The diary of a buyer at Paris Fashion Week (+photos)

James Dobson, from Auckland boutique Children of Vision, opens up his diary to take us behind the scenes of his recent whirlwind trip to Paris.

Pictures from James Dobson's Paris diary. Photo / James Dobson
Pictures from James Dobson's Paris diary. Photo / James Dobson

Stocking around 10 international brands, and always on the look out for exciting new discoveries means that twice a year we make the pilgrimage to Paris for Fashion Week. Why Paris, you may ask? Well, aside from the fact that there are far worse places to spend a week (macarons, cheap wine, carbs for every meal!), Paris is where the business end of fashion is done. New York is a more conservative affair, London has great emerging talent, and the best parties, but most travel to Paris to write up orders, and all of our labels converge there so we can order everything in one clean sweep.

A buying trip is a fairly intense thing - we hit the ground running with appointments scheduled back to back, there's lots of travelling around, and mental gymnastics as you squeeze orders into budgets, flesh out a picture of what will fill the store next season, and most importantly, predict what will sell. We're not afraid of labels with left-of-centre ideas, and we have some pretty adventurous customers, but selling stuff is the name of the game.

Yes, there are moments of glamour, but this is work. I promise.

1/03/12

After 30 hours travelling from Auckland, I finally hit Paris at 3.30pm, dump my bags in my hotel and jump straight on to the Metro with Aleisha who has come up from the south of France to help me for the week. We head to the Bernhard Willhelm show in St Germaine. From the procession of eccentrically clad fashion people oozing out onto the open road we know we've found the right place. Bernhard Willhelm is one of our dearest labels, we've carried it since we've opened, and it's come to represent a lot of what Children of Vision is about. The show is high-energy with thumping erratic music, models gyrating or throwing bold shapes on a packing crate - the clothes appear haphazardly layered, with prints on top of prints and clashing colours, and are emblazoned with slogans. The hair is greasily twisted and pinned on to the head, sometimes featuring what looks like big dollops of hair mousse. The show is about theatre and an opportunity for the designer to give us an undiluted taste of what's going on in their head, but I know when we view the collection in a few days there will be a room full of beautiful, and ultimately wearable clothes. We hang around after the show and meet up with fellow New Zealander, senior M.A.C artist Amber D who has worked on the show, then make our way back to the hotel via Canadian pub The Moose.

2/03/12

9am - pastries and coffees are grabbed en route to our first appointment. The Marais is the epicentre for showrooms during Fashion Week - galleries, vacant shops, warehouses and even carpark buildings showcase designers' collections - either independently, with sales agencies, or with larger trade shows. London-based accessory label A'N'D (or Azumi and David) opt for a small apartment on Rue Chapon. The collection, Keep it Surreal, recontextualises everyday objects: small clutch bags feature attached leather gloves, metallic belts have their own belts, and basic silk shifts are digitally printed with entire outfits.

Next is Eley Kishimoto - again London-based, and renowned for its stunning print work (its designers were once at Cacharel). Its collection, Keeper of the Fallen Manor, is a charming homage to rambling English manors: hunting checks, fox prints, tweed and over-sized cable knit print. As we make our selection, outfits are put on the in-house model for us to view - we photograph everything we select so we can review it later for the final order. We also bump into fellow buyers Hugrun Arnadottir and Magni Porsteinsson from Icelandic store Kron, who are always gorgeously resplendent in a mix of colour and pattern. As we finish our appointment at the same time, Aleisha and I cross the road in our billowing layers of black, and Magni yells out "Buy something pretty!" We laugh.

We decide to stop at Parisian institution Rose Bakery, rammed with every fashionista in town, for a well-needed healthy lunch of salad, fresh juice and incredible carrot cake. Then off to our next appointment, Peter Jensen. Jensen's muse for this collection was his close friend Thelma Speirs of millinery duo Bernstock Speirs. A confident, quirky dresser, the collection reflects her personal style with strong prints, embellished collars, tinsel skirts, glitter-encrusted belts and bags and an eye-poppingly bright magenta. Despite feeling like we could sit down and have endless cups of tea with Jensen and his charming team it's off to Rue de Temple for Canadian label complexgeometries. The slick, minimal space is perfect for their sculptural collection - their signature black is complemented with ivory, dusty pinks and a mustardy topaz, as well as some glitzy gold lurex knits. It's at this point that we start to make a connection - silver belts at A'N'D, gold tinsel skirts at Peter Jensen and lurex here - hmm... metallics ...

We finish with personal favourite, Pleasure Principle. Fuelled by another round of short blacks, Aleisha and I attack the rack, trying on the samples - silk singlets with dramatic asymmetric trains, fleecy jackets and silk singlets with kimono-esque sleeves that form scarf like loops - and putting in our own personal wishlist.

It's been a long first day, and I can feel the jetlag catching up with me. After a celebratory champagne at Okawa on Rue Vielle du Temple I find that I'm pretty much falling asleep at the table.

3/03/12

We grab pastries en route to Danish designer Henrik Vibskov who's showing from a gallery on Rue de Perche. The collection is really strong with gorgeous prints, easy shapes and wonderful accessories - all quirky but very easy to sell. I think I'm channelling Magni from Kron when I add a green floral silk dress to our rack, she would be proud!

Next up is a label we've had on our radar for a few seasons, VPL. Renowned for their sporty yet sexy underwear, we feel that it could be the right time to introduce them to the store - unique, design-led underwear is more popular than ever. The collection is really strong, and I believe that due to their commitment to showing at New York Fashion Week, people are becoming a lot more aware of their brand. We then run around the corner to a trade show held in a carpark on Rue de Turenne called Capsule. Capsule is young and edgy - its music is always loud, and there's an exciting energy. We see Daniel Palillo, a Finnish designer we've been carrying for a long time now - his clothes are dark with a strong sense of humour. His new collection is an ode to Americana, with flaming shiny dollar signs, American football references, and his long-time love affair with cartoon monsters. His collection never fails to put a smile on our faces, and since we introduced it to our store it has developed a very strong following - it's a very hard task to edit the collection down to our favourites.

We head back to the hotel and then to my favourite pizza restaurant, La Briciola on Rue Charlot. Despite getting there at about 10pm the restaurant is still heaving, and once we finally get seated we gorge on beautifully crispy pizzas and Italian red.

4/03/12

The next morning we re-see Bernhard Willhelm at his studio in an area better known for its African hair braiding and nail bars. As predicted the collection is beautiful - sure, there are the offbeat pieces emblazoned with the slogans "Sexy Fashion" or "Give me your body", or his giant croissant-inspired jewellery (all of which we love, and will order for the store) but there are also some very pretty pieces with broad appeal: a black silk dress with a beautifully folded heart-shaped front panel, some bright silk dresses and a cape dress with knot-fronted detail.

Next up we rush over to Rue du Mail to look at Emma Cook. We have carried this label for several seasons and her incredible digital prints have become very popular with our customers. The collection is really strong, combining Orientalism with luggage detailing and Versace-esque baroque flourishes, chains and leopards. We pick out a selection of body-con silk jersey dresses, printed leggings, kaftans, and some more directional silk puffer jackets.

And then before we know it we're off to our final appointment to meet Australian label P.A.M. Designer Shauna takes us through the collection, our favourite aspect is the "Bouillabaisse" story, a surrealist-inspired collage of lobsters, French crockery, clocks, eyes and chains. The effect is almost Versace-like. We're also obsessed with a new collaboration between P.A.M and Italian shoe manufacturer Diemme, featuring glitter-encrusted desert boots, and hiking boots with huge stacked soles.

And with that, we're done! We meet up with a friend for Japanese noodles in Paris' Little Tokyo on Rue Saint-Anne and then hit the This is New York party at Le Regine - where I spot four of my favourite designers on the dance floor.

5/03/12

Today we're fashioned out, and decide to go somewhere I've been wanting see since my last trip - La Galerie de Paleontologie et Anatomie in the Jardin des Plantes. It is a gorgeous cavernous building housing a veritable stampede of animals, and surrounded by all manner of organs and oddities. Upstairs are fossils and menacing dinosaur skeletons. It's an amazing place and to my mind an absolute must-see. We then check out Paris' newest gourmet burger joint Blend - the patties are crafted in collaboration with celebrity butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, and the buns are baked in-house by a pastry chef.

And then it was time to part ways ... although due to snow on the high speed power lines, my Eurostar journey takes over seven hours. This is the perfect opportunity to delve into my many linesheets and lookbooks and let the mental gymnastics begin.

As I stare at the snow outside the window of the stalled train, I start to get excited visualising how the store will look next season - and that's the very thing I love about fashion, it never stays still. Unlike this train ...

- NZ Herald

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