Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Beauty of Custom-Made Gucci Shoes...I mean, What You Need to Know about Retail

For the past few days, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has been having a special series of events called SCAD Style including lectures, exhibitions, panels, discussions, book signings, and workshops in both Savannah and Atlanta.

Shelly Musselman and Brian Bolke at a Forty Five Ten Fall party, courtesy of SocialWhirl.

The first panel discussion that I went to in SCAD Atlanta is called Design with Retail in Mind. I've always been interested in design and anything that satisfies the eyes, there's no doubt. There's also no doubt that I have no talent when it comes to utilizing my hands to physically create something beautiful. Retail could be my one of my chances to partake in the design industry and use just my eyes and brain without my fingers. To my surprise, SCAD Style brings some of the big names in the industry. At Design with Retail in Mind, the speakers were Brian Bolke, Jaqui Lividini, and Robert Rufino.

Brian Bolke co-owns Forty Five Ten boutique in Dallas which collection includes Givenchy, Lanvin, Alexander McQueen, and Alberta Ferretti. Oprah and Gwyneth Paltrow are among his customers.

Jaqui Lividini, the moderator, is a partner in LWP, New York-based fashion marketing/public relations company, representing clients such as Coach, MaxMara, and Diesel. She's named as one of NY Daily News’ “100 Most Influential People in the Fashion Industry.”

Jacqui Lividini at The Fashion Group International "NIGHT OF STARS" 2008 Gala: The Alchemists, courtesy of Billy Farrell/

Robert Rufino is the former VP of creative services for Tiffany & Co. He began his career at Henri Bendel and has worked in visual merchandising and creative direction for various national publications. He is now the senior editor-at-large for House Beautiful. FYI, Rufino owns 6 pairs of custom-made Gucci shoes.

Rufino and Sarah Lyne, courtesy of El Observador Solitario

Who has the role of educating the customers?
Brian: Customers see the same collection everywhere. How a retail store interprets the collection and makes it different is what matters. Display and merchandising are the keys. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started was to want everything to look a certain way. It's most important to know how customers really feel. It's a balance of knowing who has what in their closets.

Does retail validate fashion/design?
Brian: If you're a design student and you have the most beautiful collection and nobody buys it, how is it successful?
Robert: Customers see well-designed windows. It really helps.
Brian: The most amazing thing is seeing who the real customers are.

How important is visual merchandising?
Robert: You have to know your customer. It takes sometime to realize. Then you have followers and you'll know. But you need to also take chances.

Examples of collections that marry design and commerce?
Brian: iPhone. But I really like anything Hermes. Then again, I also have an Hermes iPhone holder.
Robert: I have a shoe fetish. I have six pairs of white Gucci shoes in black and 6 pairs in white. They're all custom-made.

For designers, how should they entice buyers to carry their lines if they're not Chanel?
Brian: Who am I approaching? Everyone is approached by 50 designers a day. Really do your research, talk to your associates. I'd open an email that says "You're really good client Ms. Smith told me this would be very good in your store."

What should you do at the beginning when you don't know what people want and have no followers?
Brian: You make one million mistakes. It's one of those if-it's-easy-everybody-would-do-it. You also need to walk around places and do your research. Hire somebody to get the right kind of press and be creative when it comes to dealing with clients. We know our clients have the money to spend but some of them would say, "My husband can't see anymore of Forty Five Ten charges." So you figure out a way to use different methods of payment and help the clients.

These might not be the exact words they used, but I can guarantee you I had the concepts right. And yes, can I have a pair of Gucci shoes custom-made just for me, please?

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