Tuesday, 30 July 2013

The World of the Personal Shopper ... Betty Halbreich.

"Personal shopper is an occupation where people help others shop by giving advice and making suggestions to customers. They are often employed by department stores and boutiques (although some are freelance or work exclusively online). Their focus is usually on clothes, although the number of non-clothing stores - such as furniture retailers - that offer personal shopping services is on the rise, and many freelance personal shoppers will help customers shop in whatever item they happen to be after.
Although there are no formal educational requirements to become a personal shopper, related retail experience is a must.

A personal shopper is typically employed by the store itself, which means that payment for the service is not required - only the items bought. Other stores will charge a small fee to use their personal shoppers. Only large department stores, such as Bloomingdales, Debenham's, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Macy's generally offer personal shopper services, although some smaller stores like Fenwick and Anthropologie also offer the service. Personal shoppers are also known as fashion stylists (or shop assistants, or sales assistants). There are also quite a few who work independent of any affiliation with any stores and can be found in large cities such as New York City, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Miami and Boston. Outside of agencies, personal shoppers can be found on auction websites such as eBay where they auction their services to obtain customized items such as men and women's clothing collections."

Inside the office of legendary personal shopper Betty Halbreich - whose 36-year career at Bergdorf Goodman is inspiring Lena Dunham's next project
Sanctuary: Personal shopper Betty Halbreich in her office at Bergdorf Goodman, where she has been advising some of the world's most stylish women since the Seventies
'I do my best work here; I can do anything here at my desk,' she said. 'Nothing distracts me.
'I'm pretty good at sizing up sizes after 36 years. I can tell you that you wear a two, and not a four or a zero'

Betty Halbreich, who has been the personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman for the past 36 years, is already a New York legend. And news that Lena Dunham is to base her next project Bergdorf on the 85-year-old style expert promises to make her a household name across the globe.
But before we see a fictionalized version of her career, Mrs Halbreich has given Refinery 29 a tour of her work space at the store's Manhattan flagship - and a rare insight into her life.
The Chicago native's corner office features a large mirror and a rail of vintage gowns along one wall.
Display cases hold colorful jewelry, while art lines the walls and books and hand-written notecards dress available surfaces. Two cream chairs with plump cushions face an Eero Saarinen desk where she takes her meetings.
Mrs Halbreich who counted Estée Lauder as a client, and now dresses her granddaughter Aerin, as well as acerbic Fashion Police host Joan Rivers, says she only has to meet someone once to know what size they should be wearing.
'I'm pretty good at sizing up sizes after 36 years,' she said. 'I can tell you that you wear a [U.S. size] two, and not a four or a zero. But that's a little trick to the game, sizing someone up.'
And while many in the industry exist for the sole purpose of boosting a retailer's sales figures, money is not her goal - or indeed incentive.

Personal touch: Mrs Halbreich does not use a computer or own a cellphone. Instead her desk features stacks of books, magazines and hand-written notecards

She won't take commission, which might affect her judgement, and says she is price-conscious, mixing couture with more affordable pieces to create a look that is interesting and different.
'I'm not out to sell the most expensive dress in the store - that doesn't mean too much to me,' she explains.
In fact, every one of Mrs Halbreich's clients will look like an individual - she works hard to avoid dressing people in the same looks, instead taking their personalities and lives into account.
And this has earned her a loyal client base that spans generations - Estée and Aerin Lauder are not the only women to have passed Mrs Halbreich's number between various members of a family.
But fashion today is very different from what it was in years past. While Mrs Halbreich concedes that there are many innovative things happening in the industry today, she reminisces about the beautiful fabrics and workmanship that won't even exist in the finest creations these days.
Even a $10,000 dress, she says, won't have enough hem to let it down if necessary.
As well as her rail of vintage dresses - which includes designs by Christian Dior and Jean Muir - are display cases of jewelry, featuring items gifted by her daughter alongside Ruser jewelry from California and creations by one of her favorite designers, Meredith Frederick.
'I do my best work here; I can do anything here at my desk. Nothing distracts me. It's some sort of inner security'
And unlike many offices, there is no computer on Mrs Halbreich's desk - in fact she doesn't even have a cellphone. Instead, there are hand-written notecards and piles of books, all of which have some special significance.

Finishing touches: Also on show are display cases of jewelry, featuring items gifted by her daughter alongside Ruser jewelry from California and creations by one of her favorite designers, Meredith Frederick

For Mrs Halbreich, it makes Bergdorf the place she feels most secure - and indeed, most creative.

It's some sort of inner security. And, I think if I were to stop working, I'd just have to... go.'

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