Can Brick & Mortar Fashion Retail Resurrect Itself? A #Video Conversation with #experientailretail — Le Board — Answers the Question

Hello readers!  Apologies for being so out of touch. I’ve been caught up experiencing some great beauty and fashion experiences that I will THEN write about.  And… I’m writing a book!  Yep. In fact, I will be surfacing some of my book via Beautyskew over the next months to get your take on it.  

But now let’s go back to the topic at hand.

Henri Bendel, a fashion institution for close to 125 years, is shutting it’s doors.  It joins a long list of retailers.  Living in Manhattan I see the demise of retail, especially fashion retail, all around me as almost every block near my neighborhood displays at least one for rent sign.

The struggles retail are experiencing are not new.  Thanks to online shopping, retail, especially fashion retail, it is in bad shape.  I’m as much to blame as the rest of us.  I really hate clothing shopping.  I hate the process of going to a store, then trying to find something, ANYTHING, that fits my body and the look I’m going after.  I hate waiting on lines, I hate poor sales help and I hate the atmosphere of being surrounded by loads of clothes that squeeze me.  So I stopped shopping.  I hired an amazing stylist and we shop online and occasionally run into a store and where she finds me everything.

But I’ve always been a believer in the role of a great fashion shopping experience.  I just think most brick and mortar retailers haven’t cracked it. With perhaps a few exceptions out there, most clothing stores see the retail space as a depot to unload their inventory.   Yet, physical spaces can offer SO much more, especially more than online experiences.  They can offer a sense of adventure, customization, emotion and true style.  They we can be meeting grounds and places to experience new sensations.  Sure, physical spaces allow us to literally try on the styles.  But it’s more than that.  It’s only in a physical environment can you feel, smell and examine the the stitching, fabrics and textures.   In this era of  online-everything, we crave the physical — maybe even more so.  We’re still human, and it’s a fundamental need to want to connect with the physical spaces a places around us.  In anthropology this need is called “place making.”

And it’s only in a physical environment that we can connect with human beings in a nuanced, deeply emotional way.  These humans can be expert stylists who seek to truly understand our  bodies; our needs and our aspirations or other like-minded people who want to share — whether that’s their excitement around fashion or feelings about other issues.  There’s no surprise there is still love for the open bazaar or souk or shuk.  These are places where shoppers shop, yes, but more than that they come together to share in a cultural experience. (I happened to have written my senior Anthropology thesis on the topic so I’m very close to it.)

Good news, I think I found such a retail space that gets it: Le Board.  Conceived and developed by Creative Director, Sofia Karvela (who also happens to be my stylist — lucky me!) and CEO, John Aghayan,  Le Board is a retail experience that merges fashion with entertainment and, ironically, leverages the medium of immersive technology and human interaction.  It can host events like trunk shows, offer immersive tech experiences like holograms and VR “Behind-the-scenes,” and share the talent of thought leaders via panel talks, and art shows.   Another bonus?  Opening end of September, the store promotes brands of women-led businesses.

Beyond the many different aspects of Le Board, is the the feeling the experience evokes.   The ultimate mission of Le Board, Karvela explains, is to provide a place where “women could feel a part of something a little bigger…we created this space so we could bring women together to feel inspired…Women with goals…to give them hope to believe that whatever they want to do can happen. We use fashion as a great to avenue to bring these women together to create a look for themselves to inspire to go out there and do great, big things.”

Let’s hear it directly from Karvela in the interview I conducted at the shop a week ago.  (By the way, I’m wearing a latex dress which was related to the event which Le Board hosted, Social China…You can hear it in the background :)) Click image below for interview.

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Weekend Observations: Getting Glam Minus the Tradeoffs

I was sitting at the kitchen counter on Saturday flipping through my various beauty/fashion mags and mentioned to my brother-in-law, Steve, that I hated shopping for clothes.

“Whaaaat?”  He asked incredulously.  “I never thought I’d hear that from YOU of all people,” he added.

Just to set the record straight, I’m not some uber-fashionista.  But my family, being from preppy Boston, sees my wardrobe as pretty fashionable.

“Oh, I like nice stuff,” I explain.  “I just hate the process of shopping for it.”

And I’m not alone.  Empirically speaking, shopping in NYC can be tough.  There’s A LOT out there and it’s expensive as hell.  So, being on the cheap side, I’m always challenging myself as to whether I REALLY need something.  And if you’re not willing to pay top dollar, there’s an obvious quality and style trade-off you have to make.

But the real reason I hate shopping isn’t rational.  It’s emotional.

There’s a part of me, despite what I preach, that still regards activities surrounding beauty as less important than a host of other duties, such as work, child rearing, exercising, cleaning the bathrooms (OK, maybe not that).

And because fashionable clothes aren’t truly necessary, I see them as gifts to myself.  And then I ask myself, “Do I deserve to pamper or reward myself?  Have I worked hard enough to earn these rewards?”

Whoa, you’re probably saying.  What’s up with this chick?

Thankfully, the second issue has become less and less of a problem for me.  I see how critical looking good is in the workplace.  Fashionable clothes and beauty items aren’t gifts, they are necessities!  Plus, if they make me rock, we’re all benefiting!  Also, the older I get, the more I realize that I can reward myself without having to PROVE that I succeeded in some venture or another.


But I found yet another practical solution to my practical and psychological issues with shopping: consignment shops!

Because consignment shops (especially in Manhattan) are stocked with high end fashion at slashed prices, you’re getting the best of both worlds!  Great quality and style without feeling like you’re going overboard price-wise.  My fave is Designer Resale on the East Side.  At first I had the hebegebees shopping in a used clothing store (e.g., did someone die in these clothes?)  But the stuff is in great shape and most likely came from a photo shoot or a trophy’s wife’s closet, and thus worn once, if at all.

Plus, there’s an air of intensity and speed in consignment shops.  Since there’s pretty much only one of any item, you have to grab it first.  Also, I tend to go at the last minute and have only an hour or two to spare.  This means I can’t think about the clothes TOO hard.  I can’t start over-analyzing my feelings about shopping.

So, if you’re at all like me and have issues with clothes shopping — for rational or emotional reasons — try consignment shops.  They might change your life.

Weekend Observations: The New Danger, Drunk Digital Shopping!

To follow up on last weekend’s observations post (Weekend Observations: The Summer Bod Prep Panic), the start of summer doesn’t just call for a body redo, but a wardrobe redo too.  No more rain boots.  Its flip flop time!
In my panic to equip myself with the necessary (and not so necessary) warm weather duds, I’ve resorted to shopping via my Blackberry while walking to work and dodging foot and car traffic.  (Do not try this at home, by the way; for professional walkers/surfers only.)
When I recited my on-route shopping story to my friend, colleague and online shopping aficionado, Maggie, she outdid me with an even MORE dangerous but funny shopping mode: drunk digital shopping.  It’s kind of like drunk dialing or, nowadays, drunk texting.  You think it’s the absolutely right thing to do at the time and then bemoan the action the next day.  But thanks to our handy mobile devices, it’s oh so easy to do!
While I don’t mean to belittle Maggie’s dangerous habit, I did get such a kick out of the new phrase and behavior she opened my eyes to.  Sure, letting down our guards when it comes to spending money may not be the healthiest thing.  But it may encourage us to buy clothes or shoes that our safe or conventional selves would normally shy away from.  Maybe it liberates us to be more experimental?
Do any of you drunk shop on your mobile devices?  And what do you get?  And if you haven’t, can you imagine what you would purchase?
I would love some fun stories!

When Will Hair Bias Ever End?!

In an apparent attempt to appeal to women, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the many ways we seek to straighten our frizzy locks.  Why is this a WSJ-worthy piece?  Well, we business women, especially those handling financial matters, must be seen as tidy and put together.
Now wait a second.  Does anyone have a problem with this?
Who decided that curly hair is “ungroomed”? Even the title of the article, “The Taming of the Curl,” pissed me off.  The implication, of course, is that curly hair (ah, dare I say ethnic hair?) is untamed, wild and crazy.
For the sake of argument, let’s say you buy into this theory, i.e., straight hair equals solidity and conservatism.  I can kinda understand wanting to see my financial advisor with a straightened do.  After all, I’m as cautious about my money as the next gal, so of course I want to know that whoever’s handling it dots their i’s and crosses their t’s.
But at the same time, I want to know that this person is always thinking ahead and has creative solutions to my needs.  If straight hair represents solidity and conservatism, then shouldn’t curly hair represent innovative thinking and new ideas?  So, in the end, isn’t curly hair as or more desirable?
The thousands of dollars we spend a year on our hair is evidence of how critical our do’s are to our self-confidence and work lives.  No question, hair matters.  But why must certain styles communicate professionalism and competency?  As women living in an ethnically diverse, open-minded culture, shouldn’t we be passed these old-fashioned judgments?