Three years ago, Julia Vallelunga left her position as a business advisor to pursue something creative. She started a jewelry line called La Rafinnerie which she describes as colorful, bohemian and chic. Handmade in Montreal, where she lives, her earrings and necklaces made with rich, vivid gemstones paired with contrasting cording and ribbons caught the eye of the Henri Bendel team at their Open See. With their legendary casting call coming up on October 19, we asked Julia about her experience and any tips for emerging designers that plan to wait in line in hopes of pitching their products to buyers.
Did you make a special trip from Canada for the Open See?
I did! Montreal is a 6 hour drive so I come to NYC a few times a year. I decided to go while the Open See was going on because I heard about it from a fellow designer in Toronto. I had never been to Henri Bendel but they carry great designers so I didn’t think twice about making the trip.
The line is always long. How soon did you get there?
Before the Open See, I did my homework and searched the web for tips and advice. I read that you should get there early so I rented a hotel not too far from Henri Bendel and arrived at 3:30am. I was the fifth person there and the four people ahead of me paid others to wait in line for them!
Any tips while you are waiting?
I went to the Open See at the end of March and the weather was perfect. I wish I had brought a stool to sit on because I sat on the floor for awhile. I actually talked with the people waiting in line the entire time and brought breakfast before going and tried not to drink too much…because going to the bathroom is an issue. There aren’t many nearby.
How does the Open See work?
They open the doors at 9am and they give people a number. Since I was the fifth person in line, I was called quickly. There’s a big table with buyers and assistants and you have 5 minutes to give your elevator pitch. When I did mine, the buyer asked me a couple of questions (e.g. my price point) and told me I was chosen to do a trunk show. I was the first one that morning to be chosen and then a reporter from NBC asked me to do an interview.
What do you think the Henri Bendel team looks for in a good collection?
Make sure you bring your best pieces and have a display that is not overwhelming. You only have 5 minutes to show your collection. I think they look for quality, consistency within the line and good branding. I would also say to concentrate on what makes your brand special. If you had any successes, mention it! I told them I had done two collaborations with Anthropologie.
How was the trunk show?
I did a trunk show in April for an entire week. It’s almost a 9 to 9 schedule and may just be the hardest part. If I had to do it again, I would bring somebody to help me. It was great to see customers in person and New Yorkers have a lot of money to spend! Most of them told me they hadn’t seen anything like it before.
How did you promote the Open See? What outlets did you use?
I contacted Daily Candy and got a featured in their weekend edition. Almost 50% of the customers I met had seen the feature in their email blast. I also did a lot of web sales because of that feature.