Chatting with Annemarie and Alexandra Dillard

Annemarie and Alexandra Dillard are the third generation of Dillard’s to occupy positions in the Dillard’s department store chain, a retail giant with over 300 stores in the U.S.

1.  For the Misswhoo.com readers, share with us about your specific roles at Dillard's.  

AnneMarie: I am the Director of Online Experience for our Dillards.com site. I work closely with our IT, buying and marketing teams to manage the production of our website. I also coordinate the contemporary sportswear buying team and provide trend direction as the Director of Contemporary Sportswear for the branded contemporary apparel lines that we carry.

Alexandra:  I manage the buying and product development of existing and new, exclusive brand launches at Dillard's.  I currently oversee over 20 labels that range from childrenswear to womenswear and include clothing, swim and active collections.

2. What's one leadership lesson you've learned this year? 

AnneMarie: Patience, especially in terms of taking the time to think things through before making a decision. Fashion is a go-go world especially with some of the latest technological developments, but sometimes you have to take a step back and think things through before jumping on the latest bandwagon. I see this often in the e-commerce world where it seems like every day there is a new technology or disruptor that is going to revolutionize the industry. Of course, many of those technologies have indeed done just that and it is vital to stay on top of what is going on, but at the same time, it is easy to jump on top of every new development immediately and think other non-early adopters are naive. I have seen firsthand that sometimes it is best to observe what is going on and to make a decision that is best for your company in the long term. Just like every fashion trend doesn't suit every person, not every new trend in business is suited for every business model.

Alexandra:   Being a leader typically means being in a management position. And, managing different personalities can be challenging. I think it's imperative to work with your subordinates and figure out how to inspire and motivate them, so that you can get the best results from each. After all, the only way to be successful is to have a strong team that can execute your vision to produce successful results. I have worked hard to build my team with great "partners" that exude these characteristics. I want them to feel ownership of our successes. At times, I have had to navigate through many personalities, struggles, and conflict, but reaching a level of compatibility and mutual drive is an incredible feeling especially when positive growth results. 

3.  From your perspective, what are the largest challenges you've personally experienced being a woman in the workplace? And any solutions? 

AnneMarie: The fashion industry is full of innovative and powerful women. I am inspired on a daily basis by female leaders in our industry. I would say that many of the women I work with need to be sure they are networking within their companies. Often times there are roles available that they might not even know about or think they are suited for but if you take the time to meet people in other areas of your organization and learn what they do, you might realize other potentials for growth in your own career. In addition, people in other parts of the company will be familiar with you and will be more likely to recommend you for job opportunities. Take time to sit with different people at lunch or invite an acquaintance in another area to lunch. Some of the most senior managers in our organization have bounced between IT executives to managing divisional buying operations to managing store operations. 

Alexandra:  Luckily, we are in the retail fashion industry, so there isn't a shortage of women in powerful roles.  But, I do think there is a difference between the expectations of women and men in leadership positions. For women, I feel it's imperative to maintain emotional control when making major decisions or when faced with changing situations. Confidence is another characteristic that is a necessity for women.  These are things I see many women in all industries struggle with. I know it's cliche, but I recommend to all of my female employees that they read "Lean In".  It's a book that I find motivational to women in the workplace. 

4.  In terms of our work/professional life wardrobe basics, what would you suggest as "must-haves" for my closet?

AnneMarie: 

1. Fitted crisp button front blouses in white and black. I can't have enough. Theory makes excellent versions. You can never have too many. The key is that they are tailored and fit properly and made out of quality materials with good color fastness (aka they stay white, not yellow-ish, and black, not grey).

2. A great black pencil skirt. You can do a fun material like leather or a longer midi length, but a black pencil skirt will get many wears and is appropriate year-round in many climates. 

3. A fitted trench coat. Stick to more neutral colors and you will get more wears out of them: navy, beige, black or olive. 

4. A chic black leather moto jacket. This of course depends on where you work, but a black leather moto jacket looks great with just about anything and will keep you warm in a chilly office. It instantly brings some edge to any outfit, yet it is appropriate for many office situations.

Alexandra:  A great white dress is a must!  Everyone always says you need a black dress, but I find white to be just as classic and sophisticated. And, white is very easy to accessorize with jewelry and layering pieces. Also, I think everyone needs a fantastic, well-fitting blazer. Theory and Antonio Melani have the excellent options!  They are very versatile.  I wear mine all the time - over dresses and slacks and even in more casual situations with jeans and heels or shorts and sandals. Lastly, I think a fashionable shoe is a great addition to a classic, office ensemble and it's an opportunity to show off your sense of style while still appearing professional.

5. How do you personally look for sales/deals? Is there a strategy? 

AnneMarie: I personally don't try to look to buy things that are "on sale". So many retailers have relied so heavily on discounts that it has become somewhat of a game to customers. Instead, I try to research what I like and what something of that quality is worth regardless of a sale sticker. Sometimes a full priced item at Dillard's might be a much better quality than a 40% off item from another retailer and at the end of the day, you actually get a better deal paying full price. The key is to really know what something is worth.

Alexandra:  Signing up for your favorite retailer's email blasts is the best way to be "in-the-know" for discounts and promotions. I like flash sales sites too, but they can be overwhelming and time-consuming with less than exciting offerings. Building a friendship with sales associates is a really good way to get tips about upcoming sales.  

6.  What's coming up in the fall for Dillard's? 

AnneMarie: In our contemporary apparel area, we are launching Sam Edelman apparel, a very exciting new brand that is part of one of our popular shoe lines. The line is a full collection with a wide breadth of assortment. It is young, fun and great quality. 

Alexandra:  Lots of really exciting new trends!  You'll see leather used across all categories from classic to fashion jackets, tops, pants, skirts, and dresses.  Leather is mixed with other fabrications and offered in so many non-traditional styles, which feels very fresh. Also, we are continuing with the "set" trend, and I love the combination of shorter tops mixed with skirts in longer lengths that hit right below the knee. There are some really exciting innovations in sweater yarns as well that feature great textures and unexpected color combinations too.

7.  We love your style... Where can we see more of it?

AnneMarie: Dillard's makes up the vast majority of my wardrobe!

Alexandra:  At Dillard's, obviously ;)

8. Anything else that our readers should know about Dillard's?  

Annemarie: Dillard's is committed to being on top of the latest trends while also focusing on offering quality merchandise. Our buyers pore over trend reports and scour the markets, meeting with countless designers to find the newest brands to offer our customers. Dillard's strives to offer our customers the best choices in fashion at the best value. Unlike many other retailers, we don't try to drive sales through artificial markdowns. We offer the best fashion at the best price with excellent quality to our customers from day one.

Alexandra: We are a company that is dedicated to offering our customers a combination of exceptional product with fantastic service and quality. We also believe strongly in our exclusive brands, which offer the best private label assortment in the market with a unique model that showcases one-of-a-kind, elevated designs. We believe these brands set our company apart and give our customers a reason to return to our stores.