When Drapers broke the news yesterday that My-Wardrobe fashion director Carmen Borgonovo had left the etailer the previous day, an interesting conversation began on Twitter about whether fashion journalists could move into buying roles.
Borgonovo was previously senior style editor at Harper’s Bazaar and replaced buying and merchandising director Luisa De Paula. Carmen stayed in the role for just over a year. Similarly, Paula Reed, former style director of Grazia, joined Harvey Nichols as fashion director, but left late last year after a short stint.
Neither departure has been linked to their editorial backgrounds. Reed recently joined etailer Mytheresa.com and My-Wardrobe has had a difficult couple of years, with plenty of other staff leaving. Still, the fact that two high profile editorial hires in the last 12 months or so have quickly left, sparked a debate on Twitter about this relatively new trend.
The general consensus was that the two roles - editorial and buying - are very different and do not share the same skill sets. Perhaps the likes of Net-A-Porter, which seamlessly combines content with retail, has had an influence on other retailers’ hiring strategies. But Net has two separate teams for each function, despite them working closely together.
Mathew Dixon, director of executive search firm Hudson Walker International, says the transition can work, depending on the specifics of the role and the support provided by the retailer in question.
“Much depends on the structure of the role. The transition from magazines into a fashion director role is logical if the focus is on creative collection editing, content generation and ensuring a clear voice to the the consumer. Where the move becomes harder is the adjustment to the trading mentality of a retailer, judging how deeply to buy into a collection and which products are actually going to sell through at full price,” says Dixon.
“Buying is a pretty structured career and for a magazine editor to jump straight into the top job and get it right is a tall order as they simply haven’t got the skill set learned by coming through the ranks. That said, with the support of a great merchandising team and backed by sufficient sales data, this can provide a welcome shot of invigoration to a retailer trying to invent themselves.”
But Dixon explains that such moves are not always welcomed internally, even if the candidate has all the right skills for the role. “Such moves have also been met with scepticism from existing buying teams who, in our experience, are not always inspired by a magazine editor arriving to lead them. There is usually a fair amount of change in the teams shortly after an appointment,” he says.
“The concept is still a new one and there were bound to be a couple of casualties while retailers work out how to extract the best results from such hires. Ultimately the magazine editor brings different skills sets and an alternative way of looking at the buying function both in store and online. Don’t forget, for years fashion editors have been helping edit designer’s collections before buyers ever see a range, so the concept isn’t completely new, but can be very powerful, providing the support is there internally to make up for the gaps in trading experience.
“The results at best can be a beautifully curated product selection with a single aspirational message to the consumer, whether purchasing instore or online. At worst, the product looks great but nobody buys a thing…”.
What do you think? Can journalists run retailers’ fashion departments?