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The BIG Apple


I hasten to add here that this trip was paid for by WWA and not from the coffers of the limited LFF budget!

Over the course of the two day business trip I gleamed an overview of the exciting world into the USA fashion and fortunately met up with a wonderful lady – Cheryl Nowark.

New York is huge. To the enormity of the buildings, the wide avenues, the Grand Cherokee, the yellow NYC taxis and of course the stretched limos! When I was a senior buyer for Principles for Women we went frequently to the big stores such as Macys, Sears and Bloomingdales and the Soho district for comparative and directional shopping. This time I just felt like a little pip in the big apple! You just forget the sheer size of NYC and the hustle and the bustle of the one of the world’s largest capitals.

Time was tight so I decided to centre on Macys, reportedly the largest store in the world! I knew that their store encompassed all the big names and labels so off I trotted with note pad in hand and trusty camera. 

The making of Macy’s

The history behind Macy’s is as unbelievable as the size of the store! No one would have guessed that the small, fancy dry goods store that opened on the corner of 14th Street and 6th Avenue in New York City in 1858 would grow to be one of the largest department store retailers in the country.

At the age of 36 and after several failed ventures, Rowland Hussey Macy’s determination and ingenuity paid off and he launched R.H. Macy and Co. He adopted a red star as his symbol of success, dating back to his days as a sailor. First day sales totalled $11.06 but by the end of the first full year, sales grossed almost $90,000. By 1877, R.H. Macy & Co. had become a full-fledged department store occupying the ground space of eleven adjacent buildings.

Macy’s is known for several firsts that revolutionized the retail industry. Macy’s was the first retailer to promote a woman, Margaret Getchell, to an executive position, making business history. Macy’s pioneered such revolutionary business practices as the one-price system, in which the same item was sold to every customer at one price, and quoting specific prices for goods in newspaper advertising. Macy’s was the first to introduce such products as the tea bag, the Idaho baked potato and coloured bath towels. Macy’s was also the first retailer to hold a New York City liquor license.

By November 1902, the store had outgrown its modest storefront and moved to its present Herald Square location on Broadway and 34th Street, establishing an attraction for shoppers from around the world. With the store’s 7th Avenue expansion complete in 1924, Macy’s Herald Square became the World’s Largest Store with over one million square feet of retail space.

By 1918, R.H. Macy & Co. was generating $36 million in annual sales. In 1922 retailer went public and began to open regional stores and take over competing stores. In 1923, the Toledo-based department store LaSalle & Kock was acquired; the next year, Davison-Paxton in Atlanta was acquired and in 1936, the Newark-based Bamberger’s was purchased.

To help celebrate their new American heritage, Macy’s immigrant employees organised the first Christmas Parade in 1924. The procession featured floats, bands, animals from the zoo and 10,000 onlookers, beginning a time-honoured tradition now known as the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®.

In 1945, the company expanded west and purchased O’Connor Moffatt and Company in San Francisco. Two years later, O’Connor Moffatt stores, including the landmark Union Square store which opened in 1866, were converted to Macy’s after a survey indicated that San Franciscans would welcome the name.

On December 19, 1994, Federated Department Stores (FDS) merged with R.H. Macy & Co., creating the world’s largest premier department store company. Federated Department Stores operated over 400 department stores and more than 157 specialty stores in thirty-seven states.


A & S Department Stores, purchased by FDS in 1929, was converted to the Macy’s nameplate in May 1995. Also in 1995, FDS acquired the Broadway Department Stores, bringing Broadway, Emporium and Weinstocks to the Macy’s family, as well as six former I. Magnin stores; some forty-six stores were converted to Macy’s. Following the lead of A & S, Jordan Marsh Department Stores of Boston, already owned by FDS, were converted to Macy’s in March 1996. In January 2001, Macy’s absorbed seventeen Stern’s Department Stores located in New York and New Jersey. In June 2001, FDS purchased the Liberty House operations in Hawaii and Guam, bringing the proud Macy’s tradition and heritage to the Pacific. As of November 2003, there are 248 Macy’s stores in twenty-one states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

Federated, with corporate offices in Cincinnati and New York, is one of the nations leading department store retailers with annual sales of more than $15.4 billion. Federated currently operates more than 460 department stores in thirty-four states, Puerto Rico and Guam under the names of Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Bon-Macy’s, Burdines-Macy’s, Goldsmith’s-Macy’s, Lazarus-Macy’s, and Rich’s-Macy’s. Federated also operates macys.com and Bloomingdale’s By Mail.

A lot of facts and figures to digest but the growth of Macys is a phenomena in USA and today they are highly respected and regarded. It was now time to do a recky!

Comparative and Directional Shop

I was immediately greeted on the ground floor with halls that are decked in rich red and gold festive cheer for the perfumery and gifts area. Fortunately I was given a guided tour by the fabulous Cheryl Nowark. What Cheryl does not know about NY fashion is just not worth knowing. I felt as though in just two days I had a thorough understanding of the American culture from the “it” labels, the Missy fit, contemporary, chubbies, pad dyed blouses to the classic, update and bridge. So hold on tight as I try to explain, as best as I can, the American way accordingly to Cheryl and Macys!

On the first floor Macys have opened up the Impulse Collections – the whole floor offers Contemporary (fashion) labels which include:-

Laundry by Shelli Segal

Annan Sui
Betsey Jackson – some fabulous pieces here
French Connection – wave that British flag please!
True Meaning
Vivienne Tan – great Chinese designer well established using strong prints
Hale Bob
Sortie des classes and more!

The layout of the first floor was spacious and this was certainly one floor that was not over merchandised and relatively busy too. There has been a large swing to this market in the states and it has a certain fit such as the low rise trousers, cropped tops, bare and a general fashion feel. DKNY was there with the City range and Nine West shoes are also popular.

Denim was still there in abundance and at the back of the store there was at least 20% of entire floor space given over to denim and every possible treatment of denim you could think of. One big name in denim is Earle and naturally Diesel too.

Ben Sherman (now owned by an American company called Oxford Industries) was there too and looked a little sad with poorly pressed stripped shirts over stocked on the rails.

Bloomingdales are now also dedicating a whole floor to the contemporary section too and is indicative of the importance of this sector.

I tried in vain to get some pictures….they are not brilliant and I was also told off too but here you go – I tried!

I asked Cheryl what would be a good sell through here for a line and actually it’s similar to the UK.

Cheryl reported “2-6 weeks cover for a line would be regarded as a good strong line and a sales volume of 10-15% of total stock holding too”. For those who don’t know such terms 2-6 weeks cover means that the majority of the stock will be sold out within two to six weeks and this is just what the retailer aims for. This way discounting is kept to a minimum even though most NY buyers build in a high discount margin.

“I can see by the cut of these garments that fit is obviously key on this section” I commented “what’s the difference between this section Contemporary and the Missy Fit I keep hearing about?”

Cheryl replied “ The fit in contemporary is neat and tight – the customer wants low rise trousers, short zips, short skirts, cropped tight tops and is not afraid to bear flesh”(that’s me out thought I!)  Whereas the Missy fit seen on floor three is more generous with longer hem lines, more of a classic cut trouser with full zip and more generous cut on sizing. In the USA a size 8 equates to a size 10 but within the contemporary fit it can go down to a size 2 – that’s not petite it’s just very small.”

This took time for my humble brain to work out. A USA size 8 is a  UK 10 and USA size 6 is a UK size 8, so a USA size 4 is a UK 6 and a USA size 2 is a UK size 4 …….do we do a size 6 and 4 in the UK – does this size of body exist in the UK? It certainly does not in the LFF’s camp that’s for sure!

WE carried on a review of floor two and Cheryl explained the importance of ABS (the range by Allen Schwarts). In the 70’s he was one of the innovative founders of contemporary company Sweet Baby Jane which later became Esprit.

The general trends here on this floor were all encompassing – if you looked hard enough you could find whatever you wanted. However some key consistent trends were the vintage look, devoree, very strong 40s and 50s styling and the resulting Jackie O looks in boucle yarns (actually they look tired already and even the trims of chiffon didn’t do enough to make them appealing), Chubbies (furry short bomber jackets) fur trims, faux fur, pin tucks, shrugs, jacquards and so on. You name it you could find it!

There were some very bright colours especially colbot blue, yellow, cerise pink. Hilfiger had an abundance of these colours (and also Versace too) and they can just look so brash. Pastels were there too and a strong splattering of green in EVERY shade imaginable from bright to light

At the other end of the floor on the contempary section Cheryl showed me INC. This is Macy’s in-house label and Macy’s were the first to introduce, and get right, the home label business from which the other big stores followed. God I was impressed here! The INC label is displayed by colour and the offer is tight, strong and credit to that buyer. The majority of the lines were fashionable and easy to wear, sophisticated but trendy.  There was a strong black and bright (but not brash) pink story, and mid tone blue and black story and a wonderful sage green and black story. There was also a gold and green story too which co-ordinated beautifully and is not a typical colour story that would normally work but the use of jacquards, lace gold wide leg pants and a selection of tasteful embellished tops made this tight collection hit the right spot.

What was also clever here was the use of the chanelle cropped boucle jacket with matching plain top displayed with the wide leg baggy jean with large turn-up complete with “spiky” heels. This is the in club wear at the moment and the cross over dressing from day to evening is hot to trot for the club divas in NY town.

Cheryl also explained “Another reason for the success of INC is the use of the floor set. Every garment has a calendar and the location is key. We call it here the promotional cadence – it’s the game plan for the floor set and normally each collection is on full price for six weeks then they will be marked down and moved away from prime footage.” In the UK some organisations such as House of Fraser call this the Floor mat.  

Finally a word regarding net and mesh in both plain and print and used as a trim (cuffs and edges on jackets collars)…..it is everywhere! The poodle chanelle was also prominent too. And so we completed the second floor and my head was positively spinning!


Floor 3 is the Missy fit as explained earlier. It’s for the baby boomer customer who already has an established career and does not go for the bear look of contempary. In NYC they no longer classify customers by age but lifestyle similar to the UK.

One of the hotly awaited labels here for this market was Michael by Michael Kors and has had the big thumbs down in the USA – actually I could see why. The fit was not right. The skirts were a little too short, the cotton shirts with the panelled seams just a little too trends and the pinafore dresses with hip darts could on accentuate the hips of the fuller woman’s torso. I thought the colours, and lack of co-ordination, was pretty naff too. This is the second season the range has been in Macys and it’s the second time it has disappointed the clients.

The overall look of the floor was strong however, good fixtures, a strong selection of neutral colours co-ordinated with mid tone pastels, some brights and new fabric developments made any observer realise that Macys were on to a winning formula with the way they are merchandising their stores. The floor was busy too. Atypical fabrics here included silk charmeuse but worn with a sweater for office type wear, bias cut skirts and the classic, elegant and beautiful cut blouse was there in abundance!   

Another new name on this block is “H” by Tommy Hilfiger and this is being heavily promoted by Dave Bowie and model wife. Actually it didn’t really matter who was promoting it – it was pretty ropy and judging by the amount of discounting that’s just what the general NY shopper thought too! The only real must have garment that seemed to scream from the racks (and was not reduced either) was a bright silk Pucchi styled print blouse in two colourways of pink/orange and blue/black. Pretty delicious!

Whereas INC is the contempary private label for Macys Alfani is the Missy private label and again it looked strong but was not a patch on the INC downstairs. A much smaller range and just did not have the coordination that oozed off the rails like INC.

Four years ago Ralph Lauren introduced a label Lauren to cater for this market and was strong market leaders initially. They have lost ground recently to a label called Signature by Jones (who incidentally used to own the licence to Lauren until it was pulled). Hence they started a competitor label. Both ranges looked a little tired and perhaps Lauren just had the edge with the knitwear cable long cardigans but much of a muchness really.

Liz Claiborne then set up a label Realities to compete with Lauren and is just about to launch Platinum which is a casual range – I commented that the labels would be better rephrased the other way round! Realities sounds a much better sportswear/casual wear label than Platinum but hey ho there you go!

Liz Claiborne was there in abundance in most colours of the spectrum a huge end of story offer was on display with a grand total of two customers on the entire space. However Liz Claiborne has been very astute in the market. They bought up the label Sigrid Olsen which was the fastest growing sector ten years ago and hence Liz snapped up that potential market. In addition Dana Buchman is also owned by Liz Claiborne and here you see more of a top end offer with blazers selling for $600 and silk tweed jackets. This is a strong career ready to wear label and looked the biz! No discounts with lots of shoppers.

On this floor is also DKNY with a key sage silk blouse and bias cut silk bias cut silk georgette skirt complete with rouching and also Ellen Tracy which is designed by Linda Allard.

By now my eyes were fuzzy and my brain fizzing and then Cheryl said that there was one further floor which was for the classic market. That was enough! The deli was calling and I need to recharge my batteries so I dragged Cheryl off for a long awaited coffee. I think I learnt more with Cheryl during those two days then I had during numerous NY trips with the retailers. There is nothing like local information from a local source and you can read all about Cheryl and her fascinating career by clicking here.

We are currently in discussions now with Cheryl to see if we can open up some new projects such as having a NY based showroom for designers, a regular what’s hot and what’s not in NY from Cheryl and a diary entry too. Fingers crossed and as always we will keep you posted.

Jenny Holloway Industry Advisory


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