Thursday, August 14, 2008

Stylemaker Q&A

Mollie Milano
Store manager and buyer, bop

Mollie Milano has a dream job: managing bop, a retail store that sells some of the most fashion-forward, fun looks in Madison (not to mention nationally with and buying all of the store’s inventory: denim, tops, dresses, shoes, handbags and more. As bop’s only storefront, Madison is lucky to have this fashionista haven right in our backyard. And Milano’s been at the helm for four years.

What’s your background? Where were you working before?
I was in Chicago working at Mark Shale, a women’s and men’s larger-scale boutique (there are eight locations in the Midwest). I worked at the Michigan Avenue location. It sold similar designer things that bop sells. They also specialize in suiting for men and women. I worked there from 2001 to 2003.
I started working for them part-time and then became manager of their outlet in Lincoln Park, and then managed the Michigan Avenue store and interned as a buyer.

Why did you move to bop?
There was an opportunity to manage my own store instead of being a co-manager. [I wanted to work on a] smaller scale with customers and work with them more directly. The biggest pull, though, was to be the buyer. I was learning about it, but to actually travel to New York and do that, that was a huge reason of why I took this job. It’s hard to find a buying job if you’re not in New York City.

What are your day-to-day duties with bop?
To run the store. I receive new merchandise, merchandise the store to look appropriate for the seasons; pretty much anything that would fall under a store manager’s responsibility: hiring, firing, window displays.
A lot of what I end up working on is buying for the next season and then doing re-orders for the current season.

What sells well at bop?
Marc by Marc Jacobs handbags sell really well.
We still do really well in our Seven Jeans.
The more casual, sporty stuff is our trademark, like bop basics T-shirts, denim (that’s what we sell the most of).

How do you as the storefront buyer, work with the buyers? Obviously the store carries less items.
We work as a team, but also individually. [ buyers] buy for different areas. One person buys T-shirts and denim. Another buys designer boutique stuff. I pretty much do the store. It’s not like [the buyers] buy a bunch of stuff and I pull from what they buy. I purchase everything separately for the store when I travel to New York. I keep the Madison customer in mind. I may buy something completely different than what the buyers buy.
A buyer is going to be buying stuff for a much broader audience because those things sell around the world. They need to be stocked in more fashion-forward and more expensive items.
For the Madison store, I look for clothing that’s trendy but has been interpreted for the Madison customer and the real-world girl. It might not be a $600 jacket but a $300 jacket. The quality will be the same, of course. The Madison customers are really stylish and trendy but not all of them are really stylish and trendy, so I have to make sure I get stuff for the more classic person as well as a few key trend pieces.

Why does bop only have a storefront in Madison? Are they thinking of opening more retail storefronts?
The store was opened here because the founders of the company live in Madison. They felt like there was a customer segment that didn’t have anywhere to shop in Madison—people who were trendy and forward thinking and wanted to wear things you see in larger cities and they felt like Madison didn’t have an outlet for that. [The store opened in 1999].
From there they went online in 2000. We had originally planned on opening more stores but because of the manpower required just to keep the site growing, the owners abandoned the idea of opening more stores. So they focused their efforts on growing the site rather than opening stores. [Ed's note: was bought out by in 2006].
We do very, very well as a boutique. We don’t have any reason not to have a store, but we don’t have any plans on opening more stores.

What is your trademark style?
Some of my favorite brands are Marc by Marc Jacobs and Theory. I like Splendid cardigans, bop basics T-shirts, C&C California tank tops, J Brand jeans and Citizens of Humanity jeans.
My trademark style is definitely more classic with an edge. I like skinny jeans with black boots. I like wearing a cardigan with skinny denim (I like anything with skinnys!). I love collared shirts and a preppy look. Preppy, but edgy preppy.

What are your favorite fall pieces the store will be carrying?
We’re getting these really cute slouchy boots from Oh … Deer! that I’m excited about. Seychelles is making a slouchy half bootie. ($275 and $110, respectively)
J Brand 912 skinny jeans with zippers at the ankle.
T-shirts from Retrosport that have old-school political slogans on them, recreated for 2008. They’re really cute, those will be a good seller. ($35)
Rebecca Taylor leopard cardigan. It’s a leopard print on a gray background and it’s long, so you can layer it. ($315)

What’s your favorite thing in your wardrobe of all time?
I’m a purse girl—I have a ridiculous purse collection. My favorite is a Louis Vuitton Speedy. It’s a special edition, perforated on the outside with green suede on the inside. I love it! My husband gave it to me for our anniversary a few years ago.

What are some classic pieces you suggest women invest money in? What should a woman spend less money on?
A good pair of classic, basic, bootcut jeans in a dark wash. They can be dressed up or down. If you take care of them they’ll last you a long time. There’s no reason to go and get a pair at the Gap that will get really stretched out and worn looking; you’ll just keep buying the same pair over and over again. If you take care of premium denim it will last a while.
A nice pair of flat boots you can wear with everything.
It’s important you spend money on your accessories: pumps, boots, jacket, a handbag and cashmere cardigan sweaters.
You can spend less on something like a great knockoff of a trendy blouse, or a cute camisole you might wear for one season in a bright color.
You don’t need to splurge a ton on jewelry. Costume jewelry is prefect, and jewelry trends change season to season.
You have to make sure the pieces you spend money on are classic pieces and not trendy pieces.

What celebrity has your dream wardrobe?
Katie Holmes. I think she’s adorable. I just think she always looks put together and classy. She’s trendy but she does it in pieces, she doesn’t go all-out trendy. I don’t think Katie will look back and say, “What was I thinking?” She’ll think, “I looked cute, I looked stylish.”

Is it hard being a buyer and buying things that you don’t like or wouldn’t wear?
It’s a tough line to walk. I won’t buy a piece that I think I won’t wear and that I don’t think others should wear, either. If it’s that unacceptable, I don’t want it to represent bop and I don’t want it in my store (laughs)! Every season there are things I won’t wear and don’t love, but I know my customers will wear. There’s a lot of younger stuff in here I wouldn’t necessarily wear, but I have younger customers high school and college age that would wear these items.
You learn your lesson as a buyer you can’t buy all things that are your taste. You have to remember that having a boutique means that you can’t just buy for your style, the point is to let your customer express their style.

Finally: Major fall trends you’re seeing?
Brightly colored jewel tone stuff in green, purple and fuschia.
People will be doing minidresses with boots.
High waisted skirts with a blousier tank top tucked in (see photo, above).
Animal print. We say that every season, but we have quite a bit. We don’t sell any real fur in the store; that’s a statement I like to make in the store.
Girly jewelry. Things threaded with a piece of ribbon, for example. We got a Marc [Jacobs] necklace with a little gold bow that’s cute.
We’re still seeing layering necklaces, people are wearing a couple.

bop, 222 W. Gorham St. 255-2570.

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