A Small Store's Pitch: Shop With The Designer
Most buyers of luxury fashion don't meet the designers face-to-face, but some of Antonio Berardi's customers had very close contact with him over two days last week, as Mr. Berardi personally measured their waists and bustlines for his form-fitting designs.
For his part, the designer found the experience useful. 'I was meeting real women with real needs, who shop,' says Mr. Berardi.
The connection happened at Suite 1521, a boutique on Madison Avenue that operates like a membership club. Launched last fall by entrepreneurs Lizzie Tisch and Kim Kassel, it's built on the way designers sold clothes decades ago: personally, with the designer, by appointment only.
At a time when so much shopping is moving online, this is the opposite of buy-it-now, same-day delivery. Shoppers must wait for a designer to come to town, make an appointment, show up on time, then wait weeks for an order to arrive.
But Suite 1521 customers also gain access to a mode of shopping normally reserved for celebrities and billionaires. Designers or their close representatives are on hand to explain the collections. Most labels are prepared to substitute fabrics or colors, slightly alter designs or even do custom designs. There are goodies to nibble and couches to rest on.
Client Caryn Becker, who owns an engineering firm and tends to shop online on Net-a-Porter and Barneys, says the concept has allowed her to return to what she refers to as 'physical shopping.'
'I work full-time and I have three kids, so I shop online at midnight,' Ms. Becker says. Suite 1521 'is fast and easy, and I get to meet the designer.'
Suite 1521's founders met years ago through their parents, who are friends. Ms. Kassel, 47, suggested the idea for the membership boutique to Ms. Tisch, 41. Because Ms. Kassel had spent years working in the fashion industry and in sales, she had many contacts with labels. But the two women struggled to find a name. An early idea was the hard-to-pronounce Truvet (Troo-vay). They ultimately lit upon the first suite that Ms. Tisch's husband, Jonathan Tisch, chief executive of Loews Hotels and a member of a wealthy New York family, lived in as a child at the Loews Regency Hotel.
Suite 1521, which won't disclose its revenues, opened last September in a third-floor gallery space at 76th Street and Madison Ave. and has 500 members. In addition to the events focused on designers' collections, there is a small room called the 'Closet' that sells regularly stocked accessories and a few dresses and outfits for clients with a time crunch.
Many designers long to have more of a connection with consumers. 'It's a nicer way of building up your customer relationships,' says the British Mr. Berardi. He even took the unusual step of designing a blouse to go with a skirt for a Suite 1521 client who said she wanted it to celebrate her 50th birthday.
Lion Blau, who designs the Parisian label Atto with Julien Dossena, says the access to clients helps the design process. The two previously worked at Balenciaga, whose many ultra-futuristic looks were destined more for magazine shoots than regular women's closets. The designers are attempting to make Atto more wearable. 'In the studio, we always work with model sizes,' Mr. Blau said in February at Suite 1521, during a break between clients. 'Here, I can see if something is too big or too small.'
Suite 1521 isn't for the faint of wallet. There is a $500 annual membership fee, and with designer-level fashions, outfits easily cost several thousand dollars.
There are plenty of drawbacks. For instance, the fashions on display are mostly tiny sample sizes. To translate their fit into larger sizes, Emma Hastil, a tailor, is on hand with a tape measure and a set of measurements for each size in the collection. Her marching orders, said Ms. Kassel, are 'to be honest' about what's likely to fit well, and what won't.
The collections are limited to small and emerging labels such as Peter Pilotto, Tabitha Simmons, Rodarte, Sophie Theallet and Preen. So clients won't bump into Karl Lagerfeld or designers of giant luxury labels whose schedules are too full for such appearances.
The proprietors are generally on hand to offer frank criticism or even try on clothes. 'Women want to see things on real people like Lizzie,' says Ms. Kassel.
It isn't a stuffy boutique. On a snowy February day, Ms. Tisch showed up wearing jeans and a knit cap with a pom-pom. Sitting on the arm of a couch, she watched Mr. Blau touring several clients through the Atto collection, which hung on racks in part of the 4,000-square-foot showroom. For one woman, the designer agreed to lower the slit on a leather skirt.
Cheryl Minikes, a shopper who lives nearby, said she appreciates not having to wade through multitudes of brands when she shops. 'It's not confusing,' she said. She bought several outfits in February, pointing out as she headed out the door that the process had been efficient: 'I've been here 45 minutes,' she said.
会面地点在麦迪逊大街上以会员俱乐部方式运营的时装店Suite 1521。该店去年秋天由莉齐·蒂施(Lizzie Tisch)和金·卡塞尔(Kim Kassel)创办，以几十年前设计师卖衣服的方式为基础：亲自与设计师会面，而且只能通过预约。
Suite 1521的两位创始人是多年以前通过双方父母认识的。他们的父母是朋友。卡塞尔和蒂施今年分别是47岁和41岁。 当时卡塞尔向蒂施提出了会员制时装店的想法。由于卡塞尔多年在时装行业从事销售工作，所以跟许多品牌都有联系。但两个人在取名字时遇到了难题。最初的一个想法是很难发音的Truvet，最后她们偶然找到了蒂施的丈夫乔纳森·蒂施(Jonathan Tisch)小时候第一次在Loews Regency Hotel入住的套房名。乔纳森现任Loews Hotels酒店集团首席执行长，他来自纽约一个非常富有的家族。
莱昂·布劳(Lion Blau)说与客户接触对创作有帮助。他与朱利安·多塞纳(Julien Dossena)创立了巴黎品牌Atto，二人曾在巴黎世家(Balenciaga)合作过。巴黎世家的很多衣服都极具未来主义风格，往往更适合杂志大片，但不太适合放在普通女性的衣橱里。两位设计师想让Atto更具可穿性。今年2月，在店里接待客户的布劳在休息时间说：“在这里我们一直是按照模特尺码进行设计。衣服太大或太小我都能看到。”
这里的时装仅限于Peter Pilotto、Tabitha Simmons、Rodarte、Sophie Theallet 和Preen等刚刚兴起的小品牌。所以顾客不会碰到卡尔·拉格菲尔德(Karl Lagerfeld)或者档期太满无暇来这里的奢侈品牌的设计师。