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How I got here: Harvey Nichols' Ali Chisholm's voyages of discovery of new brands

Harvey Nichols’ contemporary and denim buyer on keeping an eye out for the new and inspiring brands.

Ali Chisholm

Ali Chisholm

Harvey Nichols womenswear buyer, contemporary and denim

The first thing I do in the morning is catch up on the news in bed with a cup of ginger and lemon tea.

Every morning commute is spent reading emails, this helps save time and means I can hit the ground running when I get into our head office in Chiswick. A priority every morning is to check the sales figures. We look for strong performers and opportunities to reorder styles that are selling well. Stock moves quickly, so it’s important to get in there before other retailers.

Monday mornings are taken up with trade meetings, where we review the past week’s sales figures and run through the deliveries for the week ahead. It’s a good time to catch up with the rest of the team too and get a sense of what’s going on in departments outside of my remit, like catching up with current renovation projects or marketing product reviews. We go over what we need to work on that week, such as orders, deliveries, stock movements, returns, training sessions and promotional pushes.

Every Tuesday I spend time on the ground completing a floor walk with the department manager at our flagship Knightsbridge store. It’s important to check in on how brands are performing, reassess the visual merchandising, look at areas where we can improve and generally get a feel for how our customers are reacting to the product on the shop floor.

Our daily routines are often dictated by the buying season, so the rest of the week is usually spent planning a trip, writing orders, or I’ll be away buying and planning for the season ahead. This is one of the most exciting parts of my job: seeing the collections in the fashion houses and finding a new brand that I love.

The last brand I felt like that about was London-based label Le Kilt, which I introduced to contemporary for autumn 15. The brand has limited distribution and each kilt is handmade in Scotland, making the collection really special. It’s so exciting when the stock hits the floor and we see the customer’s reaction to the new product.

Harvey Nichols is a luxury boutique and while there is a varied brand mix the head office teams are slightly smaller than some other department stores, which means that we know each other really well across all departments from merchandising, marketing and social media to press and our styling team in Knightsbridge. It also means you have the opportunity to get involved with a variety of projects, which not only keeps the job varied and exciting, but gives everyone a real sense of achievement when we reach success.

I’m really lucky to work with a supportive director like Anita Barr [group fashion director], an inspiring buying team, which covers 30 people across men’s and women’s wear, and my chief executive, Stacey Cartwright. It’s a really exciting time to be a part of Harvey Nichols. Earlier this year we opened the new Birmingham store at the Mailbox. The revamp of the Knightsbridge store is well under way and the first unveiling is due in spring 2016, when we open the new menswear department.

I have worked with contemporary designers for most of my buying career and I find it such an exciting – and challenging – department. Today the contemporary offering is made up of smaller, niche brands such as O’2nd, Sea NY and Toga Pulla, who sit alongside giants like Helmut Lang, 3.1 Phillip Lim and Kenzo, which do such different jobs within the area and appeal to a wider market of customers. This department has been a platform for emerging talent like JW Anderson and Mary Katrantzou to grow in the business, building up a dedicated legion of customers who can propel the brands to the forefront of the industry.

Many of the labels we pick up and nurture start in this department, and then grow to become part of our bigger international offering, so we have a pivotal role in raising the profile of these brands. I’ve also been juggling the denim buy since 2014, which has opened me up to a whole new area in luxury fashion. We work cohesively with contemporary labels and denim brands, such as Helmut Lang and J Brand, which now more than ever cross over into each other’s sectors. 

Sandrine Rose exclusive to Harvey Nichols

Parisian denim label Sandrine Rose

Chisholm bought denim brand Sandrine Rose exclusively for Harvey Nichols

The customer has to be the focus for every buy, but of course there are additional factors such as our history with the brand and how much the collection changes year after year. An established brand usually has a tried and tested core range that’s low risk for us, but with younger designers the collections can change from season to season. With these younger designers it’s important to represent them in a rounded way, so I prefer to use my gut feeling a little more with the buy.

I look for collections that offer a point of difference, such as design details, and experimentation with fabrications and silhouettes that turn an ordinary cardigan into an item that will really make an outfit. This season I’ve got some amazing runway knits from Demylee that epitomise cool cashmere.

I’m introducing Italian label Vivetta to our brand mix for spring 16 – the collection of feminine shirts, dresses and skirts with signature detailing and embroidery are vibrant and playful. On denim, Harvey Nichols will be exclusively stocking Parisian label Sandrine Rose for spring 16. In this collection vintage wash styles get a contemporary update with patchwork details, embroidery and pocket motifs. We’ll also be expanding our activewear collection, including No Ka’Oi yoga wear, Koral activewear and exclusively London-based activewear label LNDR, all of which offer both functional yet fashionable sportswear fit for wearing to the gym or as daywear.

We travel a lot, which is a perk of the job. However, it can also be quite exhausting, as your days are fairly long and you end up living out of a suitcase, particularly around show season. It’s inspiring to go to the fashion houses in Milan, Paris and New York, as you never know what you’re going to find. It’s brilliant when you stumble across a new label that we can bring back. My last visit was a day trip to Paris. While I love Paris, New York is my favourite overseas market. It always feels a bit calmer and I love the city.

Along the way I’ve learnt that being organised is integral to coping with the workload of a buyer. I’ve also learnt that you should always be friendly and fair to everyone that you work with, both internally and externally. And finally, always trust your instincts.

The last thing I do at night is watch American trash TV. I’m addicted to Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, as they help me to wind down. Let’s just say I get my money’s worth on Netflix.

My other career…

would probably be a florist – without the early morning start. I love flowers and how they can be such an important part of decorating a room and creating an atmosphere. If I had more time I would really like to learn more about flower arranging.

CV

Education

2003-2006 BSc (Hons) Business, University of East Anglia

Career

September 2014-present: Buyer, womenswear contemporary and denim, Harvey Nichols

October 2013-September 2014: Junior buyer, designer womenswear, TheOutnet

August 2012-September 2013: Lifestyle buyer and senior assistant buyer, contemporary bridge, Harvey Nichols

December 2012-April 2013: Maternity buyer, contemporary bridge, Harvey Nichols

March 2011-August 2012: Assistant buyer, contemporary bridge, Harvey Nichols

March 2008-March 2011: Buyer’s administrator, contemporary accessories and contemporary bridge, Harvey Nichols

March 2007-February 2008: Merchandising administrator, Topshop/Topman

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