A pretty good bargain can be had at the run-of-the-mill retail sale, but don't believe the discount will ring in anywhere near the actual wholesale cost. The real deal happens at the source: the sample sale.
Trend after trend, manufacturers amass samples, unfinished experiments and overstock that inevitably have to be unloaded to make room for a new influx of samples, unfinished experiments and overstock. This spring cleaning, known as the sample sale, generally occurs at the end of a season, as the whirlwind of collection presentations temporarily subsides anddesigners and their staffs decide to put their houses of style in order.
Finding out about sample sales isn't easy. Word usually spreads by phone or fax from someone related to someone who knows someone employed by the manufacturer. Makeshift signs might be posted around a company's neighborhood. A call inquiring when a sample sale will take place might yield a useful answer; then again, a receptionist could play brain dead, since many sales are by invitation only.
The Richard Tyler sample sale was held on a recent Saturday morning in a vacant Santa Monica warehouse, where there was no chance that any curious drive-by shoppers passing Tyler's downtown factory en route to the garment district would stop by.
On the Westside, bargain-seekers feverishly stockpiled $1,200 suit jackets marked down to $250. Bagging a $5,000 Oscar-caliber gown also at that price heightened adrenaline levels. Skirts were $75; pants and short dresses, $100.
This was haute stuff at 90% off. A pair of satin stilettos slashed from $400 to $50 had many an aspiring Cinderella wishing she had been born with her stepsister's size 9 feet. Many of the goods once appeared on runways, so they were scarcely tarnished, but still unsuitable for the retail floor.
Despite showing up 20 minutes before the scheduled opening time, I found the space already crawling.
The "dressing room," a corner partially hidden by a divider and a three-way mirror, bulged with young models, middle-aged social climbers with too much makeup, cropped-top artsy types, aggressive stylists, struggling fashion fiends and self-proclaimed Tyler aficionados. So focused were these women that baring nearly all to each other, and to the handful of men roaming the place, didn't seem to faze them.
Several commented on the wisdom a few had in wearing a bikini or bodysuit--it saves time, eliminating the need to rush from a rack back to the try-on area. Another time-saver: wear shoes that feet can slide in and out of.
As the hours passed, a few ladies brazenly ventured out of the dressing corner in less than they'd sport at the beach. One woman, tired of slipping her tank top on and off, simply pressed it against her chest while scouting.
It appears that modesty drops as the merchandise value rises. Shoppers at surf- and streetwear company sales generally just eyeball the clothes, hoping they'll fit at home. Unlike most of the thousand or so who toured the Mossimo warehouse sale a week before, I had arrived prepared to slip on pants and shorts under my full skirt and shirts over a tight tank top. No other way would I have come home with the soft leather trousers I scored there, even if they were marked down from $346 to $100.
My eyes hastily skipped along the racks of Richard Tyler clothes. The goal: Find a suit. Unfortunately, matching tops and bottoms had been scattered, so finding an outfit would take considerable quickness and luck.
I plucked several black jackets. Those trimmed in velvet or satin would be easier to team up with the skirts and slacks available, as well as with those already in my closet.
Cradling an increasingly heavy pile of jackets and bottoms in my arms, it occurred to me that there was no time here to delight in the exquisite details of Tyler's craftsmanship. Who cared about the hankie-point detailing on the inside jacket pockets? I know it's supposed to be there, so I'll admire it later. Nor was there any time to enjoy the tactile beauty of the clothes--the silk charmeuse gowns, spongy wool trousers, beaded lace skirts or sharp snakeskin vests.
You would think that fashion-conscious women would have nothing to do with something so raffish as a sample sale. Yet, even though the discounted goods aren't as of-the-moment as what's in the stores, the trained eye can scope out items that fit any fashion pundit's guidelines for The Next Big Trend (as in the Mossimo leather pants). Better still, classics that will endure can be found.
Ninety minutes into the scavenge, I inhaled a Balance bar.
The humidity level in the dressing area could have turned the party cantankerous; instead, most of us found ourselves acting like longtime friends. Before a Tyler employee could return our discards to the racks, we'd offer them to anyone within earshot ("Who wants a black dress?"). We patiently took turns before the two mirrors. I found two women I could rely on for a sizing up better than a girlfriend who'd stopped by.