Harvey Nichols’ Averyl Oates talks to Drapers about her route to the top and the designers that have helped to shape her fashion career.
How did you get to where you are today?
I started in fashion on the other side of the camera. I used to work on the shop floor in Miss Selfridge while I was studying for my degree in music at Leeds University, and it was there that I was spotted by a modelling agency. I started modelling and travelling, which brought me into contact with international fashion, and I realised I wanted to be more involved in the business.
I started as associate buyer at Laura Ashley in 1987. I then joined Jaeger as buyer for the Northern American division, taking on the responsibility for knitwear and accessories, before moving to the luxury market as senior buyer and then became merchandise director for brand stable Club 21. I was there from 1993 to 1998, working on Armani and Prada with stints in both the London and Singapore offices.
I then became vice president of retail for Donna Karan in 1998, followed by a year at Emanuel Ungaro in Paris. I moved back to London in 2002 to work at Harrods as general merchandise director, before finally arriving at Harvey Nichols in the autumn of 2004.
Do you have any tips for aspiring buyers?
It’s best to go in without any preconceptions. Now, more than ever, the business is very focused towards the logistical side, so a command of figures with a mathematical bent is very important. Buyers today need to be able to offer this skill while also having fashion sensibilities and inherent negotiating abilities.
Which catwalks, collections and countries excite you at the moment?
I think all the catwalks are equally important. They each provide a different crucial element for the fashion mix. Paris fashion successfully mixes opulence with wearability, glamour and femininity, such as the collections by Alexander McQueen, Giambattista Valli and Nina Ricci.
London is also such an inspirational city, with designers such as Christopher Kane, Giles Deacon, Jonathan Saunders and Sinha-Stanic championing the eclectic style here in the UK. Milan tends to provide more of the business commerciality.
In terms of collections, there is an exciting movement at present with lots of young designers coming to the fore. Their designs are more affordable, yet still dynamic with a strong vision. New York provides the best example of this with 3.1 by Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang and Rozae Nichols.
What do you think of the potential demise of disposable fashion and customers’ willingness to trade up?
I think the idea of investment purchases has been with us for some time, but we are definitely seeing a move towards purchases of unique, luxe or limited edition pieces. This is also typified by the heirloom purchase, something timeless that can be passed on, such as jewellery, bags and even clothing.
How do you think the uncertain economic climate will affect consumer spending?
I think it will remain balanced, because the real growth in personal wealth is within the millionaires and high earners. The number of people who earn more than £100,000 in the UK has more than doubled since 1999, and these are less likely to be hit as hard by economic changes.
Who is your fashion icon and why?
Halston [famed for the disco look as worn by 1970s style icons such as Bianca Jagger] is a real favourite of mine. He managed to combine timeless elegance with simplicity, and his pared-down glamour typifies the stylish party girl look for next season.