Does the devil really wear Prada?

I must say that I’m a self-proclaimed pop culture fanatic. I recently read The Devil Wears Prada in anticipation of Netflixing the movie (I know that’s not a verb, but it will soon be, trust me). I usually try to read the book before watching an adapted movie so I can talk about how good or bad the adaptation was (Kathleen’s review of the movie is here). But anyhow, I watched the movie, and during the winter haitus of most of my favorite shows (Lost, Heroes, etc.) started watching Ugly Betty.

One of the things I have become obsessed with, that is shown in both Ugly Betty and The Devil Wears Prada, is The Closet. Of course, I think most of us have heard of The Closet (the space at magazine offices where the samples are stored), but seeing it portrayed on screen really kind of hit me. I started thinking of the samples I had sent that had not been returned, hoping they weren’t lost in the closet only to be doled out to the staff or whomever would find the samples worthy of consideration (or re-gifting). So I called my publicist, who, by the way, expressed to me what an honor it is to have someone on the staff wearing your item (but the thing is I’m a retailer and it really isn’t “mine” so I really can’t be flattered by their adoration of another company’s line).

Anyhow, we entered into a conversation about how much of what was shown in the movie is real. We have other members of F-I more experienced with that end of editorial, but I’ll just tell you what I’ve been told.

The Closet is real, but in defense of the closet, nearly all of my samples were returned. Usually, when a magazine requests something specific for a shoot, they will send it back immediately, if unused, and later if it is being used. Many will even tell you the date by which they will return unused samples. If a magazine wants to keep something on loan for a longer time, usually they will request to do so.

Many people will relay horror stories of magazines not returning really expensive samples, but they really try not to do that. A lot of times they keep samples because many companies, quite simply, don’t want the item returned, they are regular Closet contributors. I suppose keeping your “it” item in the Closet for the season will increase your chances of being used. After all, I have sent a few publications the same samples over and over again (because they would request the same types of items for a story) and then there will be this magical moment, when the same thing they received five times before actually gets used. But that’s another story.

The run through was a pretty good portrayal. My publicist loves to tell the story of the time that a magazine called in a certain style of bag for a shoot, received four thousand samples and ended up scrapping the entire page. Which brings us to…

The Book– real. They go through revision after revision until they are happy with the look. Even then the art department actually may drop an item if they feel that it doesn’t fit on the page.

After hearing all of this, I expressed awe at how difficult it actually is to make it to the printed publication, even if your stuff is fabulous, even if you get the sample to the editor on time (which is almost always requested for overnight delivery), and even if they love your items. Magazines often get hundreds or thousands of items in response to a request for items meeting certain criteria.

The funny thing is I asked her if it’s the same at a top tier fashion magazine as it is at a general interest magazine and she said yes. Tons of samples, run through, revisions, dropping items from the page, all of it.

I cried. Okay, maybe not, but when you hear that you start to feel despair at how challenging it is and realize you haven’t been grateful enough for the editorial you have received (thank you).

With that I was told, respond to all sample requests and send out as many samples as you possibly can (that meet the criteria) to help increase your product’s chances of being selected. My publicist tags all items so that the magazine knows who to contact for credit requests, and submit a packing slip. I think the tagging is very important because I’m still bitter about that editorial credit that I lost because the manufacturer was credited instead. Which is difficult when you are a retailer, I acknowledge that it was nobody’s fault, but it doesn’t make me less bitter.

Also the tagging is important because sometimes they cut the labels out of items. Nobody thinks of this, and I don’t think anybody tells you this, but now that I have told you, you will start to remember when you saw items shot flat in a magazine and there was no label in the collar. Now go flip through InStyle and look at all those white shirts with perfectly plain white inside collars. That’s not always photoshop, kid. File that in the list of things nobody tells you.

Most publicists will require an entire sample line, most will want two sets of samples for everything (wow this post is getting long) so that they have a backup if one is on loan. I want to put this out there now, because there is a difference between samples for sales reps or selling and samples for editorial. If you’re making sales rep samples, it’s perfectly fine to make a sample in one color way and swatches for the others. If you’re relying on getting editorial coverage (or trying to), you’re better off with samples in every colorway. Yes, yes, I know, trust me I know how much that costs. But what are you going to do if you just have the most perfect wrap dress for the story, but the color is teal and your sample is in ivory? And this holds true whether you are trying to get editorial coverage in a national magazine or a regional publication.

Another the reason you need another set of samples is because it’s nearly impossible to juggle magazine submissions with market dates. The added trick is that magazines usually request samples 3-4 months (or more) in advance of the on-stand date for the issue,so you usually can’t pull from existing stock unless you are sure it will be available when the issue hit the stands. And let me tell you, my publicist says that magazines are getting really particular about this because their readers will complain to them if they can’t get the item. One magazine, as part of consideration of inclusion in an issue, wanted a guarantee that a minimum number of items (and it was a lot) would be available for sale at the time the issue hit the stands and (I believe it was ) 30 days past the issue date.

Yeah. Learn something new every day, I tell you

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  1. Vesta says:

    This is only tangential, but another thing to think about is keeping samples on hand for photo shoots and archiving. We found ourselves in a position last season where we had (happily) sold every one of an item in a certain colorway, and didn’t have one available to shoot for our own promotional materials. D’oh! So now we pull one of each colorway off the top of the first shipment and file it. It hurts to see all of those things lying around when you have some hot sellers . . . but it’s worth it.

    So, you could conceivably have several of each colorway, each season sitting out for marketing, photo shoots, etc.

    Great post, Miracle. Thanks.

  2. Cerebella says:

    I recently participated in my first trade show: AccessoriesTheShow. Prior to the show, the organizers mentioned that they send gift totes out to top magazines and retailers and did I want to include any gifts to get some “extra” exposure. Well, of course I did. So I sent them nineteen of my best samples. I wasn’t expecting instant coverage in a magazine or an order from a top boutique based on one sample. My intent was was to put my company name out there. But I am a little miffed that I haven’t even seen a “thank you” email. Don’t they at least send you a form letter saying thank you for your kind gift? Naive no more, I had sworn I wouldn’t send out any more “gifts”; but after reading your post, I am rethinking that.


  3. jessika says:

    I’m wondering what experiences other people have had. The size that most magazines I’ve dealt with have wanted is a 2 or maybe a 4 (when my sales sample size would be a 6). Maybe this is just coincidence? I’ve only sent things to about 6 or 7 magazines so far so am wondering if there is a typical size that magazines tend to use for model photo shoots…? I’ve made a point to keep some smaller sizes on hand because of this. I know they can pin a larger size in the back, but the shape risks being compromised with some styles. Anyone have any insight?

  4. MW says:

    But I am a little miffed that I haven’t even seen a “thank you” email. Don’t they at least send you a form letter saying thank you for your kind gift?

    No. Well at least not usually. Could you write notes if you got (literally) hundreds of gifts/samples a week? You’d need dedicated staff to do write thank you notes.

    My best tip to you is not to just schlep out samples, but to think strategically about how you can encourage interest in your line. First things first, I do not want to offend you, but it’s very possible that your stuff was in a bag with a lot of… crap. Never seen the bag, so I’m not saying that was the case, but it’s possible and you should consider that. Gift bags aren’t always fabulous.

    Secondly, you must consider that whether you’re gifting celebs or editors, they get TONS of gifts, so you want to create an interactive experience, which is where marketing and promotion comes in.

    You could have possibly gotten more interest with a smaller sample and inviting them online to pick more items, (if you have a website), at leas that would have gotten them to look at your items. Especially a retailer.

    Putting your company name “out there” really isn’t as valuable as getting people interested in your line.

  5. MW says:

    The size that most magazines I’ve dealt with have wanted is a 2 or maybe a 4 (when my sales sample size would be a 6). Maybe this is just coincidence?

    If they are shooting flats, they tend to want the smallest possible size because the larger sizes look much larger when shot flat.

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