crew’s new series of dialogue with leaders and up-and-comers in the fashion, arts, and entertainment industries. We are the inquiring minds, and we want to know more…don’t you?
This edition of For the Record is with Men’s Fashion Director for Saks Fifth Avenue, Eric Jennings. Mr. Jennings was kind enough to give us an interview at the Saks Men’s Store in downtown San Francisco, where he was hosting a spring collection preview.
The full interview after the jump.
The Steel Crew: How was the flight from New York? Do you get to come out here often?
Eric Jennings: A couple times a year. I’ve got my family out here, so I get out here for Christmas and Mother’s Day and stuff.
TSC: So I don’t know if Franchesca told you, but we’re writers for TheSteelCloset.com, which is a fashion website that focuses mainly on [events] in or around San Francisco. I guess one of the first questions we have to ask is, How’s your day? How’s all this been going for you (TSC indicates the preparations for the spring preview) today?
EJ: It’s great! You know I haven’t eaten anything, so I’m a little hungry, but they set up an appointment for me with some of their top clients, so luckily I’ve been able to meet face-to-face with “this guy”. You know – the fashion savvy customer, and that’s been terrific.
Sometimes in New York, we get, you know…[entrenched] in our little castle, with the fashion world, and Europe, in the buying offices and the showrooms, that we don’t actually get to speak to the guy who’s buying the products, so it’s fantastic to be able to do that.
TSC: That’s another question that we wanted to ask you. How do you determine, when you’re picking selections for the upcoming seasons, how do you choose between what has traditionally sold well versus something you think will be a big seller, or can sell well?
EJ: I work very closely with the merchant team..but there’s 15 buyers in all the areas that I manage. Men’s, clothing, furnishing, shoes, accessories, home, gifts, whatnot. I want to find things that are new and fresh, that are not going to alienate the customer, so it’s also something that’s really also commercial. So you want to keep the trends very specific, on the one hand, but you also want to make it commercial so that it appeals to a broad base of customers.
TSC: How do the regional differences come into play?
EJ: It’s significant. You really have to find trends that will appeal to all regions. You know, we have a lot of stores in the Southern tier, and there, weather is a big factor, and a lot of times what you see on the runways just doesn’t apply to the Southern tier…Florida, Texas, California.
TSC: How would, say, a spring collection in New York differ from a spring collection out here in San Francisco?
EJ: Weights…I suppose weights will be [important]. It’s spring, it’s pretty light…I think it has more to do with outerwear. We’ll bring in more outwerwear in this region, you know, where it’s more weather-appropriate. I think for the spring season it’s not that different. It’s the fall season where you really see a shift.
TSC: I figured that we have fairly nice weather out here, but I know it can get really nasty out in New York, you know?
TSC: We were wondering if there are any different textiles, fabrics, anything that you look differently at.
EJ: In the fall season, absolutely! You know, much heavier weights, and then chunky sweaters, and leather, and things like that.
TSC: Are there any specific items or designers that you think are going to be really, really great for this season that you want our readers to know about?
EJ: [nods head] Honestly right now, I love Rag & Bone, I love Michael Bastien, I love Helmut Lang. Burberry is on the horizon in a big way. Prorsum is such a fantastic line.
TSC: I hate to keep you from the party too long! But you know, aside from the runway, the catalogs, other things like that, are there any other places that you look to for inspiration?
EJ: Pitti Uomo… the trade show, Tranoi in Paris…you know I’ve found some great great things at those shows.
TSC: Okay, we would be completely remiss if we didn’t ask any questions about the economic climate…
EJ: And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about that, because it’s a hot topic and you need to address that. So, shoot!
TSC: We were wondering if you’ve noticed any changes at all in the way people…
TSC: …the way people not only purchase things, but style themselves…
TSC: …and dress themselves?
EJ: Yes! And I’ll tell you how. Men are not buying basics. They’re not replacing their navy-blue suit. What they are buying is novelty, color, something that’s unique, that’s special, that’s colorful…THAT’s what they’re buying. You know, something that puts a smile on your face, something that there’s an emotional connection to…
TSC: …that takes them away from all this [the economy]?
EJ: Yeah! That’s what people are spending their money on.
But they’re also price-conscious, they’re definitely looking for sales, they’re looking at the tag/ticket. So we’re looking, as a company, for things that offer great value for our customer.
TSC: Have you changed up the designers that you pick or the items that you put out based on price-conscious shoppers at all?
EJ: We’re looking for things that are accessible. We need to have those big names, those are important. That’s what Saks is about, but we’re also looking for brands that are accessible.
TSC: You know, piecing together a quality wardrobe on a budget is always a concern for most people. Do you have any tips or recommendations for people that want to buy great things?
EJ: I think you have to consider what you’re spending your money on. Whether you call it quality or luxury or value, those are things that you need to look for. You want to buy something that’s not only going to last your lifetime…but something you can pass on to your kids, or something that will be found in a vintage shop, not in a landfill somewhere.
You know what I’m saying? This whole idea of disposable clothing – wear it now, get rid of it [later] – that ends up in a landfill…I think you want to look for those pieces that are special, put a smile on your face, things that you know are going to last. There’s a timelessness to that.
TSC: And one more fun question for our readers: If your closet was burning down, and you had to take one thing only from it, what would you take?
EJ: [Laughs, thinks for a bit]
…Probably these shoes. I mean, I love these shoes! They’re actually Saks Fifth Avenue, wingtip…pebble-grain wingtip. I live in these shoes. Suits, jeans, shorts, no socks, they’re the most brilliant pair of shoes in the world. And the older they get, the better they get.
TSC: Mr. Jennings, thank you again.
EJ: Do you mind if I get one picture with you [indicates Cas]?
Click on the photo above to see last week’s coverage of the Saks Men’s Spring Preview.
Thanks again to Mr. Jennings, Franchesca, Saks Fifth Avenue Men’s SF, and everyone else involved with this interview.