The click-clack that echoed through the loftlike fashion photography studio was the same click-clack that can be heard in fashion offices around New York City: Manolo Blahnik high heels on polished floors.
In this instance they were being worn by Cathy Beaudoin, 51, when she paid a visit in mid-June from Seattle to the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, creative headquarters of Amazon Fashion , which Ms. Beaudoin oversees as president. This division of the online behemoth is the marquee sponsor of the first New York Fashion Week for men, to be held next week at Skylight Clarkson Sq in Manhattan.
But at the moment, Ms. Beaudoin was focused on a shoot for the site. A stylist was near a rack of clothes labeled "Surf and Skate," and was crouching down to tinker with the hem of shorts worn by a male model. "We used to do all the photography in a fulfillment center in Kentucky," Ms. Beaudoin said, adding, "it was hard to attract talent."
Amazon hopes talent will abound at a party Monday night at the company's studio, a reconfigured glass factory near the Wythe Hotel, featuring a photo exhibit by Erik Madigan Heck and hosted by Ms. Beaudoin and Steven Kolb, the chief executive of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Yet buzz over the week's events has been subdued enough that the C.F.D.A. is subsidizing some editors' international travel costs. What's more, of the 43 established fashion labels staging runway shows or presentations, only seven (including Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger and Perry Ellis) offer their pieces for sale on Amazon.com. Eighteen others (Rag & Bone, Public School and Billy Reid among them) sell through other platforms in the Amazon Fashion portfolio, like East Dane and MyHabit. Amazon also owns Shopbop, a women's fashion retailer.
It is part of Ms. Beaudoin's mission to close this gap.
Amazon is privy to a lot of consumer data, she pointed out, and its fashion arm is trying to leverage this information into a better user experience, to use the argot of the day.
But the almighty algorithm, which has propelled the site to market domination in so many retail categories, is struggling to understand and predict the quick-moving, fickle contemporary fashion market.
In the world of books and movies, there is less fluctuation in what sells well. While there are always new books coming to market, the demand for "Harry Potter" will remain reliable. "In fashion, the inventory is obsolete in four months," Ms. Beaudoin said. "Our algorithms weren't made for seasonal buys."
Getting consumers to think of Amazon as a cool place for fashion-forward shopping has also been tough, even though the platform carries more than 2,500 clothing labels, including popular department-store ones like Theory, BCBG Max Azria and Stuart Weitzman.
Retail is the "most significant source of Amazon's profits," said Josh Olson, an analyst at Edward Jones, "and apparel is a big part of that." The fashion week sponsorship, he added, "reflects the importance of apparel to its overall business."
While fashion companies like these are drawn to Amazon's huge reach — more than 40 million United States customers have made clothing, shoes or accessories purchases in the last 12 months on Amazon.com, Ms. Beaudoin said — many are concerned about tying their brands to a website that is far more a utility than a boutique.
Lacoste, for example, only began to sell its signature collared polo shirts and other pieces in February after an involved negotiation.
"Being a European brand, we needed to be sure we could convince our European shareholders that Amazon was going to uphold the positioning of the brand," said Todd Bernstein, senior vice president for wholesale at Lacoste U.S.
The concerns mainly involved the presentation of the pieces on the site and the pricing. Legally, a wholesaler cannot insist that a retailer sell an item for a certain price. But a company like Lacoste does not want to offer its products on a website that may slash its prices (as Amazon does with books and other products) such that its brand comes off as down-market.
Mr. Bernstein said that the company is "very comfortable" with Amazon's branding of Lacoste even as it takes note of Amazon's discounting of its goods. "They've got pretty much everything on sale," Mr. Bernstein said. (Later, he added, "Amazon seems to follow traditional markdown cycles.")
And Ms. Beaudoin is trying to chip away at the perception of Amazon as a Walmart on the Web. "Better brands are becoming more and more excited," she said.
It has helped that Amazon's fashion team has positioned itself as a purveyor of "contemporary fashion" rather than luxury brands, a distinction Ms. Beaudoin and publicists make emphatically and frequently. "Luxury was never an aspiration," Ms. Beaudoin said.
Still, Amazon was a sponsor of the 2012 Costume Institute Benefit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art , celebrating an exhibit of Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada. It also hired Julie Gilhart , once fashion director at Barneys, as a consultant for three years. Amazon helped sponsor the gala as a sign of the company's commitment to "participating in the industry," Ms. Beaudoin said. It initially sought Ms. Gilhart's luxury brand connections to build MyHabit, a flash-sale liquidation site, she added, and the two women remain on friendly terms.
Some mass-minded trendsetters are thrilled with their Amazon experience. "What has a bigger reach than Amazon?" the designer Rachel Zoe asked. "Amazon is a great destination for pretty much anything. They've been advocates of the collection and have put ads for it on taxis. It's not five-page spreads in Vogue, but that's the dream." Sales of her clothes on Amazon have been strong, Ms. Zoe added.
At a time when the Internet has helped to democratize fashion, Amazon is a fitting sponsor for New York Fashion Week: Men's, Mr. Kolb of the C.F.D.A. said. "It doesn't sit so exclusively somewhere that is out of reach," he said of today's fashion. "You can see that in a number of designers doing capsule collections at mass retailers."
Besides, Amazon is showing it cares about the special needs of the fashion industry, he said. "Cathy has a great pedigree of fashion experience," Mr. Kolb said. "If you just had some geeky techy guys running things, I'd be worried, but they're investing in people with fashion experience."
Ms. Beaudoin's fashion experience is not quite that of a couture-house sewing apprentice.
After graduating from Trinity College with a degree in history, she worked for a decade in New York at Ogilvy & Mather, in direct-response marketing and advertising. In the mid-1990s, she moved to San Francisco and worked for Gap Inc., helping to build a customer database, loyalty program and private label credit card. It was, Ms. Beaudoin said, "unintentionally my first fashion job." From there, she moved to Old Navy.
Then in 2006, she oversaw the Gap's introduction of Piperlime, an online shoe destination. "It was like doing a start-up in a safe corporate place," she said. "I had total independence. I was building a brand from scratch with no physical entity." (Piperlime flourished until it didn't , and the Gap shut it down earlier this spring.)
By 2008, Amazon came calling. Ms. Beaudoin was well ensconced in her life in San Francisco, where she and her husband, Sean Beaudoin , a novelist, were raising a daughter. But Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and chief executive, helped to convince her to move to Seattle to assist in building a fashion business. "We needed to be important to customers in categories that they buy from every day," she said.
Unlike much of the rest of commerce in the Amazon jungle, this niche calls for the human touch. "With fashion, it's an emotional category, not transactional," she said.
Ms. Beaudoin knows this well; she is a member of Amazon Fashion's dream demographic: busy professionals who care about style but don't have time to shop. Yet she also embodies her company's biggest challenge. The Equipment silk sleeveless top and Theory perforated leather skirt she wore as she walked around the Brooklyn studio were not bought on Amazon.com but on Shopbop.
And the click-clacking heels — a staple of fashion industry existence? Manolo Blahniks aren't available for purchase on any Amazon Fashion site. Yet.
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