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It's not all glamour: A retailer's guide to Fashion Week

Wednesday, 12 Feb 2014 | 8:00 AM ET

The uninitiated often think of New York Fashion Week as a glamorous affair attended by leggy women wearing the tallest stilettos they can handle.

But few realize how much work is involved for the retail industry, which attends the shows en force searching for looks that will get shoppers spending.

Brooke Jaffe, operating vice president of fashion direction for women's ready-to-wear at Bloomingdale's (which is owned by Macy's), works with the store's buyers to bring a compelling mix of clothing from the runway to its racks. She offered CNBC a peek into retailers' view of New York Fashion Week.

Brooke Jaffe with Bloomingdale's CEO Tony Spring
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Brooke Jaffe with Bloomingdale's CEO Tony Spring

New York Fashion Week officially kicked off at Lincoln Center on Thursday, but when did you start planning for the event?

We're really trying to do things ahead of Fashion Week more and more. Between appointments ahead of the shows and organizing my trip to Europe for the London, Milan and Paris shows, we've really been planning for the last four weeks—maybe longer. There's so much planning that goes into the fall season because there are so many areas of the business on different timetables.

(Read more: Hot looks from the catwalk)

One example is the coat market. A lot of those orders were placed about a month ago. I used to be the accessories director and looked at shoes ... weeks ahead of the runway. There are a number of factors that impact when orders need to be placed, such as where a brand manufactures its clothing.

We also see some collections in advance. I saw five collections ahead of time during the first week of NYFW.

What is a typical day like during NYFW?

It's crazy in a good way. Although I'd love to get to every single show, it's not physically possible. I typically try to get to between nine and 10 places a day. That's inclusive of appointments that I'll do between shows.

Appointments include follow-ups with brands, where they will show a more commercial collection. That's true of almost every designer. They have more high-fashion pieces that they show on the runway, and then they show more commercial options—whether it's a basic black pant or something else you need in your assortment.

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That's really what's different about retailers looking at a fashion show versus an editor, we look at the whole line. There's really no way to predict how much of the store's purchase is made from runway pieces versus appointment pieces. It's always a mix, and you can't have one without the other. You need the basics, and you need the fashion.

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I also try to make it to dinners and after-parties throughout the week. Although that gets harder to do when there's a snowstorm, I always feel like the first Thursday of Fashion Week is back-to-school for me. I get to see all my friends from the different places I've worked and other peers. That's really a big piece of what Fashion Week is.

How do you get around Manhattan during the week?

Anything with wheels will do. I use taxis; I'll utilize a car when I need one—Uber has changed my life.

The most challenging part about Fashion Week is getting places on time. I make contact with every neighborhood in Manhattan at some point, except maybe Carnegie Hill. I go from the Upper East Side to the Meatpacking District to SoHo to Chelsea to the Hudson Hotel—it's just up and down the city.

What do you look for at the shows?

My job is to be the antennae for newness. I'm looking for things that our customer will love that she doesn't own in her closet. I always look to marry the newest ideas with what the buyers think they can sell, based on history, and fuse the two to create something exciting in the store.

How many people are on your team?

There are seven us. We divide and conquer as much as possible, and we double up at certain shows. The shows are very well-attended by the buyers who purchase that line for the store.

The fashion industry takes in the Dennis Basso fashion show at MBFW Fall 2014.
John Lamparski | WireImage | Getty Images
The fashion industry takes in the Dennis Basso fashion show at MBFW Fall 2014.

To save time, do you skip shows that you've previewed in advance?

I would never skip a show because I've seen the line ahead of time. The way it looks on a model is so different than looking at it statically on a hanger. It's important to show your support to the designers, and it's one of the most exciting parts of the job.

Where do you go when you have down time during the week?

I have so many appointments in Chelsea and the Meatpacking, so I make pit stops at the Soho House, where I'm a member, to charge up my phone and get a snack. It's a convenient downtown home base since I live uptown.

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P.J. Clarke's restaurant at Lincoln Square is also a pit stop, because sometimes I need to be by the tents and I only have a few minutes for a bite. They get how time-crunched we are, and you can be in and out in 20 minutes.

But since I'm usually out the door by 8:30 a.m. and don't get home until 10:30 or 11 p.m., there haven't been many pit stops.

When do you place your orders for the clothes you see on the fall runways?

We finish placing orders throughout February and then go through March for the collections we see in Europe. For things like T-shirts and denim, buying extends through the end of March and into April. The items typically hit shelves in September.

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What are some of your favorite brands?

Yigal Azrouël, Lela Rose. I always freak out at the Narciso Rodriguez show. Oscar de la Renta shows are spectacular, and they're always incredibly intimate feeling. Every girl wants to dress like that at some point in her life. I also love Ralph Lauren because I grew up watching and always admiring him. To have the actual job of watching a Ralph Lauren show every season doesn't seem real at times.

Fashion-forward shoes are such a big part of Fashion Week. How are you dealing with the snow?

I'm wearing Salvatore Ferragamo Wellington boots that have lining in them. It looks like I'm wearing black high boots but they are weather proof. I'm mixing fashion and function—it's not worth it to bite it on the first day.

(NOTE: The comments in this Q&A were condensed and edited.)

—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson. Follow her on Twitter @KrystinaGustafs.

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