Denise Magid, EVP of Bloomingdale’s, Talks Curation, Distinct Point of View and Culture

·14 min read

With its unique culture and point of view, Bloomingdale’s casts a wide net to attract different types of customers shopping for approachable and aspirational fashion.

In a conversation with Denise Magid, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for ready-to-wear, center core, concessions and Bloomingdale’s Outlets, she discussed the curation of its offer, the store’s customer focus, what makes the Bloomingdale’s experience special, and how the 150-year-old retailer stays dynamic and of the moment.

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“I’ve worked quite a few places so unlike many Bloomingdale’s folks, there’s a rich history here and people really love the brand and spend a lot of time with the brand,” said Magid. “There’s something very special about Bloomingdale’s and the most defining thing I can say is the energy. When I walk into any Bloomingdale’s store, I feel this tremendous energy. It’s in every part of the store, it’s in the throngs of the cosmetics department, but it’s also in the denim floor… there’s this excitement. I think what differentiates us is we cast a very wide net. Everybody is invited to our party. We go from approachable fashion to aspirational fashion.”

The Dior footwear department at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: Benjamin Lozovsky/Lozophoto.com
The Dior footwear department at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: Benjamin Lozovsky/Lozophoto.com

Benjamin Lozovsky/Lozophoto.com

While Bloomingdale’s features contemporary merchandise, it also has the pinnacle of luxury, which is growing. “That wide net allows us to get a lot of different types of customers in the store,” she said.

Asked how she differentiates Bloomingdale’s from the competition, Magid said, “What the customer expects to see in Bloomingdale’s and what I think we do really well is we’re very fashion-focused, and we have a very clear point of view. We try to do things in a little bit of an unexpected way. We like to present the brands that we buy differently from others. And we’re also really big on trend stories, our mannequin stories, and really telling the customer what’s important,” she said.

When Magid interacts with customers in stores and at events, and through the surveys they do, she comes to this conclusion: “Bloomingdale’s is a place of discovery for them. Because of that wide net that we cast, because we are a multicategory department store, we have things like home in our store, and we have a robust kids’ business, those are things people come for because we have it all. We do it in such a curated way that they trust that we’re going to have what’s new and next,” she said.

She said there are opportunities to carry exclusive brands, private brands, collaborations and to partner with brands to do exclusive brand and product launches and collaborations. “But I also think it goes beyond things that you can’t find anywhere else. It also is in the way we present things,” she said. For example, she said, “If you look at brands like Staud and Cult Gaia, which are newer to our mix, we launched them between 2020 and 2021.  When we launched those brands, they exist in other places, what we talked about and what I got excited about is how can we do something together that’s different than what you have with your other partners?”

She said they wanted to show Staud as a lifestyle brand. While Staud is still situated in both the handbag and shoe departments, Bloomingdale’s found ways to create visual demonstrations that allow the brand to express itself via full looks in a curated shop on the second floor.

Another example is Stoney Clover Lane, the fashion accessories brand. “My team and I were talking about how do you bring it to life at Bloomingdale’s? At 59th Street, we did this whole pop-up installation on the second floor, and it will be popping up in our White Plains [New York] store. We gave them a pretty large footprint to be able to bring the expression of their brand to our store,” she said. They have tote bags, pencil cases and patches. “It’s fun. We like to have fun. We like people to see fashion and shopping as a joy. It’s not just the products you carry, but it’s the way you present them and the experience the person has, when they’re shopping,” said Magid.

She said because they only have a fleet of 31 full-line stores, one Bloomie’s store and 21 outlets, they have to really be laser-focused on the curation of each particular location.

“We have hyper-localized assortments, and every store is a little bit different, and you really need to understand the demographics of the particular location. There are different categories of business that resonate in each market, and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. We have our core vision of who we are and what we stand for, but we do cater and localize, because there are different customers shopping in each market, and we like to have what the customer is looking for,” she said.

A ready-to-wear floor at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: courtesy shot.
A ready-to-wear floor at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: courtesy shot.

courtesy shot.

According to Magid, “2021 was a stellar year. We’ve seen all parts of our business growing. I’m always about what’s next. We’re in the midst of preparing for the spring 2023 kickoff we like to do with our teams. Just to set the vision for the next year and what we’re hoping to accomplish as an organization for the next year from a merchandising perspective so they have all those ideas in their head as they’re going into market, helping us build what it’s going to look like.

“Our contemporary business is thriving, our luxury business is through the roof,” she said. 

She said the store has done a good job of focusing on the service piece. “We have the stylist program now, and we have the personal shoppers. We have loyal customers who have the shoppers whom they love to work with,” she said.

The concession model, which is very popular at retail in accessories, is also utilized for apparel. Magid said they do a substantial amount with the concession model. “We have a robust luxury concessions business, which is the model many of them have explored throughout all retailers. We were one of the first to really explore, and I credit my predecessor, Frank Doroff, for that, the ready-to-wear concessions. He brought over a lot of the brands that have resonated and have really big footprints in Europe like a Sandro and Maje, Zadig & Voltaire, and All Saints. Also, Ted Baker has a concession business with Bloomingdale’s,” she said, as does James Perse.

The Mary Katrantzou shop at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: courtesy shot.
The Mary Katrantzou shop at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: courtesy shot.

courtesy shot.

Whether a concession or wholesale model, Magid said the retailer is very involved in each of the businesses. “Even when we do the personalization of the shops, it’s all within the brand DNA. You should never walk into a Bloomingdale’s, and not feel like you’re in Bloomingdale’s,” she said. Even when it’s a concession model, she explained, Bloomingdale’s works closely with the brand’s teams on what the assortment should look like and analyzing the business. “We can see what’s happening in all the other businesses around. It’s really that sharing of information, in order to curate the best assortment for our customer. Also, to understand where are the white spaces that they can capitalize on?”

For example, she said, We see blazers are selling again and trousers are selling really strongly and pumps are starting to pick up, and our tote bag business, so these are things we’re sharing because you’re obviously seeing people’s return to office, and that’s the kind of information we share,” she said.

As far as where they get their inspiration, Magid and her team travel frequently to Europe for the fashion shows, market appointments and trade shows.

“We travel often,” she said. “We definitely took a hiatus during the pandemic and we were lucky for some incredible tools — we launched NuOrder — and a lot of companies had tools to do virtual appointments. I was very eager to get back to the travel, both from an international perspective and domestic perspective. I think they’re both equally important to us.”

Magid said she goes to as many European shows as possible. “The shows are incredibly important, so we divide and conquer. The fashion directors will attend some of the shows. Tony [Spring, Bloomingdale’s chief executive officer] and I will attend some of the shows. Some of our merchant leaders will attend the shows. We try to have a presence at all of them, it’s important for me to stay for the market appointments,” she said.

One of the unique aspects of Bloomingdale’s has been its partnerships with Hollywood and bringing the film and fashion worlds together. Over the years, the retailer has had successful tie-ins with many Hollywood movies, such as “Evita,” Out of Africa,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Rent,” “Hairspray” and “Space Jam.”

Asked how involved she gets with these extravaganzas, Magid said, “Kevin Harter [vice president of fashion] leads that through integrated marketing, but the merchant teams are incredibly involved and we have a wonderful partnership. It’s like a collaborative brainstorm. He may have a great idea and come to us and ask how can we play this, what is the merchant component, what can we do, and he also oversees the fashion directors.” 

Harter oversees the Carousel @ Bloomingdale’s, which just did “Summer of Marc,” and Harter curated a lot of different products. They also did “Bridgerton.”

Magid discussed how they discover new brands and host open-sees for vendors.

We have a lot of different ways. The fashion directors are scouring the pavement and they’re looking for what’s new and what’s next on a daily basis. This week, the rtw fashion director and I were discussing the list of who we want to go after. They’ll do a lot of the vetting, where are they in their journey, does it make sense, are we at a place where we feel it’s right for our customer? And the buyers will go into market and schedule an appointment. We’ll do open-sees,” she said. Or, they’ll do shopping trips and stumble upon something and try to figure out how to get in touch with the brand.

Bringing in more diverse brands to meet the needs of new customers is one of their focuses. “Our customer has changed. So when you look at the last few years, we’ve been able to retain our customers because they are extremely loyal, but we’ve also seen a lot of new customers that are joining us, both from in-store and predominately online from the growth and explosion of digital over the last couple of years. When you look at it, we’re a very data-driven company, you will get the demographics and generationally they’re changing and ethnicities are changing, and every region is quite different. It’s important to have products that resonate with the customer we’re attracting,” she said. Bloomingdale’s has a senior director of Concessions and New Business Development, who was given added responsibility of diverse supplier strategy.

Addressing the California sportswear brands and their importance to Bloomingdale’s, Magid noted that denim is one of the store’s pride and joys, and much of the product comes out of L.A. A lot of the T-shirt, denim, loungewear and active brands are California labels. “Those are big parts of our business because we do have a dominant contemporary and very casual business, as well, so they’re really important,” she said.

Magid said she’s seen an influx of young people shopping in-store at Bloomingdale’s.

“Honestly I see the young woman out of college is shopping in the stores.  I see the growth of Gen Z in our numbers. And I think department stores have something very special to offer. That’s why we try to do interesting things. To go beyond product, to focus on the service component to be able to tell the story, and to have it be truly an experience,” she said. “Everybody talks about experiential retail, and we really try to have you see something new every time you walk into the store. We are committed as an organization. We have a group who has a clear vision of where we’re going, which starts from our leadership, who is an open-minded leader and a very curious leader, and I think that translates throughout the organization,” she said.

Discussing the footwear floor, she said, “It’s incredible. Luxury, in general, has had a wonderful run in terms of the business. When we talk about the evolution, we never stop.” She explained that the shoe floor launched before she got there in 2018, “but if you look at it today, we didn’t stop. We didn’t renovate and say, ‘that’s it.’ Balenciaga launched with us at the end of 2020 and built a shop in 2021. We launched that beautiful Bottega Veneta shop… We launched a McQueen shop, we launched a Saint Laurent shop, we opened a Valentino shop, the Golden Goose installation in the center of the floor. All of those were not part of the initial launch. We’re never done. We’re always looking to continue to excite and bring in the brands and present them in a different way, and there’s much more to come.”

The footwear floor at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: Benjamin Lozovsky/Lozophoto.com
The footwear floor at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: Benjamin Lozovsky/Lozophoto.com

Benjamin Lozovsky/Lozophoto.com

Denim remains a key part of the retailer’s offering. “We’ve had a really good run across our brands. We’ve been explosive with L’Agence and that’s been growing significantly. We’ve added more locations with that brand. It is an incredible brand and I think they do a good job with elevated sportswear within the mix.” She said their Mother business “has been explosive.” “Mother is California cool in so many ways,” she said. They recently launched Veronica Beard’s denim line, which has been strong out of the gate.

“Our denim is our birthright. We really believe in denim, and are bullish on the brands, and we present them in a meaningful way and it’s a category that we’re very dominant in,” she said.

Magid believes the contemporary customer is both shopping online and coming into the store. “It’s mutual. We have a very robust store business. What we can tell is that there’s a lot of research that’s often done online and it ends up with a person coming into the store. Obviously, we made it very seamless for them, so you can buy online and pick it up in your store.”

Contemporary sportswear at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: courtesy shot.
Contemporary sportswear at Bloomingdale’s. - Credit: courtesy shot.

courtesy shot.

She said for a while, consumers were navigating the challenges of the pandemic and doing a lot of onscreen events, but now they’re introducing more events in-store. The 150th will be the beginning. It will be a tremendous gala with lots of public and private events that are scheduled. It’s an incredible lineup that begins on Sept. 9,” she said.

For the 150th, Bloomingdale’s has developed over 300 items for a capsule across all categories, from home to men’s, women’s and beauty, accessories, and fine jewelry. “It’s many of our important vendor partners but really a spectacular offer from our luxury partners,” she said.

When asked what she sees as some of the biggest challenges in the women’s category, Magid replied, “For a while, it was supply chain, and just being able to get the goods. There was so much pent-up demand and it was challenging, both from the ports and the manufacturing and shutdowns in China, and that was the biggest challenge and hurdle that we’ve been facing in terms of getting the receipts to flow, but I think we’re in a much healthier place. A lot of that has subsided, and we’re seeing the last few months’ receipts coming in.”

Turning to the outlets, she said that business is strong. They have 21 stores. “We’re small, but we’re mighty. I feel we’ve found a great formula. If you look at our outlets, it’s very similar to the DNA and positioning. It’s a fashion point of view. It’s high/low. We’re bringing fashion and trend at accessible price points to a person who’s a value shopper. We’re also seeing the growth of advanced contemporary and luxury within that space, too. We present in a very different way. In our stores where you see the mannequins and the trend statements, we do a very similar format in our outlet stores so the trends and things that they believe in are very clear,” said Magid.

  

   

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