“I must say I have my dream job!” That’s right, Laura Larbalestier has only been with us for 4 weeks in her role as Fashion Director and she already feels completely in her element. Having already travelled everywhere from Edinburgh to New York since she joined us, the American Brit hasn’t been sitting still either. We caught up with her to hear her vision on fashion buying and her plans for Harvey Nichols.
Tell us about yourself and how you ended up at Harvey Nichols?
I grew up in the United States near Chicago, but my parents are British and after high school I moved back to London to study Fashion Management at the London College of Fashion. After completing my degree I worked at Selfridges for almost 9 years, working my way up from Buyer’s Admin in childrenswear to looking after all womenswear on the second floor. After that I worked at Brown’s for 6 years and at Boutique for 1 year. I was then approached for the role of Fashion Director at Harvey Nichols and have been happily in this role for three weeks now. I must say I have my dream job!
What does a day in your role look like for you?
No two days are the same, really. I could be involved in anything – from going on a buying trip and looking into a new collection to meeting with the Press & Marketing team about how we’re going to promote the product, to discussing strategies to increase performance of brands and lines, to recruiting staff for the team – the diversity of it is really exciting.
Why do you like heading up the fashion department for our brand in particular?
I have always wanted to work at Harvey Nichols – it’s the perfect format; the perfect blend of department store and boutique. Because of this we can really make an edited shopping experience for our customers and regionally localise our stores. The Harvey Nichols brands is one of the biggest names out there and has so much potential for how we can develop it and make it the destination in each city.
What have you been up to at Harvey Nichols so far?
I’m only on my 3rd week, but I’ve already been to the Dublin store, the Edinburgh store, the Birmingham store and fashion week in New York! I’m also going to fashion week in Milan the day after tomorrow and Paris afterwards. So yes, we’re really trying to hit the ground running. I wanted to start visiting our regional stores straight away because I think it’s important to understand all the markets, who their customers are and what opportunities we have – that’s why I’m looking at the individual personalities of our stores so we can make a personal offer for those markets. Visiting the fashion weeks this month is part of completing our SS 18 buys.
How was New York fashion week?
It was hectic and fun! I went to a lot of shows and presentations to see what’s new in the American market. When I go to fashion weeks I look at what the general fashion takeaway is and what the most important things for our customer are. Despite the weather not being optimal, as it was quite rainy, we found some interesting new brands. I’ve seen this sort of American streetwear style for women on the scene and various interesting new and up and coming designers who have a refreshing attitude on what fashion should be.
What is your fashion vision for Harvey Nichols?
I want to make Harvey Nichols a destination for the best fashion product on the market. We want people to come to our stores and discover something unexpected. I want to present our merchandising things in a refreshing, interesting and slightly unexpected way, whilst also being an inclusive brand for everyone. Ultimately no one needs to buy anything so we need to create an engaging experience.
What’s the best perk of your job?
There is of course the glamorous part of going to fashion shows and it’s quite an amazing thing when you have a job where you get to spend a lot time looking at beautiful clothes, but the best perk for me is getting to meet and work with so many great people from all across the retail chain – from those on the shop floor to the brand representatives. I especially find working with designers interesting and getting to understand how people create their collections. I am, for example, on the New talent panel for the British Fashion Council, where I get to work with young talented designers early on and see them grow. Seeing new British gems such as Erdem evolve into big brands is really special and a great thing about London, really.
What's your secret to getting this far in fashion buying?
I’ve always wanted to do this ever since I was very little. I never knew how it was going to work out but I always knew it was something I was passionate about; it’s cliché to say but what really matters is getting the results in buying and working collaboratively with people to make this happen. There’s no better feeling than achieving something together across departments. I have been lucky with the opportunities I’ve gotten, but as with everything you also need to make sure you always grab all opportunities coming your way and make the most of it.
What skills do people need to succeed in buying?
You just need to get that first job – that foot in the door - and then you need to work your way up. The thing about buying is that it’s a creative job in many ways, but ultimately it’s also about trading and stock and being organised: don’t forget that it really has two sides you need to master! You also have to be passionate about clothes, understand that it’s not a 9 to 5 job, and make sure you frame everything in a commercial way, as buying is ultimately about how customers respond to things.
What’s the most challenging thing of your job?
People often don’t realise in what a short time all of the buys have to be put together. A lot of these decisions need to be made very quickly, small parts need to be put together and lots of things are complicated in that process. It’s therefore quite a pressurised job and it’s not always as glamorous as many people think. When you go on trips you may have to do 10 to 12 appointments every day and you have to make decisions all the time; it can be very long days and orders need to be put together very quickly. Ultimately, it all needs to sell and work and that can be demanding.
What has your experience with Harvey Nichols been like so far?
It’s been great so far! I can feel there is a real appetite to explore new and exciting things here, which makes this such a great place to work. All the brands and people in fashion are so excited about Harvey Nichols with the Holly Nichols campaign and the first floor; there is much awareness and attention for the brand at the moment and this is a very positive momentum for us.