Inder Bhatia ’96 unsheathed an emerald-green silk blouse from its protective plastic wrap, passed it to a group of UB fashion merchandising students and their professor Janet Albert—who had been his old professor, in fact—and launched into his speech.
Bhatia had been in their shoes, he assured them, visiting New York showrooms with Albert and dreaming of a career in fashion. When he walked out of Commencement, he headed straight to Loro Piana’s flagship store on 61st Street off of Park Avenue, where he had a job waiting for him as its assistant manager.
Fashion has been good to him, and he is grateful. So when Albert and Tracy Rigia, his former adviser and director of the Fashion Merchandising Program, first asked him to talk about his work at Loro Piana back in the late 1980s, Bhatia happily agreed.
“Inder has always been available to work with our department; he’s always made the time,” says Albert, who on this day sports a treasured silk scarf that Bhatia gave her a number of years ago. “As a professor you try to stay connected to students; it’s the most rewarding aspect of the career—to see someone mature and contribute to the fashion world.”
Bhatia came to UB as a business major. Then life happened. At the time, he was paying for his education by working as a salesman at the Joseph A. Banks store in Stamford, Connecticut. He discovered that he enjoyed retail, and more important, that he was good at it. He switched majors.
“He was a natural salesman,” says Albert. “You knew just from the way he spoke he was going to do well.”
After Lorna Piana, Bhatia moved to Tahari, and then Leggiadro, where he works today. Though his job titles have changed, Bhatia has always made it a point to meet with UB students. About six years ago, he began inviting them to Manhattan, to see him in situ, as it were.
So now here everyone is, at the Leggiadro atelier, where Bhatia is director of retail. He loves the job, which isn’t unlike being a conductor of a major symphony, or a general, if you think about it. But he’ll get to that in a moment.
Bhatia urges the students to examine the green blouse. He pulls out more clothing for them to inspect, answers questions, then points everyone toward a team of master cutters and sewers who meticulously transform bolts of shantung, chiffon, and crepe, wooly hounds-tooth, and coruscating golden viscose knit and cashmere into cocktail dresses, whispery delicate blouses, quilted jackets, and candy-colored slacks favored by a certain type of client who thinks nothing of paying $300 for a T-shirt and $800 for a skirt.
As the director of retail, Bhatia tells the class, it’s up to him to know what kind of clothing will appeal to the Leggiadro customer, then translate that knowledge into specifics required to boost Leggiadro’s bottom line: the number of size-five skirts to make for the season, for instance, or the total yards of red denim necessary for country club-worthy pants.
Sometimes projections veer off course. One year Nantucket’s hot, and the island’s Leggiadro shop—one of 13 stores nationwide—sells out of skirts in a blink of an eye. The next year everyone summers somewhere else, and the Nantucket shop may have extra merchandise to unload.
“It’s a lot of data,” Bhatia concedes. “I look at sizeselling analysis from the prior year when making plans.”
Such talk may seem a far cry from sequins and silk, but really, “it’s a different side of the business,” Bhatia says after Albert’s group heads back to Grand Central Station to catch the 4:07 p.m. to Bridgeport.
“I think it’s nice for them to see someone who once sat in the same classroom they’re in who’s had some level of success in the industry,” he continues. “I’m happy to pass my experience along.”