Recently I gained a glimpse into the life of the elite shopper. One of Net-a-Porter’s Extremely Important Persons (EIPs) invited me to join her at one of NAP’s private viewings in a suite in a luxurious London hotel. For a shopper more accustomed to rummaging for my goods in car boot sales or vintage fairs, this was a new experience but not a totally unknown quantity. Recently, the Financial Times’ How to Spend It magazine featured Les Suites in Paris that works on a similar principle, offering high end fashion in what feels more like a beautiful home than a shop and offering a limited and highly curated selection of goods to a clientele that feels more like a social clique than a census category. It enables the seller to get closer to the customer (especially an online one) but is it satisfying to the customer? The answer, as ever, depends on what you are looking for.
Entering the hotel from the London rain we were escorted to the suite, wading through carpets waist-deep, breathing air heady with scented candles and bowls of roses. On arrival we were greeted like guests to a party – coats taken, ensconced on sofas and coffee brought as my EIP’s personal shopper talked and then walked us through the treasures on offer.
First, fine jewellery: exclusive, unusual pieces that may never see the light of the website, reserved for clients by private appointment. I was interested to note that some of the most sought-after pieces by females were the watches – many of them large and masculine in look.
Then there were the racks of clothes. Not an excessive amount – perhaps six or seven rails of 10 pieces each with a broad range of labels represented to offer a range to satisfy all tastes and styles, from lavishly embellished Gucci and Balmain, to minimalist knitwear from Khaite or The Row and even the conceptual with a truly extraordinary trenchcoat by Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons (of which more later). There were no basics, no ‘athleisure’, no simple white shirts. This was not a practical, capsule wardrobe, these pieces were stars in their own right and displayed for their individual tactile and visual appeal.
Each piece was present as a single item which meant that trying on was fruitless unless it happened to be your size. This I found highly frustrating. When I’ve attended shopping parties in vintage boutiques the whole enjoyment is that it is the ultimate dressing up box: a playpen for the fashion follower. The selling opportunity works as people bond over trying the clothes and styling each other, customers helping to sell the stock. By comparison, this felt oddly sanitised and staid.
That said, I’ve always been an emotional and romantic shopper – the pieces that catch my eye echo stories, hollywood glamour, half-forgotten dreams that tap directly into a vein of desire. This is not how everyone shops. My EIP was in her element. As a confirmed internet shopper, this was an enhancement of her experience, the perfect complement to the online browse.
This form of selling will appeal to a certain kind of shopper, especially those already acquainted with the range of labels on offer and those short of time who may need professional help in finding clothes for specific need. If you are a browser and a rummager like me, delighting in the hunt for the rare and unusual, it is less satisfying – the work has been done, the prizes presented, the answers are at the bottom of the page.
Was I tempted? The Junya Watanabe trench caught my eye on the rack and, though it was too big, was still something I could try on. It was a genius piece of design, the back a swirl of sunray pleats (welcome irony in a trenchcoat) and it was reversible with a zingy lime green interior. It was a ‘forever’ piece and an item of pure joy to pull out on the dreariest of days.
Would I go again? Undoubtedly.