Personal shopping is a treat that can make you look like a million dollars – and you don’t even have to pay for it, finds Claire Smith
Have you ever wondered what goes on behind those twinkly doors in department stores marked with the words “Personal Shopping”.
I know I have. But I’m not a footballer’s wife, I don’t have the figure of a twiglet, I’m not twenty-something. I’m not even the mother of the bride.
However, I am curious. And seriously in need of ideas about what to wear for work.
So in the interests of research, I set out to penetrate the inner sanctum of the church of shopping.
The original idea was to visit three department stores and to challenge them to pick three different outfits. But this proved a logistical nightmare. Also, said a very nice man from Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh, all the rushing around would give me an experience precisely the opposite of what personal shopping is about.
“Most people stay in there for at least two hours,” he said. “You really need to stay in there that long to have the full relaxing experience.”
So it was that I found myself walking through the magical doorway to another universe far more luxurious than our own.
It is a bit like being in a five-star hotel. There is soft lighting, candle-scented air. Beneath a glass coffee table is arranged an array of newspapers and there are big glass bowls full of artfully placed exotic leaves.
I am greeted by two of Harvey Nicks’ finest personal shopping consultants. Willowy Victoria Adams, wearing a black All Saints mini crini and a frothy white blouse by Surface to Air, and Isabella Poppius, a cat-like being in Mulberry trousers, a Tory Burch top and gold Chanel pumps.
Would they really be able to come up with something that didn’t make me look like Mrs Doubtfire? I had my doubts, so in order to calm my nerves – and because it was all part of the experience – I accepted a glass of champagne.
Contrary to what many people think, personal shopping is generally free. Although in some places, like Harrods for example, there is a minimum spend of £2,000.
Ms Adams said: “It is not just a service for people who have loads of money. We want to make it an accessible service and to make people feel comfortable coming here.”
Weekends are the busiest times, meaning you might have to book a week in advance to use the service. There are three changing rooms but there is no limit on the amount of time you can spend.
“Now and again we get a call from a PA and we do have footballers, movie stars and actresses sometimes. But it is totally varied. We get yummy mummies, business people, mother of the bride.”
“We get chocolates all the time,” says Ms Adams. “But we work really hard and it is nice for people to show their appreciation.”
Ms Poppius tells me that while some of their customers are just one-offs there are also regulars.
“You get people who have to look good for their powerful job and they don’t have time to think about that aspect. They are the customers who come in twice or three times a season and get a whole bulk buy of things in one go.”
But would they be able to find something for me? After a quick Q and A about likes, dislikes, favourite colours, favourite shops Ms Adams sets off for a rapid whizz around the store. Neil, the photographer, takes off after her but comes back out of breath.
“She’s very fast,” he says.”
Ms Poppius tells me: “We have to have our finger on the pulse. We do a lot of research and there is a lot of brand knowledge involved.”
Knowing how designers’ sizing varies is also crucial.
And now for the moment of truth. I’m stunned. I like everything on the rail. These girls are geniuses. And I can tell just by looking that the clothes are going to fit.
My eye is drawn to a charcoal grey Amanda Wakeley fitted shift dress with a slit neckline and zip detail on the hips. It’s in the sale – down to £346.50. I put it on and I’m in love.
Teamed with a pair of £335 black Jimmy Choo courts and some sheer tights and I really can’t believe the vision that is looking back at me from the mirror.
Oh my god, I want them all. The white knitted Max Mara dress (down to £180 from £365).
The pink Max Mara new season dress, teamed with a black Gerard Darel leather jacket (down to £249 from £415).
And, gasp, the ultimate. An Alexander McQueen black slash neck structured shift dress. Down to £595 from £1195 and the most gobsmackingly gorgeous thing I have ever worn.
I’m in love with tailoring, in love with fashion, in love with hems and seams and scented candles. Maybe I shouldn’t have had a second glass of champagne.
I’ve gone from being a reluctant shopper to someone who almost has to be prised away from the clothes rail.
My god these girls are good. And in case you are wondering – Isabella, history of art, Glasgow Uni. Victoria, politics, Edinburgh – and just about to begin a new career as a financial analyst. I tell you. Geniuses.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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