How many of us are lucky enough to have a job we still love after 30 years? Macy’s VP/fashion director Durand Guion feels truly blessed to engage in his passion every day. He has no idea how many vendors he shops on a regular basis (it’s surely hundreds) but somehow, he manages to visit even small emerging brands, not just for their sales potential at Macy’s but also to assist them with suggestions. For this, he claims no bragging rights. “It’s part of the ministry,” he explains. “And why not take a few minutes to give someone guidance? You never know when or where you might find that next great thing.”
Born and raised in San Francisco where he lived until Macy’s moved him to NYC ten years ago, Guion describes a happy childhood. “I’m from a small family: my mom (a teacher), dad (a chef) and one brother (a tech recruiter). My dad cooked dinners Mondays through Thursdays (which explains my great appreciation for food); my mom took over on weekends. From a fashion perspective, my biggest influence was my paternal grandmother. She was a single African-American woman from the South who moved to San Francisco in the late 1940s. A fabulous dresser with an amazing sense of style, she’d spend money on clothes that was unheard of for a woman in her situation. So, I thank my grandma, Gracie Mae, for my love for fashion!”
He may have inherited the gene, but it was talent combined with luck that propelled a career in fashion merchandising. Studying business in college, Guion realized soon enough this was not his passion so he took some time off. Although an ill-advised move according to his parents, Guion now maintains that taking that break to realign his priorities was one of his best decisions ever. “I needed that moment to gain clarity and focus,” he explains. “I ultimately went back to school for an AA degree in fashion merchandising and then a BA in speech and communication. I needed that break to understand I’d been following a path that wasn’t me.”
His career track at Macy’s was also a bit fortuitous. Having worked retail all through high school and college, Guion considered applying to Macy’s a logical move. But not realizing that he needed to go through a formal college recruitment process and apply well in advance, Guion just showed up at the store and asked to join the executive training program. They told him those spots were filled long ago so he now had to prove himself as a selling supervisor. Letting go of his frustration, he took the job, put his heart into it and proved himself to be a star seller, supervisor and soon manager.
Fast forward a few years, Durand is working in a Macy’s buying office that happened to be near the fashion office. “Coincidentally, I had once interviewed Macy’s fashion director Ray Wills for a college assignment long before I thought of joining Macy’s. So there I was, this pesky little guy who kept popping into the fashion office. Then one day Wills retired, and with the help of a trend report I created using my personal collection of old GQ magazines, I somehow got the job!”
A strong believer in mentors, Guion attributes his career path to many wonderful people along the way. “But the key to a department store fashion business is the relationship between the fashion director and the GMM. So, I have to give a shout out to Paul Fitzpatrick, Menswear GMM at Macy’s West for many years. He really understood my strengths and challenged me to do more with them. His encouragement led me to accomplish far more than I might have otherwise.”
More recently, Macy’s SVP/GBM Mark Stocker is filling that role. “Mark came into the men’s business without the traditional background, and I’m so impressed with how he’s pushed our men’s team to consistently deliver the best fashion. He’s been a true game-changer and working closely with him to reimagine the future of the men’s store has been a rewarding experience.” He also praises his current associate fashion director Danny Kim for his terrific sense of style and vision, and Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette for his “unwavering support and belief in me. I’ve known Jeff since I started my career at Macy’s; he is an amazing leader, and his trust means the world to me.”
Asked about Macy’s current menswear business, Guion is delighted to give a positive review. “Although it’s been tough elsewhere, our tailored clothing sales continue to be robust. With dress codes still casual, it’s a tricky business: size intensive, largely replenishment. But we’ve got a dynamic team and the best assortments. Our focus is on separates, top brands, fresh fashion, extended sizes and related furnishings. When we commit to a new look, we commit big: We can’t tiptoe around or it gets lost. We’ve been promoting the concept of ‘more than one way to wear a suit’ and that’s been exciting!”
Will Macy’s adopt the looser, more voluminous suit models now seen on European runways? “Not yet,” Guion says without hesitation. “Guys are finally comfortable in slim suits, in brighter blues, in seasonal fabrics (seersuckers, khakis), looks we couldn’t sell for decades. We don’t want to push them away from these too soon, especially since tailored is a such big investment—guys don’t buy suits the way they do jeans or tank tops, and we want to ensure they feel good about their investment. (Editor’s note: Macy’s suit retails run to about $1,000; they’re just starting to offer some made-to-measure options.) That said, we’ll probably start loosening up by introducing wider lapels and pants styles that are looser on top but still narrow on the bottom, to show off the shoe. Remember: It took 15 years to evolve men’s clothing to slim; while it won’t take that long to go back (fast fashion will speed it up a bit), we’re not going from 0 to 60 overnight!”
The other exceptional business at Macy’s of late is activewear; Guion attributes this strength to carrying all the right brands, to another exceptional team and to the fact that activewear influences are being integrated into everyday wear. “Much like the status men felt from wearing an Armani or Hugo Boss suit a while back, wearing streetwear for a new generation indicates membership in a community. It’s now less about price or proving you’ve arrived, and more about street cred, about being part of a tribe. It started with sneakers: limited supply, frequent drops, high price points. It’s not so much that you were able to afford it but more simply that you ‘get it’. And it’s now expanded with even core national brands like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Levi’s becoming at least somewhat streetwear-inspired. In fact, there are streetwear influences in virtually everything we do in casual sportswear. The young generation has owned it!”
While Guion claims few disappointments in menswear these days, there’s always something. Neckwear, for example, is not among Macy’s more robust categories. “But you can’t beat yourself up for it,” he explains. “It’s a natural cycle so you just move on to something else. In fact, at a recent presentation in Chicago, I was almost late because I’d planned to wear a tie and it took a little longer for me to get that perfect knot. (It had been a while since I last tied one.)”
What’s needed to make business better? Guion is thoughtful. “All retailers need to keep pace with the new customer: He’s moving faster, he’s more confident. He thinks of fashion and style in a very different way. We’ve got to stay in tune with where he’s getting his fashion information. We’ve got to stay on top of social media. If he’s moving to a more casual mindset, we can’t fight that; we’ve got to be right there with him, or better still, ahead of him. And whatever the trend, we’ve got to message the how-to. It’s not about selling a bunch of clothes but how do you curate it for him, how do you message it to him, how do you let him know how to wear it? I believe Macy’s is in a good position because we communicate multi-platform: print, TV, digital, in-store display. And our guys feel comfortable in our stores—with both familiar brands and some new exciting initiatives.”
Asked which of these new exciting initiatives he’s most enthused about, Guion singles out Story and Market at Macy’s. “The acquisition of Story is teaching us to move quickly and be nimble, that we can’t wait for 95,000 approvals to make a decision because the mix changes every 60-90 days. As for Market at Macy’s (launched about two years ago), this is making it easier for small emerging brands to sell at Macy’s. It used to be that if a brand didn’t have the right infrastructure behind it, they couldn’t get in; now, virtually anyone can reach out, and we’ll help them determine if they’re a fit. Those who get an opportunity to showcase their product for 30 days or even six months, depending on the deal. During this time, they learn about department store parameters with a goal to ultimately become a regular vendor. Of course, there’s a fee associated with the arrangement: It’s like a mini-leased department, but it’s a step into the future for many emerging brands. And it’s great for us to test promising vendors with new fashion concepts.”
On the impact of online selling (editor’s note: Macy’s has reported 19 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth on its website, with 700 vendors now selling direct from the Macy’s platform), Guion remains a big believer in brick-and-mortar stores. “For many men, shopping online for fashion can be overwhelming. Our research shows that men like going into our stores, seeing new looks on mannequins, viewing the extent of our assortments, getting advice from sales associates first hand.”
And speaking of advice, we ask this fashion icon most known for his individual style (often described as original, unique, eclectic, directional), how one creates a personal brand. “It’s a good question for me since I’m a big fan of building, maintaining and protecting one’s personal brand. It’s something we don’t talk enough about, especially to young people getting started in their careers. You can be book smart, common-sense smart and street savvy but like it or not, people first judge you and form an impression by how you look.
“How to do it? First and foremost, you have to know who you are, or at least who you want to be, and what makes you most comfortable. Then you have to do some work! Realize that it’s OK to be influenced, or even to copy. If you see someone or something that inspires you, figure out how to incorporate that into your persona. Look at people whose style you admire and borrow what you think might work for you. And then, of course, come into Macy’s and let our personal stylists help you put it all together. This is a wonderful complementary service we offer: Our stylists can help you create a modern look with no spin (they don’t represent a brand). It’s one of Macy’s’ biggest assets (there’s no set spend; you don’t have to buy a thing) and I wish more guys would take advantage of it!”