Saks Connection

Who new?! I married into a very large Arabic family, and it seems that if there’s a Kayali or an AlKayali running around, my husband, and I guess now myself, are related to them. A cousin of his happened to be in a Geography class of mine, and a friend’s younger brother was a student of another of his gorgeous cousins. As it turns out, one cousin is in fashion, Aisha Alkayali, who worked for Saks Fifth Avenue, yes, THE Saks and in New York no less! I was able to track the busy mommy down via e-mail for an interview, but she’s in the middle of packing up and actually moving back out West so I don’t have a lovely mug shot of Miss Aisha. Her photo of the Eiffel Tower from one of her trips to Paris will have to suffice for now, but we are planning to meet up this month when she stops through Denver so I’ll try to snap a photo of her then. So, if you ever wondered what it would like to be a fashion merchandiser, here’s a few words from one who walked the walk in New York.

FF: Name, Age (if you want to share), City you live in, and if NYC, what neighborhood?

AK: Aisha Alkayali, 34, I live in New York City, West Village. We have lived here for 5 years and love this place. It’s the city that never sleeps.

FF: West Village is also where Sarah Jessica Parker lives! Very posh!

Sarah Jessica Parker, twin daughters Marion Broderick and Tabitha Broderick are seen out and about in the west village on May 1, 2010 in New York, New York.-Photo on NY Daily News

FF: As the Merchandise Planner for European Couture for Saks Fifth Ave., what does your day-to-day look like? Does this mean you get to go to any shows in Paris or Milan?

AK: As glamorous as it sounds, my day to day work does not involve going to shows. My main focus is making sure we are making our sales forecasts and keeping within our set budgets for the season (sales and receipts). The first thing I do everyday is check our sales flash and see how each store and vendor performed the day before against our current sales forecasts. There is never a typical day at Saks, each day is different and we are constantly working on projects for the future or figuring out ways to affect our current business. I’ve been with the company since 2006 and I’ve moved around the company and worked with different areas – Designer Handbags, Designer Ready to Wear – European Couture and I’m now in Contemporary Sportswear. When I was in Designer RTW (That means Ready to Wear) I went to some fashion shows – Marc Jacobs show at the Armory, however I traveled to Paris and Milan to go to market to review the season deliveries and work with the buyers to decide on which product we would buy for the season.

My most memorable experience was when we arrived in Paris and went to see Christian Dior. The Dior showroom is in the same place it’s been since the 1950’s. It’s this beautiful home and had some of the most amazing photos from the past Dior years. There was a very special room that we were able to see, that I will never forget. We went to John Gallaino’s design studio where he designed all his clothes for Dior. It was such a neat room and so cool to be in the same place that Galliano worked! We also went to Givenchy’s studio which was beautiful and had the most amazing views of the Eiffel Tower.

A view from the top!  Aisha's Photo

On that trip we also visited Balenciaga, Comme de Garcons as well as a trip to Milan to see Jil Sander and Marc Jacobs.

John Galliano in his Atelier- Image from

In my current role we go to market a lot more than we did in Designer. Last month we attended many market appointments… Diane Von Furstenberg, Rag and Bone, Helmut Lang, Elizabeth and James (Ashley and Mary Kate Olson’s line), Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Milly. In my last market appointment at DVF, she, as in Diane Von Furstenberg, came around and sat down to visit with each of us to see how we enjoyed the product. It was pretty neat to see her, not to mention her store/corporate headquarters and home is two blocks from my apartment! It was pretty neat.

Marc Jacobs

Diane von Furstenberg walks the runway at the Diane Von Furstenberg Spring 2007 fashion show during Olympus Fashion Week at the Promenade in Bryant Park NYC.

FF: Have you always had an interest in fashion, or did you get into merchandising based on your business savvy first, then fashion interests? Any advice to young women looking to get into fashion merchandising for a national retailer like Saks?

AK: I actually started my career in entertainment working for MTV in NYC and LA and then moved into merchandising working for GAP, Inc. I really never thought I would be in fashion or merchandising since I always wanted to work for television and sales. Since I was in sales for MTV, I had the business and background behind me and then was able to move into Merchandise Planning. It was so hard at first but now that I’ve been doing it for 6 yrs, I really enjoy it.

My advice to women looking to get into fashion merchandising would be to first intern or work in any of the retailers store. You can learn so much from working in a store and you can start anywhere in the country. Get to know the product, the point of view of the product and who the customer is. We have had so many people move into corporate careers that first started in our Saks stores across the country. If you are finishing school and want to get into fashion, many retailers offer programs for students that are finishing school and want to get into fashion. Do the research and look on their websites… they offer most of the information on their websites. And finally, network. Use your school, colleagues and people you know to help you reach your goals. You never know who you will meet through people.

FF: What is your personal style like on most days? What about your weekend looks?

AK: It’s so hard to describe my personal style. I think I have some fashion but sometimes I think I’m kind of conservative. I usually wear designers that I work with, so Marc Jacobs, DVF, Milly, Rebecca Taylor, Jil Sander, Theory and almost always (Christian) Louboutin heels and my black jumbo Chanel handbag. My weekend look is very casual. I’m a mom so I can’t always wear heels. I’ll wear either my Chanel flats/jeans or J Brand black jeans and a J Crew striped shirt. I’m all about J Crew these days and I absolutely love striped shirts! I’m also a huge fan of James Perse sweatshirts, they are cute and chic at the same time.

Jessica Alba

Ashley Simpson

Nicky Hilton

FF: Who is your favorite American designer right now, and International designer?

AK: My all time favorite designer is Zac Posen. He’s such a cutie and I’ve meet him a hand full of times… he’s a mama’s boy and has the cutest curly hair! International designer would be Givenchy or Chanel – can’t go wrong with Karl Lagerfeld!

2008 Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Awards Presented by SWAROVSKI

FF: I too met the adorable Zac Posen when I was at school in San Francisco at Academy of Art University back in 2007! I was going for fashion merchandising and he came and spoke about how he got to be the famous American designer he is!

FF: What is your most star studded, or fashion moment to date?

AK: Hmm – there have been a few. Just recently I was working out with my trainer and Hillary Swank was there working out with her trainer. I was having a hard time lifting weights and was complaining to my trainer that I couldn’t lift the weights. Hillary Swank came up to me and told me to never say I can’t do anything, she always tells herself she can do it and that’s how she gets through the day. Basically Hillary Swank told me to suck it up and get moving! I see Kelly Ripa every weekend at spin class working out. She’s amazing and works her booty off in class. Nina Garcia, the fashion director of Marie Claire was at the Givenchy showroom when we were putting in our orders at market. It was pretty fun to see her dressed in the best fashion ever! Eva Mendes at our favorite neighborhood restaurant the same night as Steven Spielberg. We asked Hugh Jackman to take a picture with us at the playground with our nieces flat stanley project. And my all time favorite was when I worked at MTV in LA and Snoop Dog was there working on a new project. I had been in the elevator when he stepped in with his posse. It was the day before Halloween and I was wearing these awful orange pants to celebrate the holiday. Snoop was dressed head to toe in orange and black and he looked at me and said nice pants! It was hilarious! Living in NYC, in the West Villiage we have many celebrity sightings. Paul Rudd used to be my next door neighbor, Tom Colicchio from TopChef is my current neighbor as well as Michelle Trachtenberg from Gossip Girl.

BAUER-GRIFFIN Michelle Trachtenberg on the set of 'Gossip Girl'

Nina Garcia, Tim Gunn and Michael Kors of Project Runway enter and exit the Good Morning America studios, NYC.

FF: I met Nina Garcia too! It was last September around fashion week outside Lincoln Center, and she was wearing something very similar to this above! I ran up to her and asked to take her photo and she was really sweet, and preggers at the time.

FF: Do you have a favorite accessories designer?

AK: Chanel and YSL

FF: What are your handbag contents essentials?

AK: Nars lipgloss, Laura Mercier foundation/powder in one, my iphone so I can listen to music, take pictures and carry pictures of my daughter, my work blackberry, my subway card, Chapstick, Kiehl’s hand salve, Orbitz gum and my wallet.

FF: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

AK: We’ll we are moving to the west coast soon so I’ll probably still be in merchandise planning, however I would love to be in interior design or own a store somewhere.

Maybe Kelly Wearstler will need an assistant out west, but if not, I’m sure she’ll make an impression in fashion, and who knows, maybe end up right back at Saks!


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