All dressed up, a lot of places to go
IF you were granted three wishes, the first should be to have Ms Winnie Kwan's job. The second should be to have her wardrobe. And, to complete the dream, the third should be to have her problems.
It was Easter Monday, and super trim Ms Kwan was wearing her ''holiday fun clothes'' - black ski pants and bolero jacket with an elegant grey ruff and detachable ostrich plumes at the neck. She wouldn't have looked out of place at a swank nightclub.
For that matter, this petite woman wouldn't have looked out of place anywhere fashionable in the world - and just as well, really.
As manager and buyer of women's fashions for Seibu, elegant, smiling Ms Kwan has an office which spans the globe. She spends a third of her life travelling, contemplating winter woollies while others in Hongkong begin to think of summer tans.
Her job description could be to go shopping and spend lots (and lots ) of money on very (very ) expensive clothes by designers such as Jean Louis Scherrer, Kenzo, Issay Miyake, Jean Paul Gaultier and Helen Storey.
It's a job which involves international shopping sprees, running up unimaginable bills in the markets of London, Milan, Paris, Florence, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo.
The problems which go with the territory are ones we would all like to have.
''The toughest part of my job is spending all the money allocated,'' she said. But it is a challenge she is more than equal to, once she has planned the annual budget.
''Before I leave, I have already decided on which collections I am likely to be buying but, of course, the final decision won't be made until I see the clothes,'' she said.
''It is not possible to stick too rigidly to my plan. I may have high hopes for one brand, but when I see the collection, it might be terrible.'' Budgets are divided between Seibu's different departments including haute couture ; Savvy on level 2 with more than 60 labels; the Kenzo boutique; a new label Asuro Tayama - a Paris-based Japanese designer who has been given his own space; Jean Louis Scherrer; the Express department with more avante garde fashions; Urban Square for younger wear such as Diesel and Replay jeans.
In some sections, it is possible to be more flexible with the budget.
''For instance with swimwear I could reorganise the budget and incorporate more resort wear or I may set out to buy skirts and then find that shorts are in so I will allocate more to shorts,'' Ms Kwan said.
She knows roughly what she will see overseas, but points out even the designers themselves don't know what a collection will comprise until the last minute.
Ms Kwan has already finished shopping for winter fashions which will be arriving at Seibu in July. Eighty per cent of summer merchandise is already on the floor.
Objectivity is the rule and Ms Kwan admits she would probably never wear some of the clothes she picks-up overseas.
But her eye for buying is well-trained.
Ms Kwan completed a fashion design and business studies course in Britain and, after graduation, worked in London with a fashion forecast company.
When she returned to Hongkong, Ms Kwan designed for a clothing company before moving into merchandising for buying offices handling Emporio Armani and Cerruti.
She has worked for Seibu for almost three years and can pick trends accurately after seeing only 20 per cent of the collection.
''I see several shows and the showroom. After seeing about 20 per cent of the collections, the trends become apparent,'' she said.
''But I have to be careful to think what the Seibu customer wants.'' There are labels the department store always carries. These include Kenzo, Jean Louis Scherrer, Gianluca Gabrielli (Ms Kwan's favourite for summer) and Katherine Hamnett.
''Gianluca Gabrielli understands a woman's figure and his designs are very feminine and flattering,'' Ms Kwan said.
And while she won't reveal her budget, when Ms Kwan talks about buying, she talks in terms of spending $10 or $20 million for one department alone.
''But I would not buy an outfit which would retail for more than $30,000, unless it was haute couture,'' she said.
Seibu runs to the ''high-end'' customer and, with only one store in Hongkong, tends to exclusivity, perhaps only one piece of one style, or one colour - especially in party or evening wear.
''In daywear, I may buy six pieces in different sizes,'' said Ms Kwan, adding that Seibu customers look for one-offs.
''Usually I would only buy a few special, expensive pieces in the haute couture range and spend the rest on daywear. I mix different categories in one label.
''If it's remarkable, I will buy just one piece and make up the rest with lower priced outfits.'' But like anyone spending money which isn't theirs, Ms Kwan keeps an eye out for bargains.
''If the clothes are good quality, I don't mind if they relatively cheap,'' she said.
At the moment, she said, prices of fashions in Europe are competitive due to a quiet market and the lower exchange rate.
It takes about three weeks in Europe for Ms Kwan to complete half her buying in a packed schedule of shows, factories, catwalks and waiting around.
''It certainly is not all glamorous,'' Ms Kwan said.
''If possible, I attend the shows, but it is a time-consuming process.
''Sometimes I get a front seat but usually I end up waiting around outside for half an hour and then, when I finally get inside, the place is very crowded with press and buyers.
''Usually I visit the factories or the showrooms and that means keeping three or four appointments during a day which often does not end until midnight.'' But, she smiles, at least she has the chance to find a few nice pieces for herself on her shopping jaunts.
''And I know some of my customers have similar tastes to me. They like something fun too, something a little different. So I buy for them as well.'' For well-heeled Seibu customers, Ms Kwan really does have the power to make wishes come true.