Thursday, November 2, 2006

Open See

Twice a year, Henri Bendel in NYC, hosts an "Open See". This is an opportunity for designers of clothing, jewelry, handbags, accessories, and giftware to present their work to a buy from the fabled department store. The most recent event was this past Monday, from 9 AM to noon.

I had heard about this event about two years ago. But each time I looked into it, it seems, the event had just occurred within the last week or two. Well, last Thursday I decided to check and see when it was happening again. In four days. My DH agreed to get the kids off to school in the morning and be there in the afternoon, if need be. Another artist friend volunteered to make the trip down to NYC with me. All my excuses were evaporating as fast as I could list them. So, I hit my studio, and barely emerged for the next few days. By Sunday night I had some new pieces of jewelry, and I packed up several cranes and vessels for good measure. And finally, at 11:30 went to bed for a few hours.

Three AM seems like the middle of the night....because it is! What was I thinking!? But as DH so generously reminded me, I had someone waiting for me. So into the shower, and out of the house by 3:30. Not another sole on the road for the 1/2 hour ride to Deb's house.

The trip down was suprisingly easy, and we had lots to talk about. There is nothing like a road trip to have time to talk. By a little after 8 AM we were in line. The line had now traveled up to Park Avenue, and turned back down 55th. Tired and anxious people were lining up, holding various bags, or keeping a close eye on their racks loaded down with garment bags. It was pretty clear that this event was a big draw for the jewelers and clothing designers. But here and there, there was someone with a rolling bag full of handbags, or various gifts.

My friend Deb stood out in the crowd, and drew double takes on our walk from E63rd. Her brightly colored brooms brought smiles to the serious New Yorkers all along the path. Of course the look was re-inforced by Deb's brighly colored skirt. Color seems to be absent from NY in the fall. The greys of the buildings, pavement and curbs are repeated in the blacks, greys and navys of the average person walking the streets. You can see more of Deb's fun and funky work at her website,

Promptly at 9 AM the line took a sudden surge forward, as they began to let people in. The next thing we knew we were standing on Park Avenue. Someone from H. Bendel was walking the line, looking for people with handbags, gifts, accessories, or skincare items. This was Deb's call. She got to move to the front of the line, and I got a chance to meet my two neighbors behind me in line,....both jewelers of course.

The line moved ahead every few minutes. Not too much later we were starting down E 56th St. And then Deb was back. A smile on her face, as always, but no order...."they need the right contextual environment"...translation, not the right venue. But all the positive feedback she had gotten and continued to get as she rejoined me in line, was well worth the trip. As she said, "I'm not going anywhere without my brooms again."

The Bendel rep was again scouring the line for giftware, accessories, etc. This time I was able to move ahead, in spite of the fact that jewelry was my primary work. I felt just a twinge of guilt as I moved to the head of the line, and went inside the doors. I was directed downstairs, and then in line again, near the employees lockers. Soon there was another call in this line for those with gifts. Once again, I was able to move ahead. The next stop was a sign in table. Clipboards were set up for each category. I signed in for jewelry and giftware, and again was whisked past the next and shortest line, to the two buyers without an anxious artist in front of them.
They perked right up as I approached, and were ready to listen. I had postcards ready. This gave them a quick preview of what was to come, as I talked and opened my case to take out my work for viewing. First were the cranes, and then the vessels. Questions, feedback, more questions, and ....who knows? It was not a no. It was not a yes. But they wanted my contact information, and we will see if anything more comes of it.
Deb and I, and several other artists had been meeting for about a year, following Alyson Stanfield's Art Salon program Each time we met, we rehearsed our elevator speech. Suddenly, this part that we wanted to skip over seemed so much more valuable. I was silently thanking Amy for pushing us to do this. And for my friends/fellow artists for their feedback that helped me refine my intro.
The meeting with the giftware buyers took all of a few brief moments, and then it was back in line...a short line, to wait for the buyer of jewelry. I was happy about how the previous meeting had gone, and now looked forward to showing my jewelry. I met a no. "Not what our customers are looking for..too contemporary, arty....." It was okay. I had been given a chance to do something few people get, or take the chance to do. Show my work to a buyer from Henri Bendel in New York City. I still loved my work, and do not feel like I need to go in a completely new direction because they did not take my work. I took a chance. And in the end, that is what it is all about. Puting yourself out there. Maybe being rejected, but maybe not. Stay tuned about the giftware......


Miachelle said...

Thanks for posting about this. I've heard of the Open See, and was curious as to how it runs. I don't know if I'll ever get a chance to make one, but your insight is valuable. My question is: what defines "arty", and what defines "what the public is looking for?"

Judy said...

I guess you could say it is in the eye of the this case the buyer you are meeting with. As with anything, one person may love it and another yawn. If you remember that, it makes it a bit easier to absorb the rejections. I recommend the experience if you get the chance. It was tiring but fun.

isabelle said...

i couldn't resist 1993 I had a clothing business...went to the open see at bendel's and they BOUGHT my schtuff. It was very exciting. Having my work at Bendel's for the next year, definitely helped launch my business. ...and now I'm jewelry designer (very long story)...and I'm planning on going to the Open See....I have butterflies in my stomach...

Judy said...

Good luck, Isabelle! I hope they take your work this time as well. Even if they do not, it is definitely worth the experience.