Shadowing a buyer for Le Bon Marché

Selective retailing


One of the lesser known dimensions of Fashion Week is the buying sessions that begin after the last model has left the runway. Buyers are the vital link between brands and the retail network, playing a key role in the commercial strategy of department stores. This is a job that is both passionate and demanding, requiring a keen sense of the products, coupled with flawless management and negotiating skills. Buyers are trendspotters who must at the same time make sure that the offering will sell at their stores, a huge responsibility.  Maud Barrionuevo is in charge of the luxury womenswear & designer products at Le Bon Marché. She talks about her very full agenda during the recent Paris Fashion Week.

To be a good buyer, you need to strike a delicate balance. Intuition and impeccable fashion sense are imperative. But keen commercial skills are equally essential since the negotiating phase is critical. A graduate of the EDHEC business school, Maud Barrionuevo began learning her métier after joining Le Bon Marché fresh out of school, taking on a series of horizontally integrated assignments. Today she is responsible for a portfolio of some 50 different brands. Working closely with other departments, including the in-house style team, she strives to put together a selection designed to continually evolve, aligned with the store’s strategy and able to satisfy a very demanding clientele.

Le Bon Marché is the smallest of the big department stores in Paris. Even as fashion becomes increasingly international, it has proudly retained its “Left Bank” spirit since 1838. Le Bon Marché’s selective buying strategy emphasizes exclusive relationships with certain brands, sometimes including special limited series. Le Bon Marché is also an important showcase for young up and coming brands, which readily display their creations exclusively at the store. The resolutely cosmopolitan clientele at the store is avid for such exceptional collaborations.

“Whether it’s an emerging brand or a more established one, we always want to guarantee consistency and make sure that the story told by the collection is expressed,” says Maud Barrionuevo.

The buying team is regularly in touch with the brand, but contacts reach a peak after the runway shows once the showrooms open their doors. Fashion Weeks are incredibly intensive periods for buyers, who rush between shows, prospecting meetings and buying appointments, when orders are placed. Upstream preparations are decisive—purchase volumes and objectives with hard numbers are worked out several months in advance.

We caught up with Maud Barrionuevo during this hectic race, capturing the excitement of the Givenchy show, as well as the calmer atmosphere in the showrooms of Maxime Simoëns and Céline. The agenda for a buying meeting is generally much the same: first the products are presented on models, then pieces are selected and detailed product references and quantities filled in.

Once the order has been confirmed, it takes several months before the pieces arrive at Le Bon Marché. Some of the Fall/Winter 2014-15 collections that just went down the runway will be available as of August. This brisk pace tends to accelerate to meet demand from department stores customers who increasingly expect the very latest creations.