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THE STYLE FILES: THE PLAYERS : The People Who Never Make Headlines : The Trend Monitor : BARBARA FIELDS, Owner of buying office with accounts worldwide: "I have to be the eyes and ears for my clients."


Barbara Fields is the first to admit her life is a three-ring circus.

"Just this morning I had three appointments going all at the same time," says the owner of the L.A.-based apparel buying office that bears her name.

While she bounced around her second-floor office suite at the CaliforniaMart bowing to Sears executives in one room and buyers from Hilton Hotel's new Intervision in-room shopping service in the other, the owners of a small Costa Rican specialty store waited in a third for this fashion ringleader to guide them through the new California collections.

"I have to be the eyes and ears for my clients," says Fields, who acts as an outside buying service for more than 300 accounts worldwide while overseeing a staff of 40.

"You have to live and breathe this business, and have a lot of dedication to it," she says. "And thank God for faxes and conference calling at 10 o'clock at night."

While there are those who consider Fields to be overly confident and aggressive, others call her a dynamo and a master of salesmanship. "I may be known as being hard-core," she says, "but you need to be in order to get the job done. In the end, the only thing that matters is that they respect me."

Like her or not, Fields's reputation for understanding and evaluating the West Coast fashion scene has earned her a highly sought-after client list, including Nordstrom, Merry Go Round, Judy's, Jay Jacobs, Mervyn's, Target and the Speigel catalogue division. "Some of the stores we buy for only get to California a couple of times a year but don't want to miss an item in the meantime," says Fields. It's not uncommon for retailers to leave their bank accounts in her hands to buy specialty items.

When she's not shopping, Fields presents trend reports to out-of-town buyers, offers advice to retailers, organizes multimedia fashion productions, runs a travel office and sets up retail tours of the city. She is also busy opening branch offices in Paris, London and Hong Kong.

"Sometimes I think I should write a book," Fields says with a sigh, shuffling a stack of paperwork. "I know it would be a bestseller."

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