We speak to the man behind the eponymous SAKS FIFTH AVENUE, BAHRAIN as he spotlights what it means to be the Senior Division Manager of such a global brand. Introducing the man of the decade, MARK ASFAHANI.
“We have worked with so many local talents over the past 10 years where they have grown now to become esteemed regional brands, which is amazing to watch.”
Hello Mark! Over the last decade, how do you feel that your role as Senior Division Manager for Saks Fifth Avenue has evolved?
I moved to Bahrain in 2008 a month before Saks Fifth Avenue opened its doors. The experience and learnings that I have received has added so much to the person that I am today. On a personal level, Bahrain is where I got married and I now have two beautiful kids – it’s home now for me. On a professional level, so many members of the team started in 2008 and are still working with me in 2019 making us feel like Saks is our second home and not just a place of work – this is a true testament to Saks Fifth Avenue as a brand. The brands we have seen in the store have changed over the years, either due to the change in our local guests’ fashion appetite or taste because we removed brands trying to make space for new and updated ones, or because we try and accommodate new and updated brands, making the experience so much better. We have worked with several local talents over the past 10 years where they have grown now to become esteemed regional brands which is amazing to watch.
In your personal opinion, how important do you consider fashion trends? Do trends have any importance as all?
I wouldn’t say all fashion trends hold importance, however, what I consider important are the new fashion trends that are picked up on in the region. I would also consider the new fashion trends that have become quite strong in past years versus previous years where they weren’t seen on the runways or labelled as trends. These trends can give us a feel for the shift in culture and the general public’s lifestyles and values. The relatively new trends like athleisure and sustainable fashion are great examples.
Working in the frontline of such an eponymous luxury department store opens your eyes to the evolution of fashion. Has catwalk fashion lost its connection to what people wear from day-to-day too much?
There have always and will always be looks that are show stoppers, more for the catwalk and celebrities than for everyday wear. These over the top and mostly unwearable looks serve several purposes like showcasing the designer’s creativity, technical skills, vision for the brand and of course for publicity. Within the overall show and collection will be more wearable pieces and key trends that will trickle down to the stores. At the end of the day brands create products that people want to wear – it’s a business of lifestyle at the end.
In times of social media (especially Instagram) do you think differently about Saks’ design layout and the impact it might have in a photo or a video?
The experience is everything at Saks, and nowadays every moment and every experience is shared on social media. We surely create memorable “Instagrammable” moments at our events and activities.
The visual experience in the store itself is social media worthy as we keep the windows and display areas refreshed with the latest collections, trends and styles. Several beautiful new shop-in-shops like Valentino, Givenchy, Pleats Please and Jimmy Choo have opened as will our new beauty department with a completely new look and exciting brands to capture. Staying true to the brand’s DNA is crucial to retain the same feel and experience in any Saks that you would visit globally. Saksfifthavenue.com is now shipping to Bahrain and we are enthralled.
Fashion shopping: online or in a store, and why?
Online shopping is a way of life now. Time is the scarcest commodity. Customers are not limited anymore to online or instore and in many cases are doing both at the same time.
However online shopping is now a fact of life and any company who doesn’t understand the importance of having the omni-channel experience for its clients will no doubt fail in the future. Our clients won’t adapt to our ways of doing business but we have to adapt to theirs. Online shopping comes in handy quite a lot when I’m looking to compare products or looking to buy from a brand that is not available in Bahrain.
If you are asking me for my preference, it’s definitely in store. First of all, I am able to touch the actual product, see the quality and try the fit to be confident of my purchase. I also get to take it home that same instant rather than waiting for the delivery and dealing with the hassle that importantly, is the experience and the service that I receive in a store that comes not only from the way it looks but from the salesperson – I like the human interaction.
What collections/designs of designers/brands do you consider interesting in-store? Why?
It’s difficult to choose as each brand has something different and interesting to offer within each collection. Off-White is a noteworthy brand, it’s relatively new and extremely hot with many items selling before they hit the shelf. The founder Virgil Abloh appeals to the new generation and brings contemporary cool wherever he collaborates.
How would you describe your own individual style?
I would like to think of myself as a classic dresser, one day you will see me in my three piece suit, a pocket square and a tie with cufflinks, and others I’d be in my blue jeans bright colour loafers and other days I would be in my heavy metal t-shirt, ripped jeans and converse shoes. Like many people, style is an expression of mood for me.
We’ve all been guilty of a fashion faux pas over the years. What fashion sins have you committed in the past?
I attended a very important meeting in NYC with a brown shoe on the left foot and a black shoe on the right. On a serious note, fashion is a form of expression of the culture at the time that it is introduced and it needs to be either relevant and commercial or adventurous and game changing, and it all depends on how good you are in hiding your
pictures from years ago.
How would you describe the fashion scene in Bahrain based upon your observations over the past 10 years?
I would have to say that year upon year it is becoming more saturated, with most luxury brands now available in the Kingdom. Saks Fifth Avenue played a big part in introducing key names in the luxury fashion industry over the past decade even up until today with the likes of Saint Laurent Paris, Balenciaga, Chloe and Givenchy to name a few. People’s appetite for fashion I believe has also grown and they have become more open to experimenting with the latest trends. Additionally, from a local offering of fashion brands, Bahrain is home to many extremely talented and successful designers, be it of accessories or ready-to-wear or bags.
Tell us why our readers should visit Saks Fifth Avenue this Valentine’s. It’s a chance to gift a loved one with something unique and exclusive, our sales staff will offer expert advice and assistance making sure that they choose the ideal gift. It’s also the perfect place to shop for oneself to look extra special for the evening.
“The visual experience in the store itself is social media worthy as we keep the windows and display areas refreshed with the latest collections, trends and styles.”