At Seladex, we’re focused on helping apparel and accessory showrooms succeed by helping them stay organized, better manage their showrooms and increase sales through the use of our Apparel Industry CRM (Customer Relationship Manager).
However, we go beyond the use of technology as a means to help entrepreneurs in the fashion industry grow. We’re big believers in education, so from time to time we bring in fashion experts from around the world to help educate you, our blog readers, about the various ways you can grow your fashion empire.
Today, Seladex had the opportunity to speak with Alex Delafonteyne from New Look Fashion Deal Showroom about his showroom’s journey so far.
We have an exciting interview planned for you today, so without further ado, let’s jump in!
First of all, thank you for taking the time to chat with our blog audience today about your experience in the showroom space Alex. Let's get the interview started by allowing you to tell us a little bit more about New Look Fashion Deal's history. When and how did you get started?
I started in 1989 with British collections such as John Richmond, Destroy by John Richmond, Helen Storey and Liza Bruce. I previously had a store in Kortrijk (Belgium) with brands such as J.P. Gaultier, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Bikkembergs a.o. but retail wasn't my vocation, so I decided to start as an agent in Antwerp, after a short period working for an agency that introduced Krizia, Moschino and Adrienne Vittadini on our market. I had a good relationship with the commercial director of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Dominique Emschwiller and when Gaultier signed the license for Gaultier Jeans, we got the contract for the Benelux distribution. That is when our agency really took off. In 1994 we got Paul Smith Women and Paul Smith London line. Over the years we launched great brands such as Helmut Lang, Byblos, Fendi, Alessandro dell'Acqua, Viviennne Westwood, Alexander Mac Queen and many others ...
Since New Look Fashion Deal's conception, I'm sure you've faced many ups and downs. Can you tell us a little bit more about your early challenges getting the showroom off the ground and what strategies you used to overcome those challenges?
I must say that I have been quite lucky thanks to relations that I made through my job. At the start I wanted to bring new fresh names to our territory. British fashion was at that point quite unknown. I tried to fill a gap and offer an alternative for Italian fashion that was with names such as Versace, Ferre, Krizia and Armani which are all very strong here in Benelux, especially Belgium. A personal service and alternative choice of collection was what I aimed for.
The worst moments have been a fire in 2002 devastating our showrooms just after the selling season. We still had all of our collections in the showroom. Over 2000 samples were destroyed. My dog Nina however was saved but it took me years to recover from that fire as the insurance didn't pay right away.
In 2004 I faced an even worse situation when, after a financial screening of the company, we discovered that our accountant had been stealing from us for years. That had a huge impact on both my business and the way I saw people.
Can you tell us a little more about New Look Fashion Deal Showroom and what makes it unique in the showroom space? I see you're heavily influenced by paintings, literature and history. How do these influences impact your business?
Difficult to say... I have always been attracted to more creative and avant-garde collections, the surprise element of it, the thrill of discovering something "new". I must say that through the years I’ve learned to be more cautious also when accepting collections. Newcomers are often unfortunately, bad payers, but I am very happy to have discovered some great names in fashion at their beginnings.
I was the first agent to accept Carven of Guillaume Henry f.e. I took the collection on sketches. Marcel Marongiu, Martine Sitbon, John Richmond, Alessandro dell'Acqua (I had all of his collections and his first one was called A Milano).
Creativity is linked to art. My parents gave me the love for art. Even if my personal taste for art is quite classic, all art that knows how to move me appeals to me. Same for clothing. From that point of view, the last 5-6 years with huge the influence of Streetwear on designer and contemporary fashion has been disastrous to my feeling.
History and art teach us to understand the present. I am a nostalgic person. Historic references in collections, the use of certain fabrics referring to the past and above all "elegance" is something that I was always inspired by. "Elegance" is a way of being. The sum of a behaviour, physical appearance, knowledge and the inner. It is an old word, but still one that I like to use. Elegance is definitely something I look for in collections yes...
Previously we talked about your early challenges. But now that your showroom is off the ground, what are some of the current biggest challenges you face when it comes to growing the showroom and your brand? What are you doing to overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge is without any doubt... the internet. We have no big internet players based on our territory but they have a huge impact on our market. They offer non-stop discounts and sales which makes it impossible for smaller retailers to compete with them. However I still believe in multi-brand retail and the "shopping experience". Hard to imagine our cities without interesting stores in times where people are looking for more personal service, the real thing (versus the virtual). Making consumers conscious about the enormous ecological foot-print of buying on the internet will hopefully lead to a change in behaviour. We see that our retailers risk less in buying on forehand, they are looking for interesting alternatives with immediate delivery flash collections and cash and carry. I expect the development of better quality and a higher level merchandise as one of the answers to the current crisis in the coming years. Never out of stock and permanent collections that can't be discounted are another answer.
What have been some of the most successful strategies you've used to gain wider exposure?
To be perfectly honest, I never had any real policy or strategy concerning our "exposure". It would be rather something that I leave to the brands that we distribute or represent. We have no contact with the end-consumer
Can you tell us a little bit more about your process when it comes to finding exhibitors and brands to showcase? What are the biggest challenges you face when brands approach you?
I travel a lot and see a lot of stores on my trips. I always discover new interesting collections that way , as well as through press and Instagram. Fairs such as White in Milan are good showcases, even if the importance of fairs is declining a lot.
I'm sure you've visited countless other showrooms in your professional career. In your opinion, what are some of the biggest mistakes that showroom owners make when it comes to the development of their brand?
Everyone runs his business the way he wants but the first seconds upon arrival are the most important. A warm welcome, good light and a good merchandised collection is very important.
Where would you like to see New Look Fashion Deal in the next 5 years? What things are you doing today to help you get there?
I would definitely still want to explore my own production and I think we have to expand cash and carry or short-term delivery in the coming years. Sustainable collections are another priority but I think that the brands themselves are getting aware of the fact that the consumer becomes very demanding (and they are right) so they will all follow the movement in a very short time.
Lastly, if you could go back in time and give a younger version of yourself 3 pieces of advice with regards to running a successful showroom, what would those three pieces of advice be?
Be original, respectful and yourself 😊
Thank you for taking the time to chat with Seladex blog readers today about your experience in the showroom space. It’s been inspiring learning about your history and ups and downs. To our readers, if you’d like to learn more about New Look Fashion Deal Showroom you can head over to their website here.