Q&A with The Bay’s Fashion Director Suzanne Timmins

Discover what it takes to be fashion director of Canada's most historic and fashion-forward department store

Credit: Georgia Esporlas

Suzanne Timmins, Fashion Director at The Bay

The Bay’s dynamic fashion director Suzanne Timmins talks candidly about inspiration, intuition and the top 2012 Spring/Summer trends

Taste-maker. Visionary. Trend oracle. The eyes and ears of the store. These all describe the role of fashion director: the most influential and elusive occupation in the fashion industry.

I sat down with Suzanne Timmins, Fashion Director at The Bay, to find out exactly what the fashion director of a world-class, mega department store does.

“That’s a big question,” laughs Timmins, ready to tackle it, however long it takes. The short answer is this: a fashion director forecasts trends ahead of the season, and sets the fashion tone of the store.
The long answer – aka the “how” – is a more complicated, heady mix of research, travel and constant communication with internal staff (marketing to merchants) and shoppers.
Last but not least, a fashion director is somewhat magical. They must posses the special sixth sense – the kokumi – of style. A fashion director wears skinny jeans when the rest of us are in stovepipes; flowing trousers when the rest of us are still choking our ankles. This key element enables a fashion director to predict what trends are ahead before you or I even consider updating our wardrobe.
“It’s the most difficult thing in the world to detect when I interview someone for my team,” says Timmins, looking effortlessly chic in an Erdem graphic floral blouse, dark denim and black booties.
Perhaps some of Timmins’ fashion fairy dust will rub off on the rest of us. The stylish HBC fashion director shares what it takes to be a fashion director, along with her inspiration, intuition and the key 2012 Spring/Summer trends below.

“Embrace Colour” (Left) and “Print Works” at Timmins’ Spring Trend presentation for The Bay (Image: Georgia Esporlas)

Q&A with The Bay Fashion Director Suzanne Timmins

Citizen Style: What does a fashion director do on a daily basis?
Suzanne: A fashion director touches all aspects of the company, from merchant stream, which means the buyers, to the marketing stream – so not only magazines, but all online web publications and public relations. There’s also an element of store operations, which means handling how we get the message – fashion – to our staff and customers.

My job is to make sure that an associate in our smallest, most distant store has the same trend information as in the Vancouver store. 

CS: Sounds like you attend a lot of meetings in a lot of different departments.

Suzanne: It is a lot of meetings, but the job is also very creative because it’s the starting point for the store image. We forecast the trends, but we don’t have a crystal ball. Before the spring collections happen next October, we need to predict what’s going to be important.
CS: So then I must ask you: how do you forecast a trend ahead of the collections?
Suzanne: It’s hard. Many people are interested in fashion. It’s one thing to read a fashion magazine or a blog or know what’s in for spring, but next spring? You just have a sense; I cannot tell you what that is.

It’s a little bit of intuition and a little bit of science having done it for a while. You start to understand how fast a trend dies, how long does it take for some trends to get to the mass market.

“Sport Luxe” (Left) and “Summer Nomad” at Timmins’ Spring Trend presentation for The Bay (Image: Georgia Esporlas) 

CS: How do you research trends?
Suzanne: I do a bit of everything. You’ve got to know what’s going on now. You have to be able to read and keep up with the people who are cutting edge.

It could be a person; it could be a movie. Sometimes it’s a single designer. Take Phoebe Philo. She really turned fashion from this maximalist feeling to a minimalist feeling that’s stuck around for many seasons. You knew that she was and is going to be so important. You knew that you had to forecast back to clean, and simple and classic lines.
And then it can all be thrown away because there’s a disaster in the world. Let’s say you forecasted a colourful season and all of a sudden a world crisis occurs  – all of a sudden it won’t be colour. That will change the headspace of the designers right there and then.
CS: Tell me more about where you find your inspiration, the fuel for your sixth fashion sense?
Suzanne: Take The Hunger Games. Everyone liked the film, but the fashion received a lot of criticism, although it could have been huge. Right now, I’m loving Game of Thrones. I’m obsessed. The hair, the colour, the mood.
I go to all the fashion shows in New York, Paris, London and Milan.  I’ve been doing the circuit for many years. London is looking incredibly interesting again. Paris always puts the stamp on trends. You have to wait for Paris to give the final word.
I’ve got a team that covers all the blogs and brings me materials I need to see. I don’t really read fashion magazines except the September issue of Paris Vogue that has all the collections. I read the Style Section of the NYTimes. I keep it and read the whole thing.
CS: Is there a trend or a designer you spotted before everyone else picked up on it?
Suzanne: We have so many! We put out these books beforehand and it’s fun to go back to them and to go “Look! Told you!”

There’s usually five stories per book and three to four will happen, and then one or two well, errrrrrrr, (Suzanne makes a buzzer noise) nope! You know . . . maybe next year. Sometimes we’re just too soon.

Then talking about trends that didn’t make it: I spotted this monastic trend in London. All the students at the Central St. Martins show had this monk-like, monastic look that was very different from what anyone was doing among the established designers. Nothing was showing the body or the body shape. It was very oversized; there were cloaks.

So I put it in my forecast and the oversized element of the look definitely happened. The true monastic didn’t happen. But it might next year. I’m not giving up on it.

“The New Lady” at Timmins’ Spring Trend presentation for The Bay (Image: Georgia Esporlas)

CS: What’s in for spring 2012? What will you cover in your annual Spring Trend Report?
Suzanne: Embrace colour! You’ve got to have it whether it’s the new candy or the tonal brights. The second is about print and pattern. It’s all about how to wear pattern and how to mix it up. If you can only do one piece go for a print bottom. I’m going to talk about sport luxe trend: that’s sports chic, not sports trainers.

I’ll also talk about the new lady and what that means.  We forecasted that one. It’s been simmering on the back burner for a few seasons. And then my last one will be a West Coast relaxed, summer boho nomad. That look consists of global prints, relaxed fits and big open knit sweaters. A lot of brands play into that, but there’s always newness. Last year we were doing maxi skirts. This year we’re doing pajama trousers.
CS: What are three items I should purchase to update my spring wardrobe?
Suzanne: Something colour. I don’t care if it’s lipstick, a nail polish, shoes or a bag: you need to invest in colour. If it’s a bag, invest in colour that’s smart – one you can wear in fall as well.
Second, go for a great piece of lady-like statement jewelry. A wow factor crystal cuff or necklace.

And then pattern. I would get that patterned bottom. If last year was print mix – which is still there – the newest, newest way to wear prints, which is not for the faint of heart, is matchy matchy. It almost looks like you’re wearing a jump suit.

In terms of prints themselves, neo-tribal is in. Not exactly tribal per se, but it has a global feel. Florals remain huge whether they’re photo real, liberty prints or painterly.

CS: There are some great print pants out this season, which I believe you were wearing in the Spring Trend Presentation in 2011.
Suzanne: Yes (laughing), yes I was! I should wear them tonight too. And my monk’s cloak!