The Hub Cool News

Artisan Nest

nestRebecca van Bergen is connecting small-village artisans to the great American marketplace, reports Rachel Felder in The New York Times (8/14/14). Rebecca is founder of Nest — not to be confused with Nest — which "acts as a matchmaker between artisans and companies in the fashion and home furnishings fields." It has now "created what it dubbed its Artisan Summit," designed to help "indigenous craft artists" market their wares as well as teach big-market retailers how to work with them.

"Nest brought together these artisans because they share the same challenges," says Nest founder Rebecca van Bergen. "One of the largest is how to take largely home workers who have produced for local markets with different standards of quality, and translate that to a fashion industry, particularly a luxury fashion industry, that has very stringent requirements in terms of quality and replicability." It’s an equally interesting challenge for major retailers "as the appeal of such products grows."

Rebecca launched Nest in 2006 by "lending artisans money to produce goods, then selling the products to recoup those loans — but eventually eliminated sales to become a non-profit." Nest has helped produce items such as "Trina Turk glass-beaded necklaces in Tiruchirappalli, India … and handwoven Ikat Feed tote bags in Guatemala City." Rebecca says that bridging developing economies and urban fashion is "strange and surreal," adding: "To see the process from design to rack, I mean, it’s art."

BucketFeet Community

bucketfeetWhere Toms Shoes hopes "to improve lives," BucketFeet is "about building a community," reports Lizette Chapman in The Wall Street Journal (8/14/14). Toms is famous for donating "a pair of its shoes to a person in need every time a customer buys a pair." The BucketFeet idea, meanwhile, is to connect "people around the globe through art. Its flip-flops and sneakers for men, women and children feature designs by more than 5,000 artists worldwide." (images)

"By doubling down on our artist community and the stories they tell, we’re building our brand," says co-founder Raaja Nemani, 32. "Yes, we sell shoes, but we are really about building a community." Launched in 2011 by Raaja and business partner Aaron Firestein with $100,000 in personal savings, BucketFeet today "has 16 full-time employees and has raised nearly $6 million in venture capital." Its footwear is sold nationwide in Nordstrom’s and will soon be available "at select Bloomingdale’s stores" and its website.

Prices range from "$30 for flip-flops to $68 or more for sneakers." Raaja says BucketFeet’s success happened because "we had zero pride in how we did it and focused 100% on how to get in front of people at street fairs, trunk shows and every party we could. We talked about it shamelessly everywhere and messaged every person we knew on Facebook and said, ‘please buy our shoes as a favor to us’." Currently, BucketFeet offers two styles, but plans to have "six or seven by spring of next year."

Patagonia Profits

patagonia-wetsuitPatagonia’s "unusual commitment to sustainability" sometimes comes "at the expense of its bottom line," reports Diane Cardwell in The New York Times (7/31/14). "Business that puts profit above people and the environment is not going to be a healthy and sustainable way for us to live and for the planet to survive," says Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. Rose adds that company founder Yvon Chouinard has "said that every time he made a decision that was right for the environment, it made the company money, though sometimes not for a while."

One of Patagonia’s newest products, a wetsuit that "is made not from conventional petroleum-based neoprene but from a natural rubber derived from a desert shrub," is a case in point. "Instead of holding the manufacturer of the rubber, Yulex, to a yearslong exclusive contract, Patagonia is encouraging its competitors to use the product, hoping to see its use grow and drive down the price." This is in the tradition of Patagonia’s introduction of "organically grown cotton products in the 1990s," which lost both customers and money.

However, the suit, "priced at $529 – $549 … will earn the company money and bolster its green credentials, an important part of how it tried to appeal to customers." Mitch Taylor, a surfer, is sold: "I was really stoked on it," he said. Another surfer, Walter Valesky, was less enthusiastic, noting that he could get a good used surfboard for that money. Yvon’s son, Fletcher Chouinard, remains optimistic: "People are starting to put their money where their mouth is, but it’s slow," he says.

Sephora Photos

coloriqSephora is using visual data to achieve an in-store experience that couldn’t happen online, reports Issie Lapowsky in Wired (8/1/04). Sephora’s "new flagship location in New York City … is filled with digital accents designed to bring the brick-and-mortar experience closer to the world of online retail, including everything from a touchscreen quiz for finding the best perfume to a skincare product finder that culls e-commerce data and serves up online reviews."

However, Sephora is also using technology in its stores that can "unlock some interesting data that brands could never collect online. The most obvious example of that … is a program called ColorIQ, which attempts to match shoppers’ skin tone with the appropriate shade of foundation. To do that, Sephora partnered with Pantone to identify every possible skin tone in the world. They then created a piece of hardware that filters out external light to photograph a shopper’s exact skin tone and match it to makeup that’s in stock."

Using ColorIQ revealed "that some of the 121 skin tones identified were more popular than others" but Sephora didn’t have products "for several of the most popular tones." The retailer has since "worked with brands to build out a more diverse range of shades." "Brands had never been able to see that data before says Sephora marketing chief Julie Bornstein, who adds: "I feel strongly that physical retail will never go away … It’s been a pastime since the beginning of mankind.”

Under Armour Pirhouettes

misty-copeland-uaUnder Armour hopes to connect with women by featuring a non-athlete in its advertising, reports Andrew Adam Newman in The New York Times (7/31/14). Of course, describing ballerina Misty Copeland as a "non-athlete" is debatable, as Misty herself observes. "A lot of people think of dance as a really sort of frivolous thing, that you just kind of get on the stage and twirl around," she says. However, she adds, "we are just as hardworking as any athlete." The Under Armour commercial in which she’s featured supports her point.

In the commercial (link), Misty "rises to the tips of her toes, the muscles in her calves as angular as bent elbows, and her bulging quadriceps resembling a soccer player’s." Under Armour’s Leanne Fremar says Misty "brings a modern athleticism to a very traditional art form, and she pushes the boundaries on the status quo of the word ‘athlete’ … There are a lot of sports, activities, hobbies and passions that women are engaging in that are athletic and physical and should be celebrated, whether it’s dance or soccer or kickboxing or spinning."

Under Armour’s other female athlete endorsers include skier Lindsey Vonn, tennis player Sloane Stephens and soccer player Kelley O’Hara. Advertising critic Barbara Lippert says the Misty commercial, which also communicates the obstacles she faced as an African-American ballet soloist, is effective because "it doesn’t feel forced and manipulated and the same old, ‘We can do it gals,’ sort of thing," adding that the spot is "very powerful because she has a very interesting story and is an inspirational figure."

Really Big Shoe

brooksBrooks Sports turned its new corporate headquarters into a statement about its company culture, reports Sarah Max in The New York Times (7/30/14). Brooks makes "the top-selling brand" of running shoes "in independent running stores," and its new quarters are "across the street from the Burke-Gilman Trail, a 27-mile thoroughfare for runners and cyclists" north of downtown Seattle, Washington. "The opportunity to be right here, so close to our customers, is amazing," says Brooks chief executive Jim Weber.

Brooks built its new 120,000 square-foot corporate flagship from scratch, and is "on track to receive LEED Platinum status, the US Green Building Council’s highest designation for environmental features." In addition, its "parking garage has a dedicated bike lane and dozens of secure bike spots. First-floor showers make human-powered commutes more feasible, though showers time out after five minutes … Dashboards throughout the building will broadcast real-time statistics on energy consumption."

The new offices also "will include the opening of the brand’s first retail location, which occupies a prominent spot on the building’s first floor. The 4,600 square-foot concept store is geared more toward connecting runners — via events, lectures and clinics — than selling merchandise." Jim Weber says the daily interaction with customers will be valuable. "We’re going to learn a lot," he says. Meanwhile, sculptures outside the store will cast from "1,500 medals" donated by runners from around the world.

Chloe & Isabel

chloe+isabelChantel Waterbury created a "social retail brand" that is reinventing direct sales, reports Angus Loten in The Wall Street Journal (7/17/14). Launched in 2010, Chloe & Isabel "uses independent sales associates to sell the company’s jewelry online … Named for hypothetical best friends with opposite tastes — trendy versus classic — today the company has 80 full-time employees, including a team of jewelry designers who source and produce hundreds of styles."

The enterprise uses "proprietary software that allows its independent sales associates, known as ‘merchandisers,’ to create their own customized Chloe & Isabel web boutiques and tap their social networks for customers. The company currently has nearly 5,000 merchandisers, who start by purchasing a starter kit, comprised of 18 pieces of jewelry for $175. The sales associates earn commissions, typically 30% of their own sales." The company currently is valued at $100 million, and hopes to be profitable by 2015.

Chantel says she has no plans to open any retail stores "because the merchandisers are my stores," adding that "every single merchandiser creates her own collection. She’s a micro-entrepreneur." She says she’s managed to raise some $32.5 million in venture capital. "It’s a business model that’s disrupting the entire retail industry, and that’s something venture capitalists are always on the lookout for." Chantel is eyeing expansion overseas "to help women develop skills and foster their careers."

Bonobos Bag

bonobos-guideshopsFor men, a shopping bag is "a tiny badge of shame," says Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn in a New York Times piece by John Koblin (7/3/14). "You’re running around, and you want to jump to dinner or back to the office or to the gym," says Andy. "You don’t want to have to deal with this bag." That bit of insight fits neatly with the Bonobos vision for the future of retail — stores where men can try some and buy some, but then have their purchases shipped, arriving at their home "a day or two later."

Bonobos, originally an online-only retailer of mens’ apparel, arrived at this concept in 2011 after opening "the lobby to its 25th Street headquarters with some fitting rooms to see if customers wanted to try them on. Sales started picking up for its shirts and its pants as well." This followed an earlier attempt to follow up its success selling pants online with shirts. "We made these great-fitting shirts and put them on the site, and no one cared," says Andy. "They weren’t selling well."

Bonobos has found other advantages to its 10 store — or Guideshops, as they call them — where nothing is in kept in stock. "You don’t have anyone manning a stockroom or playing defense against changing rooms where customers are dumping inventory in a corner," says Andy. "You don’t have the same folding nightmare or visual presentation nightmare." The only nightmare, so far, is making money — Bonobos has yet to turn a profit. But it is heavily backed in venture capital, and plans to open 30 more stores over the next two years.

Art of Commerce

warhol-walmart“The line between retail promotion and museum exhibits has become increasingly blurred,” reports Ellen Gamerman in The Wall Street Journal (6/13/14). Such convergence was highly evident in the Norton Museum of Art’s exhibit of works by “society jeweler David Webb.” The museum “employed the same architect and designer who worked on the brand’s Manhattan flagship location to design the galleries for the Florida museum, too.”

“We wanted people who were accustomed to creating luxe interiors,” says museum director James Hall. The designer, Katie Ridder, didn’t shy away “from using the same color scheme for the interiors and velvet for the display cases as she did for the Madison Avenue boutique.” “I think it definitely has a similar feeling as the store,” she says. A similar influence affected a Bulgari exhibit at Houston’s Museum of Natural Science, where reportedly “the museum exhibit was the main impetus for the Houston store’s makeover.”

Such collaboration does raise conflict-of-interest questions, which Gary Tinterow of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston dismisses, saying that ultimately “the exhibition stands or falls on the strength of the artistry of the material displayed.” In any case, Bulgari boutiques in Houston and San Francisco “were supplied with stacks of tickets” to exhibit openings and “in some cases, the shop set up appointments ahead of time so that visitors could go straight from the museum to the store.”

Olsen Spins

The Olsen Twins are making high-priced minimalist fashions for older women, reports Ray A. Smith in The Wall Street Journal (5/15/14). The Twins — Mary-Kate and Ashley — are now 27, and a lifetime away from their starring role in Full House. They’ve also evolved their fashion empire, The Row, from a T-Shirt design, which led to "the blazer and then the legging." Perhaps their most famous — and controversial — item was the "$39,000 alligator backpack that The Row began selling in 2011," which "reportedly sold out."

The T-Shirt, by the way, which Mary-Kate describes as "perfect," sells for $280, and that blazer runs about $1,300. But after eight years in business, "high-end retailers call the line a success," and the Twins just opened their first store, in Los Angeles. The intended customer is in her 40s or 50s, says Ashley, adding "it really could be any age. She’s — the women that I know are — sophisticated, very educated within the world of fashion." But The Row’s image is set by "runway models from decades past," such as Lauren Hutton, 70.

Savile Row is the inspiration for The Row’s name, "the idea of made-to-measure clothing," says Mary-Kate. The question, for some, is why ostensibly simple items cost so much. Mary-Kate starts the answer by noting their clothing is "made in the US," and Ashley finishes the thought by saying "we’re competitively priced." Their handbags are pricey, meanwhile, because they’re made in Italy. Many of their bags also feature expensive linings such as linen, and are made with "rare and exclusive materials," like crocodile, for instance.

Banker Glamour

prudentialPrudential is dressing up its retirement services in a red-carpet gown, reports Christina Binkley in The Wall Street Journal (5/15/14). Okay, the gown is not actually made of red carpet, but it was worn by actress Naomi Watts and “created by Marchesa in collaboration with Francesca Azzara, a retired new Jersey real-estate agent who at 61, is finally getting a shot at her dream of working as a fashion designer.” The big idea, courtesy of ad agency Droga5, is to use fashion’s allure among today’s younger consumers in hopes of selling them on retirement services later on.

“Fashion rose to the top because it’s hip,” says Prudential advertising chief Colin McConnell. “It’s part of pop culture, which is a hard place for a financial brand to get traction.” The message is that Prudential “can help retirees chase their dreams, and is banking on the novelty of the gown’s backstory to go viral on social media. It is also buying supporting radio and billboard ads.

Francesca, the story goes, “was discovered by a casting agent while dining with her husband at a Manhattan restaurant … She fit the bill for what Droga5 sought: a financially comfortable retiree who once had a dream of designing glamorous clothing.” She attended the “Fashion Institute of Technology and worked for 17 years designing children’s apparel before quitting to raise her son,” and later became a real-estate agent. Marchesa recruited Naomi Watts to wear the gown at the Cannes film festival.

Beauty Queen

Andrea Jung never closed "the cultural gap" at Avon, but she did successfully export its "message of empowering women," reports Philip Delves Broughton in a Wall Street Journal review of Beauty Queen by Deborrah Himsel (5/7/14). Direct sales was the means of empowerment, "women selling to other women, often in their own homes." This could be something very different, depending on the locale: "In Argentina, Avon Ladies did a healthy business selling tires," for example.

Andrea’s challenge involved reconciling "the entrepreneurial, sell-anything culture of her reps with the command-and-control methods of a corporate marketer … She also wanted a more consistent global brand and was determined to rid the Avon Lady of her fusty image and remake her as a peddler of ‘masstige’ products — affordable, but with a whiff of prestige." She apparently was uncomfortable that Avon’s customers tended to come from "the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum."

She stumbled in other ways — a baby goods division that never took off, an acquisition of an "upmarket jewelry company" that ended in a $263 million writedown, and a bribery scandal in China that resulted in Avon paying a $135 million fine to the US Government plus another $350 million in legal fees. But she did transform Avon from a company that was 60% US sales to one that was 70% "in developing markets." Today, she is CEO of Grameen America, a nonprofit that helps "poor women build small businesses."


Deena Varshavskaya may be "doing for products what Twitter has done for information," reports Sheila Marikar in The New York Times (5/8/14). What Deena is doing is a "social shopping site" called Wanelo (pronounced WAH-nee-loh), a "virtual catalog of more than 12 million products from 300,000 stores." The name is "a mash-up of the words, ‘want,’ ‘need’ and ‘love’" and the site has "more than 11 million users, most of them women" who "create wish lists and follow one another, as well as brands and stores."

The easy comparison is to Pinterest, embedded with "buy" buttons linked to online stores. However, venture capitalist Ann Miura-Ko of Floodgate, a Wanelo backer, sees it more like Twitter because it enables "a following of people, stores and brands." This makes Wanelo attractive to retailers such as Sephora, "which will add Wanelo social-sharing buttons to its site this month so that users can share products on Wanelo the same way they would on Facebook or Twitter."

"It’s really frustrating when you’re in shopping mode and you want to go to buy something and it’s a blog article or a picture on Flickr," says Sephora’s Bridget Dolan. "People are coming in with Instagram saying, ‘Can I get this look?’ but with Wanelo, they’re coming in and saying, ‘This is my list, I want to buy these items,’" she adds. "It’s like, let’s just cut to the chase and get shopping going here." Deena, who hails from Siberia, says her ultimate goal is to "democratize" shopping, enabling small boutiques to compete against big chains.


twiceNoah Ready-Campbell sees an opportunity "for a tech startup that competes with consignment shops," reports Rhonda Colvin in The Wall Street Journal (5/8/14). Along with Calvin Young, Noah is founder of Twice, an online venture that "buys clothing directly from women who are cleaning out their closets," and then sells it. Noah says he got the idea while at boarding school and, struggling to afford its fancy dress code, discovered he could buy a $200 Brooks Brothers shirt for just $10 at the Salvation Army.

Noah says the experience gave him "a little bit more insight" into the value of used clothes "than probably your typical entrepreneur in Silicon Valley." Noah, 25, and Calvin, 26, are both ex-Google employees, who in 2012 invested $40,000 of their own money into buying up used women’s apparel and launching Twice. They used Google AdWords (the phrase: "sell my clothes online") to find the "10,000 items of ‘lightly-used women’s clothing’" they needed "to launch the online marketplace."

Today, Twice "carries about 400 different brands … has about 160 employees and plans to expand to 250 workers by year end." Noah says Twice improves on eBay, for example, "through better merchandising, photography and data attached to every item." To arrive at pricing, Twice looks "at a culmination of historical data and some algorithms" as well as "human judgment." Noah says he considered creating a marketplace for men’s clothing but it just didn’t add up, as "the women’s apparel market is so much bigger."

NASA Fashions

NASA is using fashion and design to help keep interest in space exploration alive, reports Belinda Lanks in Bloomberg Businessweek (4/30/14). The device was a public vote on various "next-generation spacesuit" designs, otherwise known as the Z-2. This year’s model is a sequel "to Z-1, a Buzz Lightyear-esque getup" (image) that in 2012 was "named one of the year’s best inventions by Time. It was also the first major overhaul of the spacewalking suit in about three decades."

This year’s winner is a suit called ‘technology’, "a subtle homage to spacesuits of yore … a gray uniform with glowing patches of turquoise on its upper and lower torso," designed "to help identify individual crewmembers." (image) Where Z-1 featured "a soft, flexible body for greater astronaut mobility," Z-2 has "a hard composite torso" which works better with larger body types. Developed using "3D printing technologies that make prototyping quicker and cheaper" it is specifically designed "for walking on the surface of the moon."

Even on the cheap, the suit "cost $4.4 million to develop, according to Wired." It will be "built by November" but "won’t be deployed" as it "does not offer protection from the micrometeorites, heat and radiation found in space." The suit beat out biomimicry, "which mirrors the bioluminescence of aquatic creatures found in the deep ocean … as well as trends in society," based on a prediction of "what everyday clothes will look like in the future" — apparently not much "different from today’s workout pants."

Altuzarra’s Weave

altuzarraDigital printing is transforming a fashion designer’s impractical creations into mass-produced pieces, reports Ray A. Smith in The Wall Street Journal (5/1/14). When Joseph Altuzarra featured "four striking, colorful handwoven ensembles" at Fashion Week, he knew full well they would never be sold in stores. "The reality is they’re beautiful, but they’re quite thick," he says. "They’re a wool/silk woven piece, which is not the most comfortable for a dress." They also "would have cost customers at least $10,000 each." (image)

But Ken Downing of Neiman Marcus wanted them, and Altuzarra was ready with a solution: "He reimagined the looks using high-resolution digital prints. The result is three garments, two made with silk twill and one in stretch cotton, instead of the originals’ silk and wool." Sensing that "the handwoven pieces would resonate with retailers … his team developed the digital-print versions at the same time as the woven pieces." (image)

It’s actually a fairly standard practice among designers to show an impractical item and then offer a workable alternative. This was just fine with Ken. "When we found out the textural pieces were being recreated, we were very excited," he said, noting that the digital-print versions still had "that depth of texture and of the weave." The costs will be considerably lower, too — though still expensive — with the three Altuzarra items ranging in price from "$795 to $995." They will "arrive in stores in August and September."

A Portuguese entrepreneur has developed "an Open Table-like platform that connects shoppers to 300 boutiques" worldwide, reports John Koblin in The New York Times (4/30/14). "When I go to New York, I don’t go to the department store," says Jose Neves. "I go into that tiny little boutique, that hole in the wall, where I discovered a selection that I can’t find anywhere else. But how do you do this at scale?" The answer to his own question is his own creation,

The six-year-old site has grown "into a big business" that attracts "well-heeled" customers who spend an average of $650 per visit. Farfetch holds particular appeal among millennials: "For millennial customers it’s beyond comprehension that there’s something available in a physical store that’s not available online," says Jose. "They just don’t get it. It’s like an artist who releases an album but they cannot download it from iTunes … I do think we’re changing the way we shop for fashion."

For retailers, the opportunity, obviously, is to reach a global marketplace. "If you have a store in say, Dallas, or in Chicago, you only have your own local clientele," says Jose. "That clientele is not shopping online as well. This is a huge missed opportunity. These boutiques in these places don’t appeal to the customer just in Chicago or Miami. They appeal to a global audience these days." Farfetch has raised more than $100 million in venture capital, and "had more than $160 million in sales last year."

Cosmetics & Coffee

sephoraThe growth pattern of Sephora and other cosmetics boutiques mirrors that of Starbucks, reports Alix Strauss in The New York Times (5/2/14). Sephora dates back to 1970, and opened its first American store, in SoHo, in 1999. Today, it "dominates the beauty boutique business, with some 1,300 stores in 27 countries, over 300 of those across North America," as well as "430-plus spots in JC Penney." "It’s the Starbucks phenomenon," says Maria Corbiscello of Studio MC2, a beauty company.

Maria says cosmetics stores are cropping up like coffee shops because they fill an undying desire — in the case of cosmetics for "magic in a bottle." Another rapidly growing cosmetics shop is Space NK, which originated in London and now has "23 shops in the United States and 63 in Britain." Its founder, Nicky Kinnaird, says she owes her success to the increasing irrelevance of department stores, arguing that "mono-brand counters" are at odds with the way people buy cosmetics.

"If you look in your bag or your bathroom cabinets, you have different brands with different price points," she notes, adding: "We identify and nurture niche innovators within the beauty world and edit products down to what we feel is important to our customer." Another fast-growing boutique, Ulta, uses data to decide where to open new stores. "We know how much they’re spending, how often they’re visiting, where they live in reference to where they shop, or if we need to put a store closer to where they live," she says.

Catalog Commerce

bonobosOld-fashioned catalogs are playing "a crucial creative role in modern e-commerce," reports Elizabeth Holmes in The Wall Street Journal (4/17/14). Catalogs are "bait for customers, like a store window display, and a source of inspiration, the way roaming through store aisles can be." Bonobos reports that about 20% of its website’s "first-time customers are placing their order after receiving a catalog" and "spend 1.5 times as much as new shoppers who didn’t receive a catalog first."

"A catalog gives us a bit more breathing room to grab folks’ attention," says Bonobos marketing vp Craig Elbert. "We’re able to tell a bit of a fuller brand story." Done right, says Williams-Sonoma marketing chief Pat Connolly, catalogs give shoppers "ideas for things they didn’t even know they wanted before they got there." Producing catalogs is not without challenges. Long lead times make it difficult to stage seasonally-appropriate photo shoots and it can be hard to coordinate what’s in the catalog with what’s in the stores.

However, producing and mailing catalogs typically cost "much less than a dollar" all in, but "each catalog mailed results in about $4 in sales," according to Polly Wong of Belardi/Ostroy, a consulting firm. Shanie Cunningham of Boden says shoppers "spend up to 15 to 20 minutes with a catalog … compared with an average of just eight seconds for a Boden email and about five minutes with the Boden iPad app." Boden catalogs include "sticky tabs that can mark pages with sayings like, ‘Must Have,’ and ‘I Need This Now’."

Suite 1521

You no longer need to be a billionaire or celebrity to shop like one, reports Christina Binkley in The Wall Street Journal (4/10/14). That’s the concept behind Suite 1521, which is "built on the way designers sold clothes decades ago: personally, with the designer, by appointment only." This does mean you have to wait "for a designer to come to town, make an appointment, show up on time, then wait weeks for an order to arrive." And it does, of course, help to be fabulously wealthy (this kind of service doesn’t come cheap).

Suite 1521 was founded last September "in a third-floor gallery space at 76th Street and Madison Avenue" by Kim Kassel and Lizzie Tisch, wife of Jonathan Tisch, "chief executive of Lowes Hotels and a member of a wealthy New York family." For customers like Caryn Becker, who otherwise "tends to shop online on Net-a-Porter and Barneys," Suite 1521 enables a "return to what she refers to as ‘physical shopping’." For designers, it’s a chance to "have more of a connection with consumers."

"It’s a nicer way of building up your customer relationships," says designer Antonio Berardi. Another designer, Lion Blau, "says the access to clients helps the design process." "In the studio, we always work with model sizes," he says. "Here I can see if something is too big or too small." It’s more likely the latter, as "the fashions on display are mostly tiny sample sizes." To shop at Suite 1521 requires an annual membership fee of $500, "and with designer-level fashions, outfits easily cost several thousand dollars."