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Henri Bendel Gives Emerging Designers a Shot at the Big Time

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All images via Will Ragozzino

Early Friday morning, before Fifth Avenue had started bustling with tourists, the Henri Bendel store was abuzz with throngs of emerging designers patiently waiting for Bendel's Open-See event to begin. The event, which has launched the careers of industry heavy-hitters like Anna Sui and James Purcell, allows for up-and-comers to meet with a team of Bendel buyers and receive invaluable feedback on their merchandise. We sat in on the event to find out what the buyers are really looking for.

Open-See, which looks at cosmetics, skincare, fragrance, gifts and accessories, was held in the basement of Bendel from 9am until the early afternoon. The designers first lined up outside and then filed into the basement to check in and wait to meet with category specific buyers.

The line began moving promptly at 9am and by 9:05 the first designer had already been offered a trunk show. Julia Vallelunga, a Montreal native (and also one of the first to line up at 3:30am!) came to New York expressly for Open-See. Her line, La Raffinerie, which consists of bold, colorful statement necklaces, was deemed "really cool and unique" by the Bendel's team. Although the buyers were officially looking at products for the Fall 2012 buying season, Vallelunga's products were so in line with the Bendel's customer that she will be showing her pieces at the flagship next month.

The buyers consistently asked the designers the same set of questions: How long have you been designing? What is your price point? Where are your products made? Is your merchandise carried at any stores? But the most important factor was whether or not the merchandise was right for the Bendel customer. In the 5-10 minute appointments, many designers were asked to tighten up their collections, and e-mail more looks to the buyers. Such was the case for Nicholas D'Aurizio, a handbag designer who has been in the industry for 10 years. The buyers picked certain handbags they loved and told him to incorporate those elements throughout his entire collection. D'Aurizio hopes with these changes his line might be carried in the store next season.

Think you've got what it takes? Well, your next chance to compete isn't that far off. The event is hosted semi-annually, so build your brand image, bring lots of variety, and who knows, maybe you could be the next Anna Sui.— Michelle Persad
· Henri Bendel's Open Call [Racked]
· Henri Bendel [Official Site]

Anna Sui

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