Meet Neiman Marcus’ General Manager
John Collins is bringing the runway to Walnut Creek.
by Ben Krantz
“I actually feel much more comfortable talking about women’s clothing than men’s,” says John Collins, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus in Walnut Creek. His statement is almost hard to believe because Collins is so impeccably dressed. From his well-tailored navy suit, to his perfectly centered tie—complemented by a patterned pocket square—down to his polished lace-up oxfords, Collins exudes quiet sophistication.
His confidence working with women’s ready-to-wear becomes evident, however, when Collins curates a week’s wardrobe based on a single classic French couture tweed suit.
He begins by affirming that you can (1) wear the suit as is, or (2) wear the jacket with a more casual skirt, or (3) wear it with jeans and a T-shirt. You can also (4) pair the skirt with a silk blouse or (5) a knit top.
“[The suit] can be very dressed up and ladylike, but it can also be very cool and casual—even if you wear it with leather leggings.”
And just like that, Collins has dressed you for the entire week with a single suit.
The refined yet thoughtful general manager will celebrate his one-year anniversary at the Walnut Creek store in July, but he’s no newbie. With a background in international business and marketing, Collins had every intention of working his way up in the business world, until his love affair with fashion happened by accident. During a college internship with an international payroll company, Collins worked in a cubicle, went to meetings, and processed paperwork, and realized it was all too mundane—and the results too intangible.
“I was [simultaneously] working in retail at the time, and I realized I liked my part-time job more than my full-time job, and I [asked myself], ‘What am I doing here?’ ” Collins says.
When asked why he was drawn to fashion, Collins enthuses, “I think it’s obviously the beauty of the product and the excitement of the product, and the speed at which it moves. It’s always changing and always exciting.”
Collins quickly climbed his way from one position to the next at luxury department stores. As the assistant general manager for women’s designer apparel at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, his career skyrocketed.
“Being in New York at the flagship store, I was exposed to a lot of designers; I was attending fashion week; I was involved in the buying on behalf of customers to the point that when we opened a [French designer’s] boutique in 2008, the company sent me to Paris to do the initial buy for Saks. I would buy things specifically for certain clients as well as buy for the whole store,” he says rather humbly for someone who provided couture direct from Paris.
Collins later landed at Bergdorf Goodman, the chicest fashion department store in Manhattan, before becoming the general manager of Neiman Marcus in Walnut Creek. Which makes one ask: Why Walnut Creek?
“It was the perfect time for me to manage a whole store on my own,” Collins says. “Obviously, it’s very different: a night-and-day dynamic,” he says of the change of pace from the Big Apple to the East Bay. “But I actually really like [it] because here you have the time to stop and have a conversation with the customers and really get to know them. … It [has] a very community feeling here.”
Collins wants to emphasize the community feeling during the store’s five-year anniversary this year by continuing to support the region’s art and medical institutions, as well as holding community events like fashion shows. The company also will install an activewear shop as part of a nationwide rollout.
Another goal is for the store to become better known as a friendly place to shop. “At times, our company has had a reputation as a very fancy luxury store. But there are a lot of things here that are accessible to everyone.”
But shopping anywhere can be overwhelming. His advice? “Find an associate you’re comfortable with. The associates are trained in customers’ needs … [and they] ask the customers the right questions, see what they’re looking for, and point them in the right direction.”
Case in point—the date blouse. A very straightforward concept, the date blouse is the quintessential top that’s too sexy for work, but not too dressy for a night out. “It can’t be too overt, and it can’t be too restrained. It’s a delicate balance of, ‘How am I going to present myself to make this first impression?’ ”
It’s the associates’ job to ask the right questions, like, Where is the date happening? Because a date in the city requires a different look than a date in Walnut Creek. “There’s a lot of psychology attached to it. It’s not just buying a blouse; it’s a whole [experience]. It’s about the feeling. We want her to feel really confident and amazing.”
What’s his own favorite thing to shop for? “Definitely shoes,” he says, proving he’s a man after any woman’s heart. neimanmarcus.com.