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Can journalists really be buyers?

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?

Readers' comments (5)

  • While there are always exceptions, the answer would be no and I'd be highly reluctant to employ one in our store.

    Why? Simply, they have an extremely idealistic view of what the typical customer is because what they have been previously trained to believe. Much of what you read in Drapers, or comparable magazines, has little relevance on the shop floor and is therefore superfluous, so the same would have to apply to people who worked for them.

    The best people in the industry are the people who worked their way up from the bottom, so they know exactly how things operate and know what really goes on, without all the corporate bulls*it being fed to them which these days is sadly too often the case...

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  • It's an interesting debate, but I think the reason why CB left my-wardrobe was probably more linked to the struggles the business was facing, and also to protect her value. The editor/buyer position is one that, if balanced with the strong merchandising and buying assistant support can absolutely be a success. The editors have honed skills over their tenure to understand what their audience want to see in the magazines and what who they aspire to. No longer are magazines focused on couture and crazy price point items. The global recession made everyone look at affordability. Both my-wardrobe and HN have had struggling seasons and I think that may be more linked to the high profile appointments departing so soon.

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  • Sure it can work but only if the company has the desire to raise its existing cost levels considerably by way of ensuring that buyers and merch team standards are raised to best in class to compensate for considerable lack of knowledge of the incoming 'editor' .... Honestly, it's a high price to pay just to bring a 'face' in!

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  • No is the answer they just do not have a commercial eye and are only turned on by the wacky end of the market you see on the catwalks that you never see people wearing - apart from Lady GAGA!
    Borgonovo is a perfect example - didnt My Wardrobe go bust!

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  • Thierry BAYLE

    Good debate.
    In the article Mathew Dixon indicates some of the challenges of the new recruit:
    " judging how deeply to buy into a collection and which products are actually going to sell through at full price,”
    In some organisations, buying and planning are done by the same person however we are talking different skills. Larger organisations work on it as 2 separate roles.
    We focus on merchandise planning and deliver the Open to Buy plan to retailers for 20 years.
    Trust me, some multilable stores DO NOT track sales and stock in the proper way. Often they track sales by Brands and not by product classification FIRST.
    Often the classification structure they have established do not go deep enough to identify the hot trends in the store - not the trend indicated by the magazine which may be the same or not.
    So the new comer must either gain new skills and have a clear focus on some key numbers to drive a more profitable business or make sure he/she is supported in those tasks.

    Buying is about Art and Science.
    The new comer may know WHAT to buy - sometimes the hot items may be right however to be bought big in only 6 months - This is the ART.
    The Science part of buying is
    HOW MUCH to buy &
    WHEN to bring the goods in.

    Thierry Bayle

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