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Interview: Ciara Flood, Fashion Buyer For Selfridges

A lot of people dream of working in the fashion industry. Irish woman Ciara Flood lives and breathes and sleeps it in her role as a buyer for luxury department store Selfridges. Here she talks to us about how she managed to carve out her dream career, what her day-to-day life looks out, and how she keeps sane with the business and jetsetting of it all. Prepare to be overwhelmed at the hard-working fabulousness of it all.

You studied business and politics in Trinity. Did you always know you wanted a career in fashion?

I was always interested in the industry. My mother’s fascination with clothing was definitely a driving force behind that. I spent my childhood watching her shop and talking about clothing. Fashion buying was something I thought could be quite enjoyable to do. However, 13 years ago when I did my leaving certificate it wasn’t a choice on a CAO form.

My guidance counsellor didn’t have a leaflet on ‘how to be a fashion buyer’ either so I knew I’d have to carve this career out myself. A business degree seemed like a good first step. The summer after my third year at Trinity I realised I needed to get some serious experience over the summer months. At the time, it was pretty hard to get a fashion buying internship having no connections and knowing nobody who has ever worked in the industry.

I had just met my husband-to-be, Jonathan Legge, who encouraged me to apply for internships within the design industry as a starting step. I interned with Tom Dixon for three months as their press and marketing. Not quite fashion but a foot in the door to a whole new world of London and design.

✔️✔️✔️ @emiliawickstead morning well spent.

A photo posted by Ciara Flood (@ciarafloodo) on

 You then went to the London College of Fashion and studied fashion marketing. Was that tough?

Facing into my finals at Trinity I knew I needed a fashion name on my CV. LCF were offering a Masters in Strategic Fashion Marketing which sounded lofty enough to convince my parents that it was worth a year of my time and the loan I would take out to support it. After week one, I knew that I would have time on my hands to coincide the masters with some more practical work experience.

It’s important to remember that most of the colleges offering buying or fashion degrees/masters are businesses capitalising on wealthy international students, though some of them can be worthwhile there is nothing quite like interning to get into this game.

My first fashion internship was with a fashion PR in London (who shall remain nameless), a first glimpse into some of the crazy personalities in this world. The colour yellow was banned, and staplers were a complete no-no! I then moved onto Modus Publicity a much bigger fashion PR agency in London. I got my first taste of real fashion here; helping with the set-up for one of Erdem’s first shows was a real highlight.

I then felt ready to apply for my dream internship, Net-a-Porter, I had been watching the business for years and it seemed like they were at the complete cutting edge of retail and of servicing the modern fashion/luxury consumer. My internship was again within the Press team; I used my access within the business to write my dissertation for my Masters. I interviewed the then Head of Marketing Alison Loehnis, now Managing Director. My thesis title was ‘Net-a-Porter, A Case Study- Delivering Luxury Through Service Innovation’.  

I was happy in this coat @coach #latergram A photo posted by Ciara Flood (@ciarafloodo) on

How did your masters lead to fashion buying?

My internship ended, and I spent the summer finishing up my thesis. Marketing and Press had been the basis of my experience to this point, but I knew buying was what I really wanted to do, even at this stage it still seemed like a pipe dream. September rolled on and after a short stint at a consultancy company specialising in online fashion marketing a role came up at Net-a-Porter for ‘Buy Team Assistant’. I applied and through recommendations from my internship I got the job! I would be assisting Holli Rogers, Buying Director at the time, and a team of 8 buyers.

Can you remember your first day?

I can – I wore a Luella jacket and was completely overwhelmed with everything. The buyers were just back from New York, and it was the start of the fall-winter fashion season. I was thrown right in the deep end.

I worked in this role for 18 months until there was an internal call out for employees to put together convincing proposals for future businesses within the Net-a-Porter group. A couple of us proposed menswear and were immediately assigned onto a committee to develop the brand Mr Porter. I then took up the role of Assistant Buyer, assisting leaders in the men’s fashion buying world and introducing them to the inner workings of an online pure player. Working on a start-up within an existing organisation was a real privilege and where huge learning happened for me.

Women at work…serious business

A photo posted by Ciara Flood (@ciarafloodo) on

You worked there for nearly five years. What was the best lesson you learned during that time?

There was a huge amount of lessons learnt at Net-a-Porter. Natalie Massenet wanted to create a fantasy fashion office, where everyone dressed in designer clothing with white roses on every desk. She always had a single pure vision, and though my access with her was limited, I think that clarity of vision is truly important in a leader. Employees loved listening to her and bought into her thinking. Being a buyer is a lot like being an entrepreneur, so having clarity in your decision-making and vision is something I learnt from her.

Did you have a mentor?

I have worked directly with some of the best people within this industry, from Net-a-Porter to Selfridges. I try to take something from everyone I have assisted or worked for. You’ll always find people with different skill sets, and it’s interesting to see how they play to their strengths. Some buyers are product focused, others people. I realize now that a good buyer must do both in equal measure.

My mentor remains to be my dad, my biggest champion and first to give advice. He has been my sounding board for lots of my career decisions. He is a successful businessman and is very good at helping me break down complicated decisions or situations.

Sunday morning #NYC

A photo posted by Ciara Flood (@ciarafloodo) on


As a buyer, you travel a lot and attend fashion weeks around the world. What destination gets you excited?

New York, I absolutely love it. I love the pace of the city and the positivity of the people. I think it’s a great place and would move there in a heartbeat. We stay at The Bowery in New York, which also helps.

Any packing tips?

It’s taken me a while to perfect packing. Two years ago when I joined Selfridges I bought a Rimowa Salsa sport suitcase because most of the buying team had one and they raved about it. I have to say it’s a complete delight to pack and so easy to move around airports and train stations.

Pre collections are easier to pack for, as there are no shows so there is a little less pressure. For show seasons however I’ll write a quick list of outfits and start compiling the various pieces in the spare room a couple of days before travel. Laundry between cities can be tricky to turnaround, so I rely on a laundry service in London, which collects and drops, much to my fiancé’s annoyance. He thinks this is luxury at its most extreme. I think it’s quite clever.

Do you have a work wardrobe of sorts? What labels do you gravitate towards?

I’m pared back in my personal wardrobe and quite functional in my dress. My uniform currently is Tabitha Simmons flats, some form of shirting; I tend to be a little more playful in my trouser choice, culottes, silk pants. I have been sporting a Saint Laurent neat little bag for the last two seasons that I love.

Forever gentle forever caring. A photo posted by Ciara Flood (@ciarafloodo) on

What’s your favourite item in your wardrobe?

My grandmother’s sheepskin gloves. She was a real beauty and super gentle lady. She gave me the gloves a year or so ago when sheepskin was the ‘business’. She died earlier this year so having these gloves is even more important to me now.

You have to keep on top of emerging trends – how do you do that? What are your must-read publications and sites? Is there any fashion journalist you can’t miss reading?

Living in a city like London really helps to keep on top of what’s relevant. I have always ‘people watched’ and this I suppose is still the most authentic way of figuring trends. Instagram has changed all this of course; we now have insight into every fashion influencer’s world and eyes on a daily basis.

There are magazines I always read, Style magazine brings me such joy every Sunday. I have read this every week since I was in school. It’s super relevant and speaks to the moment, unlike other monthly magazines. I try and pick up both US and French Vogue when travelling. UK Vogue is a monthly resource and Style.com is my directory.

 

Sequin staples @ashish_uk ✔️

 

A photo posted by Ciara Flood (@ciarafloodo) on

You worked in menswear buying for so long – have you noticed a real shift in how men are dressing?

At Mr Porter we really tried to capture a way men could buy into ‘fashion’ without looking too ‘fashion’. I think men’s fashion has become more accessible for the everyday man, men’s fashion now is based around the idea of inherent style that I think is a lot more digestible for the male customer.

I still spot men at Dublin airport in bootleg jeans and pointed shoes and a part of me dies, but I’d rather that than a preened fashion man at every corner. The level of ‘peacocking’ at men’s shows outstrips women’s at every level. I have never seen competitive street style like it… don’t ever let anyone tell you the men’s fashion industry is more ‘relaxed’ than women’s, this is simply not the case.

Is it a tough industry? What characteristics should someone who hopes to work as a buyer hone?

Of course it’s a tough industry. It’s ever evolving and changing so you need to embrace change at every turn, you need to adapt and be dynamic and resilient. Like any industry it’s made up of the best and worst, just make sure you are always surrounded by the best and most professional people. It makes the job 100 times easier. The team at Selfridges are amazing.

New Boots New York ✔️

A photo posted by Ciara Flood (@ciarafloodo) on

How do you de-stress after a busy day?

Exercise! I always make sure I have something booked for after work to get me out of the office. Classes are expensive in London but if I’m booked in I leave the office and make sure I get there. Our work is never done as buyers. When I was assisting I was always last one standing. It took me a while to realize that nobody noticed me burning the midnight oil so I now make every attempt to leave on time, and I’m a happier person for it. Tempo Pilates in London and the recently opened Barry’s Bootcamp on Worship Street are current favorites.

When I’m in New York I try and exercise each morning before the day ahead. Soul Cycle is just opposite our hotel and my twin sister Orla recently introduced me to ‘The Class’ with Taryn Twoomey. It’s run out of a fairly dingy studio in New York, but it’s hands down one of the most uplifting classes I’ve ever been too.

Who should we follow on Instagram, besides you?

It’s nice to get a break from fashion at times: @makersandbrothers, a beautiful collection of useful pieces for the home. @katehudson, she’s a cool lady who seems to have a very rounded perspective on life. For fashion: @pinskyes, editor at Style. I love her feed and love her style.

@mrselfportrait meet the dresses

A photo posted by Ciara Flood (@ciarafloodo) on

You get an email from a young person who wants your job – what are the three key pieces of advice you give them?

  1. Don’t sit still on the shop floor waiting to become a buyer, get into a buying/ fashion office, move city if you need to. There are lots of jobs in this industry and its well within your reach.
  2. Intern and stay in contact with the people you have interned with. Even if nothing is available after you intern, something may come up.
  3. Embrace any new development in technology, be all over and be an expert on it. Technology is changing how we consume fashion at every level and companies will expect you to be fully versed on this.

 

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