Our talk with Saks Fifth Avenue’s VP & Fashion Director Menswear ERIC JENNINGS on leading the pack, balancing creative and business, the speed of changes in menswear, and ‘show now.’


BY KENNETH RICHARD

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Eric Jennings

Eric, nice to see you and catch up on New York Fashion Week: Men’s. What are your thoughts on having shows stateside?
I’m thrilled and nothing made me happier than to have Men’s Fashion Week back in New York. I was one of the first to go to London from the US for LCM and was a little jealous New York didn’t jump on the bandwagon sooner, but I was thrilled when we finally did. Everything is in flux right now, so it’s kind of like we just launched it and then the whole system’s changing. What that will look like… I’m excited about what’s happening. I think ultimately the direction that things are going is a good thing. And I think New York still needs to be a part of it. It still needs to be in the game.

When you go out into the marketplace and you see something new, what’s the criteria for selection?
I meet with our GMM and the divisionals weekly to get a keen sense of what’s happening from a business perspective. There are always wide spaces that we need to fill every season. Brands come and go; brands also grow and shrink. So I’m aware of where those opportunities are. For example, yesterday I met with a new brand and they surprised me by placing me in a conference room full of executives from all of their licensees. Once they all presented, I knew exactly where the opportunity was. I had to say, “Thank you very much to the four of you for presenting, but you, sir, actually have something that I’m very much interested in and I’ll tell you why.” So that’s also part of my job.

So outside of navigating dens of wolves and navigating, how has the game changed since you started?

The job today is completely different than the job I had seven years ago. Back then, advanced designer in men’s wear was a very small part of our business. We’ve literally doubled the amount of advanced designer business in the last two years. Men have embraced fashion in unprecedented ways, and the speed in which men’s fashion is moving is also unprecedented.

So it’s a really fun time to be in men’s right now.

On the subject of time, what are your thoughts on the timing of the industry?
Well, I’m a proponent of ‘show now’. Ultimately, we’re still going to need to do our jobs as buyers and retailers six months ahead of time. I don’t necessarily need a big fashion show, but I do need to get in there early enough to place the orders on time so that we can get the deliveries. I would love nothing more than to have all the hype, all the press right before it hits the stores. Of course this comes with challenges, such as when we pick ad looks. Normally there’s enough time to pick ad looks and have it produced. Now it’s going to be a little more complicated. For example, with Burberry we are doing a sneak peak of runway and then choosing our ad looks. That way, when they show, it hits the stores, we have the ad looks and our catalog, then it’s all seamless. There’s going to be glitches, but ultimately, the path that things are going is the right path.