Posted by the Fashion Editor at Large
Following on from last month's Fashion Insider interview with Sarah Mower, this month I bring you one of the best buyers in fashion, Yasmin Sewell.
Yasmin is one of the best respected and well-known fashion buyers in Britain, and is something of a celebrity in her homeland Australia. One Aussie summer I happened to be down in Sydney visiting Yasmin for her 30th when I spotted her in a celebrity magazine labelled as “the other woman” in the break-up of a famous Australian actor!!! Far from being the other woman, she has known said actor since childhood, and they were having fun on Bondi when the photograph was taken. Though, that is not to say she hasn’t had her fair share of actors. She was married to the delectable Rufus Sewell for most of her 20’s. Lucky lucky... But ANYWAY. That is not what I am here to tell you. Yasmin Sewell is a great friend of mine, and her story is an interesting one and not what you would expect. Her talent for picking fashion winners is rather prodigious: she was all over Christopher Kane the second he graduated, and was the first to champion ACNE in the UK. Her latest discoveries are numerous. I also admire that she gives her time for free to young designers such as the wonderful J.W Anderson, a talent of the future to be sure. Yasmin has exquisite taste, and her eye for what women want is up there with the greats. She is the creative consultant for Liberty, and at the Liberty press day last week, I could see her influence as clear as if it were her fingerprint. For the cost of a mere glass of white wine (she doesn’t drink much) and a few nibbles, Yasmin agreed to let me interrogate her about her life and career, how she came to develop her famously good taste and end up exercising her buying prowess in the fabulous fashion stores of London.
AND THEN YASMIN TOLD US EVERYTHING!
I left school at 15. I wanted to be free. I was rebellious. The teachers said “She has SO much potential.” I thought “What the fuck do they know?” The truth is I didn’t know what motivation was.
My teacher Mrs Nichols changed my life. She put me forward for a job with McGrath Partners estate agents. John, the guy who owned it, was a 26 year old self-made millionaire and motivational speaker. I got the job as an office assistant. Within three days everything I thought about life turned around. The job became my higher education. I don’t know where I’d be without it. I learned everything about business and running a company. By the time I left when I was 18 I was helping John run the company. Today he is a billionaire.
I call those days my Gloria Estefan period. I was a Lebanese girl in Sydney. I had waist length curly hair and my figure was more curvaceous than it is today. I wore conservative suits to work.
I shaved all my hair off when I was 19 and became the door bitch of a nightclub. After that only the kind of guys I liked would whistle at me in the street.
The single biggest event of my teens was the moment I fell in love with Rufus (Sewell).
Three days after I shaved my hair off I was sat in the Pacific Blue Room, a hot restaurant on Oxford Street in Sydney when Kiefer Sutherland walked in with this weird looking guy. He had these big big eyes. He was staring at me, and I was like “who is this weird guy?” Then a few minutes later I looked back at him, and that was it. It was love. The man was Rufus Sewell. A week later I had moved into his hotel. He was making a movie called Dark City. We became inseparable. Three months later I moved to London. That was it. I was 20.
London was all about building a career. Interning. I liked fashion, but I didn’t know what aspect.
I worked on the shop floor at Browns. I was just discovering my personal style. Then Rufus and I went to New York. I interned at Harpers Bazaar with Tonne Goodman. Then back in London I worked with Alison Edmond at Harpers and Queen as bookings editor.
Browns inspired me at retail, but I felt they had a snobbish attitude to service that was a bit old-school. Well it was 1995. I thought to myself “something is missing here”. John McGrath trained me in service, he is revolutionary. No pretension. For him good service had to be efficient, co-operative and about making the customer feel fantastic.
My “Eureka” moment came when a Sydney boutique called Museum asked me to buy some clothes for them. So I just made a few calls and did it without thinking.
Buying the clothes was such a buzz. There I was picking a dress someone would want six months later. Someone will buy it and it will make them happy.
That period made me. Within a few months I had found a shop that looked like a fashion design studio. It was upstairs, you had to ring a bell to get in and when you got there you could hang out as long as you wanted. I was 22. It took 18 months to launch. I called it Yasmin Cho. Cho is the name of my best school friend. People called me Yasmin Cho for years. The store was about embracing the avant-garde of the time. We were selling Susan Ciancolo, Imitation of Christ. A.F Vandervorst.
I remember seeing Rick Owens in the back corner of some dodgy showroom in Paris in 1998.
His jackets were just amazing. Now he is one of the best-selling designers in the world.
I was surprised that seeing and spotting and getting these designers seemed so easy to me. Was no one else seeing what I was seeing? After a while I realised I must have a good eye. I had no history as a buyer. How was I supposed to know?
I had no rules, no boss, no one saying “look at the sales of last season.” It was just about love.
With Yasmin Cho I took a lot of risks. Some didn’t pay off. In the end I failed. I had the wrong advisors and lost the business. I was screwed over. I let it happen. Failure was a privilege. Now when it comes to business I don’t let people mess me around.
Experience breeds caution. But it doesn’t mean the cowl neck that didn’t sell in ’99 won’t sell in 2009.
You never really know if something is going to work. But when I was at Browns from 2005-2008, and first saw Christopher Kane, I knew. If something doesn’t look like it will work, you’ve got to push it. Call the top five fashion journalists and the top ten customers and make it happen.
The secret of being a good buyer? Being tuned in. You’ve got to know what is happening. I get inspiration from what I haven’t seen. I can sense when a trend is coming to an end.
I listen to journalists. Big customers are influenced by magazines. Sometimes I buy things I don’t love but that the press love because I know customers will buy them.
My biggest success as a buyer was backing ACNE back in 2005. I had just arrived at Browns and when I walked into my office for the first time there was a pile of about 200 look books. I remember throwing them all away except ACNE. That was a good example of liking it because I hadn’t seen anything else like it. Their aesthetic didn’t exist then, and I knew that as SOON AS I SAW IT that it was going to be huge. And it was.
You’ll never see me in leggings and a tank top. I’m very petite – a size 6 – but I’m pear shaped with not the longest legs in the world, a 23 inch waist and a D-cup. You could say I have hidden curves. So I dress to accentuate my best bits which are my long neck and long, thin arms. Me in a pair of Sass & Bide skinny jeans? Yikes! Me in my long Sophia Kokosalaki dress? Yeah!
At one point in my life I listened ONLY to Marvin Gaye for three years.
Today I’m rocking a “portfolio career”. I work for Liberty, do a TV show for Fashionair, I mentor young designers and consult for designer labels and retail brands. I’m pretty happy.
Thanks Yazzy xxx
Yazzy is wearing a top by TOGA. (Last season, sadly)
Photo credit: Chris Brooks