Words by Tanya Grimson
October 11th, 2016
Anita Barr is the Group Buying Director of the global luxury retailer Harvey Nichols. Born and raised in east London, Anita left school at 15 after taking her GCSEs, to care for her terminally ill father. During this time, Anita developed a strong interest in fashion and spent any spare time she had working on her sister’s market stall in London’s Leather Lane Market. In 1992, after her father passed away, she was given an opportunity at Harrods to work as a Sales Associate in the ladies fashion department. Anita excelled in this environment and she quickly developed a keen eye for trends and an instinct for what consumers wanted. Her ambition was to become the Buyer for Way-In, which she achieved within 5 years.
In 2000, Anita moved across to Selfridges to become Senior Buyer for Men’s Contemporary and within three years she was promoted to Buying Manager of the department and within the next 13 years she became the buying director of menswear, childrenswear and womenswear at various stages of her time at Selfridges until she left in 2013 to work for for All Saints, as their Global Product Merchandising Director.
In March 2014, Anita joined Harvey Nichols as Group Fashion Buying Director where she is responsible for the buying direction across Womenswear, Menswear and Accessories.
With over 20 years’ experience in the industry, Anita is an authority in the world of fashion and is regularly quoted in publications such as The Financial Times, The Sunday Times, Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily.
What does your 9-5 look like?
I am the Group Fashion Buying Director at Harvey Nichols, which means I’m responsible for the fashion buy across womenswear and menswear.
Travel is an integral part of my role and I’m regularly flying from one country to another for fashion week, buying and inspiration trips, so a regular 9-5 is non-existent. However, the start of the week starts off with a catch up on trade, meeting with the teams to discuss future plans and floor walks in store. We like to ensure that the store is continually evolving so our customers can discover new products with every visit. In buying you’re always working a season ahead, so we are continuously looking for new brands to introduce to our customers and seeking out what the next trend will be.
Describe your perfect day off?
A family day. Having three children makes it difficult being away from home for long periods of time, so I always try and include my children in what I’m doing, so before I leave I’ll show them the country I’m visiting on the globe. When I’m away I FaceTime my family every day and tell them about what I’m doing on my trip and when I get back, they love looking at pictures of where I’ve been and I always bring them a small momento back from the country. I’m also very lucky that I have an amazing husband who supports me and enables me to do my job.
How did you get into fashion?
In my late teenage years, I worked with my sister on a stall in London’s Leather Lane market, and one day a photographer took some photos of me working, which then got entered into a modelling competition that was being run by Harrods. Although I didn’t win the contest, Mohamed Al Fayed (former owner of Harrods) offered me a job working as a Sales Associate at Harrods and that’s where it all began. Working on the shop floor taught me about the women’s body and how to dress to compliment your shape. I also quickly developed a keen eye for trends and at the same time I realised I had a strong instinct for what customers wanted. I then became the buyer for the Way In department at Harrods, which was my first step to where I wanted to be. Then after 8 years with Harrods I was offered the chance to join Selfridges during its most transformative years and went on a 13 year journey where I had the opportunity to work and influence the evolution of womenswear, menswear and childrenswear.
The best career advice you’ve ever received?
Know your customer. The customer has to be at the centre of everything that you do.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far? And how did you overcome it?
I lost both my parents when I was very young, which had a huge impact on my life. But it gave me the determination and drive to succeed and ability to stay strong no matter what life throws at you.
Some new up and coming brands you’re into?
Harvey Nichols will be exclusively launching Brandon Maxwell for AW16, which is a really exciting addition to our international department and great for occasion wear with a contemporary, cool edge.
What one item of clothing could you not live without?
Anything and everything from Rick Owens.
My city away from home is Paris, as it’s probably where I spend most of my time outside of London. But I love Rio, it has an amazing energy. The people are really friendly and have a real passion for life. It has sprawling beaches, parties 24/7 and fantastic food. I loved the vibrant street art and the underground art scene. The extremes of wealth and poverty was also a real eye opener. We visited the favelas and seeing first hand some of the hardships and challenges the people have to face daily, was truly humbling.
What are your travel essentials?
I avoid packing items that crease easily, so no silk pieces or shirting. When I travel for work my days are always really busy with back to back appointments and social engagements in the evenings, so I need to be really organised when I pack. I usually plan out my week ahead in terms of outfits, checking my schedule and making sure I have the right wardrobe to see me through the trip. I pack versatile pieces that I can mix and match and can be worn day to night, and I stick to a neutral colour palette so I know my separates will work together. I avoid packing items that crease easily and usually use tissue paper to keep delicate items protected. I never over pack as this will certainly crease everything. There are certain items I always travel in, comfort is key! My Victoria Beckham leather jacket is the perfect weight for all weathers. If it’s cooler than expected, I will layer up with my Isabel Marant cashmere jumper and if it’s warm I team it with a basic t-shirt from COS – which is my go-to high street store as they are so great for basics. I love my Rag & Bone skinny jeans as they’re so comfortable and I will usually team them with my Common Projects trainers which are perfect for running around in.
Harvey Nichols recently introduced ‘experience led shopping’ in the Birmingham store, how do you think this affects the customer experience? Is there anything else exciting coming up for next season and with your other stores?
Customer service is really at the heart of the Harvey Nichols brand, it was important to merge the off line and online services like Style Concierge, Collect in Store and ask a stylist. We wanted to ensure that customers receive the expert level of service and style advice wherever and whenever they are shopping with Harvey Nichols. Another fantastic example of how we nurture our customers is the Rewards by Harvey Nichols loyalty app, which rewards customers for every pound spent and offers spectacular and unique benefits and rewards, such as: a blow-dry, a champagne dinner on us at the OXO Tower and indulgent experiences that help our customers to be fearlessly stylish. We’ll also be surprising our loyal customers with treats throughout the year, including discount days, double point’s days, secret sales and sale previews, plus exclusive event invitations.
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