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Interview with buyer from OAK boutique

Interview: OAK's buyer, Kim Christenson

Whoever said New York is dead, obviously wasn't hanging around with this pack. Now with a showroom, magazine, Brooklyn and Manhattan store locations, and an online store that's selling so much inventory it can barely keep items in stock, OAK is literally taking fashion in New York by storm. The last party they threw, to celebrate their newest issue of Oakazine, called for a few hundred people and the rsvps came in at well over a thousand. At the party were designers, artists, writers, and anyone else who gives a damn about fashion, there to support OAK's efforts. For today's interview, we talked with Kim Christenson, OAK's buyer and all-around stand up gal, on what it takes to buy for the boutique. Christenson's job is not an easy one, many eyes are on her (including other buyers who let her take the risks while they poach up-and-comers) as she's someone who can greatly influence what become major New York fashion trends. Here's what she had to say...

As a buyer, your professional duties must fall into a rhythm according to when collections are shown to the public and then officially shown to you. Do you also pick up lines for OAK under more spontaneous circumstances?
Absolutely! We are always searching for new designers and innovative ideas. Obviously the best time to find new lines is during market but I am constantly scouring blogs, boutiques, my personal email, etc for a line that we would consider a positive addition to our store. Most of our best lines collaborate with us and form a more personal bond then just a business one.

What lines are you really excited about right now that perhaps people don't know OAK carries or you haven't received deliveries for just yet?
We just received Rick Owen’s lower priced denim heavy line DKSHDW which is completely stunning and dramatic for both men and women. Another line that I just put a reorder in for is called Complex Geometries (out of Canada). The designer focuses on creating new shapes out of mainly cotton or wool jersey that is creative and architectural while remaining completely wearable. It always blows out.

As far as next season goes, the line list for men’s fall is going to be amazing. I personally think that the menswear field stepped up to the plate and is really outdoing itself for next season. We picked up a bunch of new edgy labels like Public School, Wrath Arcane, Chronicles of Never, Raf Simons and men’s Helmut Lang. Labels for women’s that were real stand outs were Fifth Ave Shoe Repair, Cavern, Marios and Les Chiffoniers.

As always, I am excited for our own private Oak label as well. Next season is based on heavy metal and I know it will be super fun and easy.

What do you think makes a good designer? Does this necessarily mean you will carry the line or do you sometimes have to buy based on consumer demand (rather than pure innovation)?
We pride ourselves on finding fresh, innovative designers but I often times buy things that I wouldn’t necessary wear but I know that the customer will really like. Not everyone wants some crazy 90’s flash back tie-dye shoulder pad dress (like me). You have to offer goods to many different niches. I live and work out of Williamsburg and the customers on Bond Street and in Park Slope overlap in some respects to the Williamsburg aesthetics but it is important to differentiate. We are also trying to offer more “basics” (in addition to the more editorial pieces) that help round out a wardrobe like easy tees and tanks that can be worn everyday alongside the fantastic ones.

Do you always buy clothes that you, yourself, would wear?
I put in my share of personal orders but being a good buyer means that you can see a sellable piece and not think about yourself. Otherwise, I have my muses…friends, co-workers, customers that help the buy. The store has to keep an aesthetic and I try to keep to that as best I can with out my own personal wardrobe getting in the way.

How do you study the inventory in the stores? Is it a numbers game or is it more casual than that?
I find it is most beneficial to actually interview the sales associates about inventory and demand. Not to say I don’t also check the figures added by the computer system, but I can learn about what is doing well, what customers are avoiding and what is demanded by them. You can’t see that by staring at numbers on a screen.

We know that OAK has an unwavering reputation for scouting out new and hip designers. Why else do people shop at OAK?
We work hard to offer a very curated selection from each line. A lot of thought and time goes into the buying of each and every collection so shopping at the store can be effortless.

In addition, Oak has always associated itself with a Brooklyn aesthetic which people really seem to get and embrace. It’s more “downtown” than “downtown”. Cool, edgy, casual and sexy.

We also make it a point to buy for multiple price points. Not everyone can afford a $900 leather vest but want to shop at the store. So we try to offer a range accessible to just about everybody.

How does buying for the website differ from buying for the actual stores?
Our site does best with editorial pieces and limited editions as well as hard to find but amazing labels. Many people are shopping from locations that lack the resources so they can come to us for remarkable and hard to find pieces. It’s no easy task getting these items into our store but I want to be able to offer the most edgy and cool styles to our customers world wide.

Our buy for the website remains pretty similar to that of the stores as well. It is more practical for everybody. Many of our customers are actually New York based so they check the website for new additions before coming into the store. Often times they come into the store specifically to try on something they saw online so it only makes sense to offer that option.

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