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How I #MadeIt: Laura Larbalestier

Photographed by Claire Pepper
When you're excitedly sifting through rails of meticulously designed and beautifully-cut clothing in a luxury store you might not think about how the collections you saw on the catwalk came to be hanging right in front of you. But this integral job is the role of a fashion buyer, some of the most influential people in the industry, who shape the way we shop and each season select and point us towards the latest key trends.

Enter Buying Director, Laura Larbalestier, who spent eight years at Selfridges before making the move in 2012 to the legendary London multi-brand boutique, Browns. The Dries Van Noten devotee who also sits on the BFC NEWGEN selection panel, invited us over to the world-famous store on South Molton Street, to discuss her career trajectory, tricks of her trade and the new faces of fashion.

Who or what was it that initially inspired you to pursue a career in fashion?
I’ve always loved clothes. I think I first raided my mom’s closest at the age of two! When I was nine I designed a collection of clothes which my mom made – I put on a fashion show for the whole school! My interest in the business of fashion developed as I got a bit older. I knew that this side of the industry would be a good fit for me and so I decided to become a buyer.

What does your typical working day entail?
The best part about my role is how diverse my working day can be. No two days are ever the same. As buying director, I am responsible for setting the direction and budgets for each season. For several months of the year I travel alongside my team (Paris, Milan and New York) so those days are spent going to shows and showroom appointments, and writing orders. When in the office we work across all departments, including retail, editorial, press, online, merchandising, to drive sales and maximise opportunities for a successful season. It’s a collaborative working environment which is fast-paced and very dynamic.
Photographed by Claire Pepper
What are the key criteria for choosing something you think might become a bestseller?
A lot of it is instinct, which is fine tuned over time. Similarly, I’ve also developed an understanding of what works in the market. The thing that’s so great about our customer is that she’s so savvy and knows so much about fashion. She’s open to new things but already has such a strong sense of what she’s looking for and what interests and appeals to her. Finding new things is what’s often challenging in our role, but it’s also one of the most thrilling parts of my job. Maryam Nassir Zadeh, for example, is a new brand to Browns this season. We noticed a girl wearing her Roberta pump while on a buying trip and knew immediately that they would be a hit after so many seasons of flats. We introduced this style to the UK as an exclusive stockist and they were an instant sell-out.

How would you describe the Browns customer and how do they differ to other leading fashion stores in London?
Browns is for the woman who loves fashion but at the same time wants to be an individual, at any age. Being a boutique gives us the advantage of being really targeted – we offer a specific, edited point of view which stands us apart. We offer our customer an edit of all of the biggest international brands and the most exciting new designers on the market. Browns also has such amazing heritage, with a history of championing new talent and being the first to support new designers. Both in-store and online, Browns is the destination for those seeking the best in fashion.
Do you think the way the fashion industry operates needs to change drastically? Since you started out how have things changed for the better and worse?
One of the biggest challenges in the fashion industry is its sheer scale! There are so many brands to see and one of the hardest parts of my role is not having the time to see everything. What’s really interesting to me is how educated customers are nowadays about the fashion industry. People are so excited about and interested in fashion. Our customers are so aware and involved and it’s very satisfying to bring new things to the Browns audience and see them do well.

What would be your advice to someone starting out?
It really depends on what you want to do, but I would advise anyone looking to make a start in the industry to start by getting a job in retail and spending time on the shop floor. The opportunity to have direct contact with customers is invaluable. Internships are also crucial – they are a great way to gain insight into what happens in fashion offices. Building your understanding of the business side of fashion is extremely important.
Who are your favourite emerging designers and why?
Molly Goddard has quickly established herself as the new go-to dressmaker in London. Y PROJECT is also a fast-emerging brand that we’re particularly excited about. As the evolution of streetwear progresses, this brand is the new name in cool.

What are your favourite pieces and trends for this season?
In terms of ready-to-wear, separates continue to be really key this season. The new key piece for spring is the new statement top, the cold shoulder being one of the key looks. Look to Ellery and Rosie Assoulin for some of the most covetable options. Footwear continues to be an important category for us – we’re offering 452 styles this season! It’s all about the flat and the block heel. The Gucci loafer is without doubt the must-have spring shoe – it’s a revived classic. Dorateymur’s flat loafer, which we’re stocking in black and white, is a great alternative for those looking for something a little different. Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s Roberta pump (exclusive to Browns this season) has also fast become a favourite of mine for SS16. The next style to snap-up from Maryam is the ‘Sophie’. The patent slide sandal, available in pastel pink and baby blue, is destined to be a sell-out.

Follow Browns Fashion on Instagram @brownsfashion