02/06/11

Standing on street corners

Categories: GQ, News, Opinion, Travel

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In about three weeks’ time I will be in Florence for a few days. Then I will fly to Paris. After that I’ll take a trip to Berlin, and finally it’s a week in New York. I know what you’re thinking: what a stylish, international man of travel! What a life! How glamorous! But I can’t tell you how much I’d prefer to be sitting on the sofa at home watching The Apprentice (or even the Dara O’Briain show afterwards, which is better).

I know it sounds ungrateful but the reason I’m doing all of this is not to attend the ambassador’s reception or to lecture on the benefits of world peace. I won’t be sipping Martinis in the Cipriani or Bellinis at Harry’s bar; I certainly won’t be dining with supermodels or members of the European Royal families. What I will be doing is standing in vast, soulless buildings alongside thousands of other menswear brands, touting the various products I’ve designed to people who can barely raise the energy to give a damn.

Welcome to the selling season.

Yes, the many brands around the world are gearing up to sell their wares for the spring/summer 2012 season and boy, what a palaver it is. Actually, palaver is not the right word: nightmare is the right word. So here is a brief insight into how the jeans/loafers/bag that you have just bought ended up on the shelf in the shop that you bought them from.

I will be stood on a four-square-metre piece of floor that we have dressed to project the image of Grenson to the world’s buyers. Yes, that’s right: 145 years of heritage in four square metres. I, along with my colleagues, will stand there like a cheap prostitute on the streets of King’s Cross, looking coyly in the direction of prospective buyers as they saunter by and eye up what’s on offer.

You see, they have the money so they have the power. OK, we are selling shoes instead of sex (I think I can also speak for my colleagues on this) but otherwise there is no difference. It’s kind of humiliating and it makes you feel a tiny bit unclean.

Sometimes we see the buyer from a big New York department store at the end of the row that we are on, and we get all nervous and try to look casual while ensuring we’re available at a moment’s notice. Sometimes the Selfridges buyer comes by whilst you are in conversation with a guy who has one shop in Minsk and who wants to buy three pairs of shoes and pay for them two years after he has sold them. Panic: do I ditch him and pounce on the Selfridges buyer, or do I carry on pretending to be interested in how he set up the shop with his ex-wife before she left him? It’s all a bit sweaty.

The two questions you always ask are “How many shops do you have”? and “What other brands to you carry”? If they have one shop and carry Camel Active, we double the price of the shoes and explain that they have to buy a minimum of 4,000 pairs on their first order. This usually ensures that not only will they beat a hasty retreat, but they will also avoid eye contact with you in the line for the stale baguettes at lunchtime.

Basically, it’s the underbelly of the business, the bit where brands look a little bit desperate – not the bit on the High Street where they look cool and aspirational.  It’s not very attractive, but then it’s a reminder of the fact that this is business, not art, and it’s actually very important.

More importantly though, it’s a story I can spin to my wife as I jet off around the world. “It’s hell out there, my love; by God, it’s hell out there.”

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