On selling, networking and the retail experience

I happened to stumble upon this interview with Gucci’s CEO Mark Lee from last October where he discusses Gucci’s expanding presence in the Indian market. One of the points that came up was how luxury brands can sell to those with ‘new money’ who have the cash and the will to spend it, but can be intimidated by the store experience of top-end brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Lee admitted that “In Gucci, our focus is that there should not be rudeness or there should not be snootiness now. Do we achieve that goal every time? No. It is a big focus of mine and we should strive to exude that warmth because it does not need to be a cold or a snooty experience.”

I am becoming more and more convinced that the experience of shopping is what will become important as the recession continues. When we buy something, yes we are buying an item but how much more will we enjoy it if we had a nice time buying it? And won’t that make us want to go back for seconds? I’m already finding that if I’m in a browsing mood I gravitate towards shops where I enjoy the environment from the merchandising, to the ambience, the music and the staff. This is why I love shops like Shop at Maison Bertaux, Dover Street Market and Start. The staff are genuinely friendly and knowledgeable and although they are obviously there to sell the stuff, you don’t feel like they’re just trying to flog you whatever they can, it’s all very subtle and extremely seductive.

A friend who used to work at Maison Margiela in Bruton Place is a very good salesperson. She told me how she would get into a natural conversation with a customer which would often lead to a sale, purely because they didn’t feel they were being sold to. In a sense the selling experience is a little like networking. Networking has a bad image as it’s seen as an insincere “I’m only talking to you because I think you can offer me something” whereas it’s really a two-way exchange. The same goes for the buyer-seller relationship. The seller makes some friendly chit-chat, the buyer lowers her hackles, the seller finds out more about the customer and her tastes and may go the extra mile by clueing her in on next week’s deliveries or a new range they’re launching. The two parties bond and a sale is made. The seller gets her commission, the buyer goes home with a nice new Margiela dress.

Some say they prefer shopping online but for me shopping online is a totally different experience to shopping in person. Many’s the time I have passed a store, decided on a whim to pop in, and ended up buying something that caught my eye. If I shop online it’s usually for something specific. I rarely browse and then find myself buying something unexpectedly. However, I can’t argue that the internet is a much easier, quicker and more straightforward option. If the high street wants to claw backs its customers from the internet it will have to make the in-store experience more enticing and it would do well to start with its staff. Less snootiness, and more warmth is the way forward.

Contemporary Wardrobe, thirty years of street style

It’s not often you find out about events like Thursday’s talk at the Horse Hospital. Luckily for me I read about it on Style Bubble just in the nick of time and got my ticket request in fast. Alas, not fast enough as the next day an email pinged back saying the event was massively oversubscribed and entry wasn’t guaranteed, but to turn up anyway and they’d try to accomodate everyone. We arrived with time to spare which was good as it afforded us a nice fashion show in the form of the arriving punters. Having expected a pride of pushy fashion students and a few Hoxton hipsters I was happy to see a majority of veteran London dandies and friendly faces from the last forty years of fashion and clubbing. We had quite a lot of fun playing ‘guess who he is’ until the doors opened and we were all ushered in.

The Contemporary Wardrobe collection at the Horse Hospital in Russell Square is celebrating its thirtieth year as London’s quite astonishing fashion and street-style archive. The event consisted of a very cool fashion show, rare footage of a Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood interview together from 1993 and a talk between journalist Paul Gorman and Contemporary Wardrobe’s owner Roger K Burton. We heard about Burton’s adventures in fashion from his early mod days growing up in the Midlands to outfitting the cast and 300 extras from Quadrophenia to designing Vivienne Westwood’s World’s End shop.

After the talk, there were drinks and chat as well as lots of photo-taking of the exhibited skinhead, punk, hippie and rocker outfits. I managed to buttonhole Paul Gorman who gave me the lowdown on the assembled fashion faces who included Mr and Mrs Terry de Havilland, Top Man design director Gordon Richardson (how dapper is this man, Phillip Green, please take some styling tips from him!), Soho suitmaker Mark Powell, Max Karie from Shop at Maison Bertaux and Marian Buckley from FUK.

A word about Paul Gorman. If you’re interested in the history of music-influenced street style, I highly recommend his book The Look, Adventures in Rock and Pop Fashion, featuring never-seen-before (by me anyway) photos and insightful interviews with key fashion players. Check out his blog here.

Learning to love you more

Learning To Love You More is the brainchild of Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. It’s a website comprising work made by the public in response to creative assignments set by July and Fletcher such as “Take a flash photo under your bed” and “Write your life story in less than a day”.

Here is the one I’m going to do: “Make an encouraging banner”

Think of something encouraging you often tell yourself. For example: Everything will be ok. Or: Don’t listen to them. Or: It’ll blow over. Now make a banner, making sure to follow these instructions:

1. Draw each letter of the sentence on a large piece of colored construction paper or big squares of fabric. One letter per piece. Draw them blocky so you can cut them out.
2. Cut them out.
3. Glue each one onto a piece of construction paper or fabric that is a contrasting color.
4. Then glue the edges of all the pieces of paper or fabric together to make a banner.
5. Hang the banner in a place where you or someone else might need some encouragement, for example, across your bathroom. Or between two trees so that you and your neighbors can receive encouragement from it. Or in a gas station.
6. Photograph the banner and upload it onto the site.

You can see examples of other people’s banners on the website here.

The Co-operative Building in Middlesbrough is curating an exhibition of completed assignments which opens on 25th July. If you want to take part (have a go, it’s fun!) you’ll need to submit your assignment by 20th June.