Inside, the only line was to pick up a flute of champagne. The excitement in the air was palpable. “This never happens,” said one shopper. “This really is like a mythological event.” I found myself a bit dazed by the sight of platters of silk scarves and ties, and rack after rack of shoes and ready-to-wear, all at 70%. I happily stocked up on a handful of ties (70% off an Hermès coat is still a lot), which I had an almost unsettling amount of time to ponder. These private industry events were once the norm, and still work for brands like Brunello Cucinelli, Prada, Marni, and Moncler, companies that can get rid of extra stock through their own outlet stores, and therefore don’t need to play the normal sample sale game.
Is the traditional sample sale a relic of a different era of New York? A new outfit called Sensoria is hoping to at least revive its spirit. Founded by three Maryam Nassir Zadeh alums, Sensoria is taking on the daunting task of making inventory management… sexy. “To work in the fashion industry is to see everyone having excess inventory and trying to deal with it, and also trying to manage cashflow issues, especially for small and medium sized businesses,” says Emma Sayer, a co-founder along with Paulena Lynch and the stylist Shayna Arnold. “It’s an ever present problem.”
The trio’s solution is to art direct sales on behalf of these burgeoning names, like cashmere knitwear label Salie 66 and rising Danish menswear brand Sunflower. To make them feel as unlike normal sample sales as possible. So far so good: the platform is slick and a little enigmatic, from the evocative name (pulled from a track by pioneering English techno group Cabaret Voltaire) to the vibey editorials featuring aspirational downtown styling. (Sayer cites erotic thrillers, classic hotels, and old skincare campaigns as visual references.) When Sensoria launched at the beginning of October, I thought an intriguing new fashion brand had emerged out of the slacker-chic MNZ-verse.
Online sample sales, especially those run by third parties, tend to be some of the most dreary versions of the form, about as unappealing as a cardboard box full of factory seconds under fluorescent lights. Most boutiques don’t spend time or money on product photos for clearance gear. Sayer, Lynch, and Arnold, on the other hand, are skilled visual storytellers, and frame their collaborations as exercises in world building. “We wanted to create something really beautiful that is seen as an asset,” Sayer says, “that can actually be additive to the brand.”