NEW YORK — Saks Fifth Avenue is bringing its personal shopping services out from behind a wall. The luxury retailer is trying to make the option known to more than just the biggest spenders, while adding features in hopes of winning customer loyalty — and pumping up sales.
A new prototype puts the so-called Fifth Avenue Club area in the open where it can be easily seen, and offers more spacious rooms so clients can bring friends. There's more focus on accessorizing, and Saks is also adding beauty treatment spaces.
The model is in use at the Fifth Avenue flagship and several new stores, and Saks plans to eventually redo the clubs in about 30 other stores. AP Retail Writer Anne D'Innocenzio tried it on for size.
I handed over the details ahead of time: My sizes, my general style and what I was looking for.
My mission was to find work clothes for autumn that will pack with minimal wrinkling. I was also hoping for some versatility — items that can be worn into the evening for social or work events.
When I arrived, the entrance area was spacious and open. In one of the 31 rooms spread across two floors, I met stylist Hillary Harper Neal. The space held a large desk, two chairs, a three-way mirror and a rack of about 25 outfits waiting for me.
They ranged from a $398 eggplant dress by Elie Tahari to a $1,595 black crepe dress by Michael Kors. While the basic service is free and there's no minimum purchase, customers will likely see current-season, full-price items. I hadn't thought to set a price range ahead of time, which customers can do, and Neal said she focused on more moderate price tags. They were still higher than my usual budget.
But Neal really got my style — more classic, nothing overly trendy. "I tried to find you a lot of jerseys, crepes," she said.
Black Manolo Blahnik pumps in my size stood in one corner. Neal laid out some chunky handbags and silver jewelry in the other area. Two assistants went back and forth to grab new sizes when a sweater was too big or a dress was too small.
I picked out 11 outfits, mostly in my usual palette of black, navy blue or eggplant. Eventually I narrowed it to seven outfits that I liked and that fit.
Among my favorites: a $520 navy shift dress and a $540 blue-and-grey flannel dress, both by Peserico. Neal suggested wearing the flannel dress with a blue cashmere sweater. She also paired it with two chunky handbags, including a Michael Kors for $495. I also liked a black flippy skirt by Akris Punto, also $495, which Neal put with a tweed jacket or a black twinset.
Neal also pushed me to try new colors or patterns. The way the stripes fell on a colorful St. John's knit dress was unexpectedly becoming.
There were a few duds: A cocoon-shaped Piazza Sempione dress made my shoulders look slumped. "I like the idea of it, but you also have to be flattered," Neal said. And I wasn't crazy about a $995 rust-and-navy striped shift dress by Akris Punto with a matching jacket.
Had I balked at the prices, Neal might have offered lower-cost options — or even suggested a competitor. She said she recently had a groom looking for a three-piece suit at a price below what Saks offered. She showed him cuts that would work, she said, and called over to Ted Baker to advise them what to have ready. "He texted me a photo of his wedding suit 20 minutes later," she wrote in an email.
The goal is of course to satisfy a shopper with Saks merchandise, she said, but in the end, "a happy client looking great in my suggestion is always the best result."
Overall, Neal worked with my style and preferences and it was a great experience. I didn't buy anything, but I did get inspiration for later shopping. And that Michael Kors bag was a classic. Who knows?
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