Seeking shoes with personality and pop, Tracy Margolies, vice president DMM of women’s footwear for Saks Fifth Avenue, reveals how gut feelings play an important role in determining which styles make the cut inside one of the nation’s leading arbiters of footwear fashion. By Greg Dutter
Growing up, Tracy Margolies wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to be one day. She entertained thoughts of becoming a psychologist, but the retail bug bit her early on, which (in part) was due to hereditary factors. “My grandmother was in the retail business, so I always had it in my blood,” she says, adding that while attending the University of Maryland, she interned at Bloomingdale’s and really became hooked. “That’s when I said to myself that I wanted to be a buyer.”
Margolies confesses, however, that she really didn’t know back then entirely what being a buyer entailed. “I thought it was just picking out pretty shoes and clothing, but I quickly learned that there is a financial component, which makes me love the job more,” she says. Margolies’ first job out of college was at Bergdorf Goodman, where she started out at the bottom and worked her way up. She came on as the women’s shoe divisional merchandise manager at Saks almost seven years ago and has loved her job ever since. Actually, shopping the world for the finest women’s shoes is a dream for Margolies. “It’s more like my hobby,” she says, adding that the unexpected nature of the retail business is a refreshing bonus. “Each day, you think it’s going to go one way, but it always goes another,” she offers. “That’s just the power of retail: It’s always busy and it’s ever-changing.”
Here, Margolies discusses her favorite shoes, personal style and up-and-coming designers at Saks, among other intriguing topics, as well as the elusive “pop” factor when it comes to picking shoes for the chain’s coveted floor displays.
Whose shoes are you wearing today?
I’m wearing YSL leopard print heels. They’re not new, but they’re an old favorite.
Which did you pick first: the shoes or the outfit?
The shoes. I really wanted to wear these today.
How old were you when you bought your first pair of high heels?
I was 21. I guess it was a little old for a first purchase.
And how many pairs of shoes are currently in your closet?
Too many to count, but a girl can never have too many pairs of shoes.
What is your go-to-style?
I don’t have one in particular, but my go-to silhouette is a high heel. I always wear high heels.
How would you describe your personal style?
I would say that it’s fashionable but timeless. I prefer pieces that I could always wear again. Also, I want something that always makes me feel good. I like to look down at my shoes and smile.
How much is your personal style reflected in Saks’ merchandise mix?
It’s pretty evident but, overall, it has a bit more edge to it.
When choosing which styles make the cut at Saks, how much of it is your gut feeling as opposed to what a spreadsheet might read?
The initial selection by our team is primarily based on a gut feeling. The financials serve more as checks and balances to what finally makes the cut.
So when you look at a particular style, do you have a sense right away that there’s something special or not?
Yes, I know in the first few seconds when I see a shoe. That’s why I go a lot with my gut; it’s really an emotional feeling, and you feel it when you see it.
With the amount of shoes you must be looking at, that’s a lot of gut checking, no?
During market season, it is a lot of shoes. And that’s a really hard part of the job—controlling your gut. You’ve got to make some hard decisions eventually.
How would you describe your buying philosophy overall?
You definitely have to take risks and you go by emotion a lot. I also buy what my customers are asking for. While I’m dictating fashion to a certain extent—and that’s why you have to take some risks—looking at what is selling and what people are wearing tells me what customers want.
What’s your favorite season to shop for?
I love to shop for fall because I love boots. I love wearing boots, I love buying boots and I love that there are so many different boot options.
Where do you look for inspiration and direction when preparing for an upcoming season?
I’m always looking at what people are wearing on the street. Actually, I always start down and then look up to get the whole picture.
What are some of your favorite cities for trend spotting?
New York is amazing, and Paris is great, too.
Who or what is having the biggest influence on footwear fashion today?
I think celebrities are having a big influence on footwear fashion right now, like Lady Gaga, for example. I also think social media is having a significant influence, especially bloggers. They are playing a more important role today. They cause an immediate demand. They get people excited about fashion.
Like Tavi Gevinson’s influence?
Yes. It’s kind of amazing what she has been able to achieve. I wasn’t that career-oriented at 15 years old (laughs).
The Saks shoe department is known for giving new designers a chance. Which up-and-coming designers are currently on your radar?
We’re always looking for new designers. Right now, Nicholas Kirkwood and Tabitha Simmons are two we are high on. I love their creativity, their design and how they pay attention to detail. I also feel like they have personality in their footwear. You can look at some shoes where nothing makes it distinctive. Their shoes have a distinct personality. There’s a pop to it.
Is it hard to find that pop?
I think that there’s a lot of talent in the industry. And there are just so many ways a designer can be creative in making footwear. It can be with the heel details, materials, toe shapes—there are just so many ways. That’s what makes the footwear industry so unique.
Is your merchandise mix benefiting from the color rush that is sweeping fashion of late?
Sure. We are definitely selling a lot of color. And it’s exciting to see our customers react to that.
Did you foresee that trend coming, or was it more due to the spectacular run of warm, sunny weather this spring that helped it along?
I think that color just looks really fresh on the floor and it’s eye-catching. For fall, I think the trend will continue, but there will obviously be more rich, sophisticated shades.
What about boots for this fall, noting how the mild weather had somewhat of a negative impact on certain styles and brands?
I feel as though the seasons are blending into each other almost. Fortunately, you can wear boots pretty much all year ’round, except maybe in July and August. I also think that boots look cute with a dress, so that adds to the staying power of the category. Overall, I think boots have become a basic, whereas Ugg is really a cold-weather buy, so unfortunately that had an impact on its business this year. But I look at them as a very separate business compared to other boot resources, and it’s now more of a replenishment model.
Are there any key trends you are eying for Spring ’13?
We are always looking for something new.
Is there anything missing in fashion footwear right now?
What would you like to see more of? I would like to see more fashion on a mid heel. That has been an ongoing void in footwear. So something that looks spectacular, but it’s not sky-high.
Are there any shoe styles that should go the way of fanny packs?
At first, I thought you were asking what I would wear with a fanny pack, and my answer is sneakers (laughs). But to answer your question correctly, I don’t really think there is a style that should never return. And we don’t carry Crocs, so they don’t really bother me.
In buying for the whole chain, does the mix change much from city to city?
We like to do that. We spend a lot of time talking with our store managers, as well as visiting them, to learn about their unique preferences. We also take into consideration the different climates of each city. It’s important to look at your buys based off of an individual location.
Any cities that like to take more fashion risks than others?
Definitely Miami and also Houston, Atlanta and, obviously, New York and L.A.
Yes. It’s a fun city. They really like their shoe fashion.
Is there a perfect shoe, and can you describe it?
It’s a sexy stiletto that’s also comfortable—one that I could wear all day and into the night. And I was also thinking that it could burn calories, too. You know that FitFlop sandal? I was so intrigued by the concept that if I could wear these YSL shoes that I’m wearing right now and it burned calories, then that would really be something.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the people, as there are some really terrific ones in the industry. I also love merchandising and, of course, I love the shoes.