Meet Our VP of Men's Fashion, Sam Lobban
Since he was 15, Sam Lobban has been immersed in the world of men's style. "I started in a shop when I was 15 and three-quarters, which sounds like a very British thing because that's when you can start work in the UK—it's when you get your national insurance number," he explains. "So I used to work Saturdays, Sundays, every school holiday selling."
His fascination with fashion stemmed from a love of music—particularly new wave and artists like David Bowie, the Smiths and the Cure. "I guess from a very young age I was always really interested in subcultures, British subcultures, and the way that different guys wear clothes to represent themselves in different ways," he says. "We'd hang out in East London around Shoreditch and go see bands. Especially back then it was a really big live music scene. It was quite edgy. It was pretty gritty, a lot of fun. It was a good scene to be around."
From a small men's boutique in St. Albans near London, Lobban moved on to the shop floor at Selfridges. Within a year, after persistent badgering on his part, the 19-year-old was moved to the buying office. In 2011, he joined Net-a-Porter as the Buying Manager for their men's division, Mr. Porter. Then just last year, Nordstrom welcomed the precociously accomplished Lobban as VP of Men's Fashion. He says he was lured in part by Nordstrom's physical stores and customer service. "That customer service proposition coupled with a really engaged store team, that's probably the thing that struck me most—how passionate everyone is."
"I think what meaningful customer service has become is not defining how the customer wants to shop," he says. "It's giving them a lot of opportunities and then letting them decide. If you want to walk into the shop, find something and walk out, great. If you want to come into a shop and spend three hours with a Personal Stylist to get this very elevated experience. If you want to shop online and pick it up in the store. Or if you just want to shop the site and have something shipped to your home address. You can't have all that without a store. So, the whole idea of physical retail dying, I don't agree with it at all."
Lobban has brought customers into Nordstrom stores. His New Concepts shops offer curated immersive and informed retail experiences. So far, he has used this dedicated space in selected Nordstrom locations to showcase high-performance cold-weather wear (Concept 001: Out Cold); Kim Jones' debut Dior Homme collection (Concept 002: Dior); and Printings.jp (Concept 003: printings.jp), a museum-like shopping partnership with a Japanese publishing house that featured Helmut Lang and Raf Simons collectibles.
The fourth concept, Patagonia, debuts this month and may strike some as much more mainstream than the others, but Lobban would disagree. "American workwear is such a thing right now," he says. "One of the prevailing things for me in fashion is this idea of authenticity, and all the major designer fashion brands are really looking to super authentic menswear lines like Patagonia. Designers like Louis Vuitton have got a shearling snap fleece that's like $2,000 or $3,000, but it's a reference to a $100 fleece from Patagonia. I think that idea has been super interesting, and it's really an exciting time for a business like Nordstrom because of course we have the full spectrum."
When it comes to style, Lobban is surprisingly egalitarian. "I really have no sort of preconceived perception of any individual style. As long as you're into the thing that you're into, I'm super into it too," he says. But his own outfit rarely varies. "Ever since I was 18, I've been wearing all black. I wear white T-shirts and white shirts in the heights of summer—a purely practical concern. Other than that, I wear all black." The only three items in his rotation—aside from white shirts—that aren't black are a Stüssy T-shirt, a Raf Simons camo jacket and a Helmut Lang denim coat. It's kept his wardrobe pared down and, in a way, his buying habits unbiased. "I think the way I find it easy as a person to stay really interested with all the different facets of fashion is to be so strict on one thing, if that doesn't sound too paradoxical," he explains.
"I was never a goth, per se, but I just kind of like that aesthetic I guess, and the music," he explains about his dark wardrobe. "For about three months when I was about 21 or 22, I tried color because everyone around me said I should. I just felt super weird the whole time. Also, everyone else was like, 'Yeah, that doesn't really work.'"