A small Los Angeles boutique thinks big on the Web.
As editors-turned-retail consultants- turned-boutique owners, Renee R. Klein and Zoe Schaeffer have seen the fashion business from just about every imaginable perspective. And they’re intent on using that 360-degree point of view to fill what they see as major voids in the shopping experience. They’re doing it twofold; the first step, their own store. March marked the one-year anniversary of the launch of their boutique, Presse, which the bicoastal business partners—Klein is based in New York, Schaeffer in Los Angeles—opened on L.A.’s La Brea Avenue as an alternative to the city’s glut of fast-fashion, trickle-down trend marts and luxury fashion giants. “Things were sort of coming back to the boutique business,” says Klein. “And for sure L.A. felt like it needed a really sophisticated, luxury boutique,” adds Schaeffer. Indeed, Presse’s retro-glam space, appointed à la a movie star’s Art Deco–y dressing chamber, is a world away from the kitschy flash of Robertson Boulevard’s main shopping drag. And the tightly edited stock—the latest styles by Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Nina Ricci and Yigal Azrouël line the boldly papered walls—has lured L.A.’s most fashiony types.
Now, just a little more than a year later, the duo are ready for part two of their master plan: They’re busy setting up a shop of a different sort, with a larger audience in mind. “We knew we wanted to have a store which would basically serve as our visual representation,” says Schaeffer. “But the plan was really to always reach beyond one market and into the e-commerce world.” After months researching the latest in online retailing, presseboutique.com was scheduled to go live in late March. At a time when sites like Net-a-Porter are successfully making shopping anywhere a virtual reality, rolling out an online store to accompany the brick-and-mortar hardly seems like something to fuss over. But the fact that such prestigious and established stores as Jeffrey, Linda Dresner and Ikram haven’t gone there yet puts Presse improbably ahead of the curve. That’s all the more surprising when one considers, as Klein points out, that while the current retail economy is shaky, e-commerce has experienced major growth. So why not just entirely forgo the store in favor of online?
“Psychologically, it’s nice knowing that there is a real person in a real store,” says Klein. “There will always be people who want the tactile experiences—seeing and touching and feeling. But in terms of the majority of shoppers out there, online is their access,” continues Schaeffer. “Especially the fashion-forward women in the middle of the country. When we get credits in magazines, I have women calling me from Omaha asking for the same cardigan as the women calling from Park Avenue.”
And as former fashion editors—one or both have worked at Mademoiselle, Self, Cosmopolitan and Vitals, among other titles—Klein and Schaeffer are well aware of how editorial vision can translate to sales. They also know that the format typical of fashion e-commerce sites (the duo declined to give examples)—a photo of a skirt or dress linked to a credit card checkout—is devoid not only of imagination but also any point of view. “Currently we think a lot of these sites are megastores,” says Schaeffer. “A lot of them can feel overwhelming and really cold, almost off-putting, because they just have a laundry list of merchandise and every single designer under the sun.” And while magazine Web sites are great at conveying image and covering what’s new, they leave the customer to seek out her own point of sale. Klein and Schaeffer want their site to eliminate that disconnect.
They started by enlisting L.A. fashion and Web designer Juan Carlos Obando, a portion of whose collection they carry in the boutique, to create the insider-y look and feel of the site, which includes runway images and collages drawn from a designer’s inspiration to flesh out the product shots.
In addition, Klein and Schaeffer have developed a series of interactive features, all of which are grouped under the techy term “Web 2.0,” or in other words, information sharing, which they believe takes the site to the cutting edge of fashion e-commerce. The first to debut: the designer studio, a behind-the-scenes video shot exclusively for Presse on location in various designers’ workspaces. That will be followed by the release of a blog; virtual trunk shows, during which designers host a one-hour online chat and customers have access to the following season’s collection; a downloadable “virtual closet” of the customer’s buying history where Klein and Schaeffer can suggest new purchases; and, finally, a biannual archive sale wherein a select designer will reissue a sold-out or iconic piece from a past season or a runway item never put into production. New York design duo Nicole Noselli and Daphne Gutierrez of Bruce agreed to kick off the designer studio in April, and Sari Gueron, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, Victoria Bartlett of VPL, and Obando are among the other designers who plan to participate in select features.
That’s a pretty impressive list, especially considering it will undoubtedly take time for the site to build traffic. Of course, a Web site and its linkability make for endless viral growth potential. And as Noselli, who participated in a style.com video interview that didn’t link to a commerce site, points out, “No one knows where to get the clothes based on that interview.” Not only that, but Noselli knows that since Bruce isn’t yet a household name, the presseboutique.com video may help circumvent sticker shock. “People in the fashion community know who we are,” she says. “But not every customer who goes into these stores does. We’re not a huge name, and from what I understand from buyers and customers, our clothes are pretty expensive. [The video] is a good way to explain what we’re doing.”
It’s these state-of-the-art features that Klein and Schaeffer see as the future of e-commerce, particularly in terms of luxury. Not only do they give shoppers an inside look into an arena typically reserved for editors and buyers, they also give access that would be otherwise hard to find outside a major metro area as well as a chance to share opinions via the blog. “We’ll always maintain our edit and what we think are the most important things of the season,” says Klein. “But at the end of the day, with things like blogging and allowing people to post comments on our site, their voice becomes the voice of authority.”
While such ideas are only beginning to take hold in virtual fashion retail, these ladies see major boom power as the Web 2.0 generation matures. “The girls who are 25, 26—they’re on Facebook all day long,” says Klein. “They’re the ones who will be growing into a higher income. And this is what they’re going to expect.”