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Massimo Bizzocchi – A Louis Legend

As I continue to make preparations to close our doors this summer, I can’t help but reflect on the people that have had an impact on Louis, and ultimately some of the best fashion Boston has ever seen.

When it comes to our vendors, one man, Massimo Bizzocchi, has always stood out to me as being “The best of the best.” The founder of his namesake company, Massimo produces the best ties and pocket squares in Italy, and truly embodies everything that is wonderful about Italian manufacturing – and Italians period. Like Louis Sales Consultant, Arthur Jordan, Massimo is one of the great romancers of our industry. It saddens me to think that his presence will be diminished in Boston.

When I first began to travel to Italy to buy for Louis I was always met by a warm, welcoming committee. The Italian manufacturers would invite you to “…come in, sit, and have a drink.” They would invite you to dinner and take the time to get to know you and see if you were like-minded in our goals. They weren’t just selling me “something,” because they understood that if you only talk in dollars and cents, you eliminate the soul and beauty and romance that come from buying a beautifully made product.

One thing I love about Massimo is his ability to tell a wonderful story. He is very passionate about what he does. He lives and breathes his work and gives his product a personality, and character, and integrity. He truly makes you believe.

I can only liken it to when you go to an Italian restaurant (in Italy). Your not just given a list of specials, you are told what’s fresh and how it can be prepared and then you are asked, “What can we do for you?” and there are no limits. When it comes to clothes, Italian manufacturers ask how you want to see it and they make it for you that way. And when you succeed they don’t take any credit, they say, “You were so smart to do it…and we’ll do it that way now, with everyone…and thank you for the information.”

This is what it’s like to work with Massimo. It gives him great pleasure to present what he has and deliver it to you exactly how you want it. This makes him happy.

It’s becoming a lost art.

I’m so glad my daughter, Sam, got to meet and know Massimo. She knows him well -and has experienced and now possesses his gift. While I know she uses Snapchat like the rest of her generation, I also know that as she enters the world on her own she also understands how important romancing something is. She knows how to make something rise up and off of the page, and for that I am grateful.

Once again, I asked my friend and writer, Jamie Kohn, to speak to Massimo so he could share his relationship with Louis, with all of you…

 

By Jamie Kohn

I can’t take much of the credit here I can only confirm that what Debi says it true. Massimo is a wonderful, passionate storyteller, and it was with pleasure and ease that we spoke about his relationship with Murray and Debi, and all of his experiences with Louis. I spoke with him on a Saturday, and from the moment he began to speak I was mesmerized. As you read, the nuances of his native language are apparent and contribute tremendously to the charm of this decades long relationship.

 

Jamie Kohn:

Massimo, It’s wonderful to speak with you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today…

Massimo Bizzocchi:

Thank you, Jamie. It is nice to speak with you too. I look forward to telling you about 40 years of my beautiful adventure with Louis.

In 1974-75, Louis was my first customer in the United States. It was known as the #1 store in the United States, not only for the size of the store but the precise direction and unique way that they bought the line and communicated with the manufacturer. I had the pleasure to meet Murray for the first time in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria. I was working with a small company called Berto Modes from Biella, Italy, and had traveled to New York to show previews of the fabric for the season. I selected the fabric for the American market and it was there that my education with Murray began. He was open and sincere in giving me advice and making me understand what I needed to do for the American market. Slowly I understood that it was not the “American” market, but the “Louis” market, because his direction was advanced with color palettes and everything that was related to style. He was always quite a few seasons earlier than the rest of the market would accept or understand. And that was the beginning of my relationship with Murray.

After that I traveled to Boston to better understand the market and the store. At the time Louis was an incredible new source of ideas and also experiences with the sales consultants and young generation that that worked there. I remember they had a jeans parlor downstairs which at the time was quite a new idea. Having the jeans and the music and the ambiance made everything so incredibly young and attractive. The windows were decorated impeccably – I remember once they were decorated with the influence of the Broadway show Les Miserables – and it was fantastic. Everything Louis did was a message of how to show and how to make people part of the style that Murray was promoting and selling.

 

JK:

I have heard a lot about Murray Pearlstein, but didn’t have the honor of meeting him. For someone who knew him for so long, can you tell me, what was Murray Pearlstein like?

Massimo:

Murray was unique. But he was not only unique, he was a leader in the industry and he had a vision. He was a visionary of elegance and an interpreter of designer lines with the sophistication of someone who wanted to adapt fashion to daily life – not only the runway.

I used to travel to Como with Arthur Jordan and woman named Mrs. Lupini who owned a company called “Personality.” Together we would travel from place to place to choose fabric for the ties for Louis. Everything that was shiny or loud made Murray very upset to the point where he said, “I will teach you for a couple of seasons, but then you need to prepare what you know I want to see.” He told me, “I don’t have much time and I want you to do it fast.” He was like a tornado coming into the manufacturers. They would have 3-4,000 designs he would grab 5 in 5 different colors. His major request always reflected the kind of finishing on the silk he wanted to make the color soft. And the fabric would have a touch of cashmere – something that took 30 years to develop – but he had the sensibility to request it already.

The school that he presented to us, and the vision he had for colors and product made myself and the company develop a sensibility that in the end, many times, we made just for Murray and his store. Others were not mirroring his direction, and I know this made him very happy. We had many interesting adventures in Italy and Milano and after 5 or 6 years he thought I knew enough (but never really enough) to go by my self and do research for my own line of ties that he helped me to promote. He helped me start my own brand, Massimo Bizzochi.

Murray and Debi were extreme supporters of my tie line. When Mrs. Lupini passed away, the small factory that she owned was going to close, but Murray helped me transition and take over the company and helped me build my business. He encouraged me to use my own label along with Louis of Boston label.

 

JK:

What is your relationship with Kiton?

Massimo:

I started to work with Kiton in 1984, almost 10 years after I met Murray, and I dedicated my attention to the American market more than any other. I remember going straight to Murray with the owner of Kiton, who Murray knew through the fabric trade show in Italy – Luciano Barbera – Kiton was producing some of his garments under that name. I remember Murray bought a pin strip suit, double breasted, in pure cashmere. It was the first thing he bought from Kiton through me. After that the experience of the selection of fabric and the way to style the product was absolutely unique – and that tradition has been brought to this day through Debi. This developed over all these years, a special and unique model for Louis, with a lot of success. Kiton dedicating time and effort and took risks that they would only take for Louis, and Debi always knew exactly what she was looking for. Debi always respected our quality product, in fabric and workmanship, and she always tried to help us continue to have the Louis of Boston image on the product and give the consumer a the kind of experience that only Louis of Boston would bring to them. She would buy a different silhouette and have different measurements of the lapel and shoulder – taking a major risk, like she always did, because it was going to be unique in the market, and very early in the market.

 

JK:

What was it like working with Debi once she took over?

Massimo:

It has been a phenomenal, fantastic experience. I went from having a professor (Murray) telling me what and how to do something to somebody (Debi) who tired to help me understand the reason. She was generous in her ability to share information. It has been a friendly journey more than a business relationship. With Murray I would listen and take notes and then hopefully translate the notes properly to deliver what he wanted. With Debi she always asked me to try, she asked me if I understood, she asked me to discuss with her what she was looking for. Her patience has been one of the ingredients that made me feel comfortable giving my best to the relationship and developing with her, all that she desired. She has a fantastic knowledge of the Louis style, that never changed, and starts with the fabric. Whenever we would start a new collection she would say, “Let’s start with the best. Show me the top of the line fabric and let’s get on the (design) table the colors and styles and designs that, for me, will represent the next season.” Then she would go through the whole line (2,000-3,000 swatches), pick 20-30, and from there she would narrow it down to 12-15. She already had in mind who she would present those pieces to, what sizes she wanted for each piece, and what kind of ambience she would create visually in the store from the pieces she bought along with the rest she was buying.

My admiration for Debi is the highest it can be. I can’t describe the kind of experience we had making all of those collections together. While it stayed greatly the same, it seemed that every 6 months the Louis image would evolve, and reflect the knowledge Debi had for the young generation and the consumer that would approach the line in the way the sales consultants, like Arthur Jordan, would translate the line to the consumer. I have had a wonderful relationship with Arthur, and I have to say he was the only one who never had a problem translating the line because he was in complete symphony with the store. We spoke often and he gave me excellent advice and comments about consumer reactions as he made them try our garments.

Debi married the old Kiton world that was clothing, to the new world where Kiton started to represent lifestyle – jeans, sweaters, leather pieces, nice overcoats, etc. Debi always chose things from us that were different from the other lines. When all the pants were plain front, she bought them with one pleat. She was the one that wanted things to be a little shorter…or more flexible, etc. She was the one who said let’s design a new color, a new style, a little shorter point, a little more spread. Her sensibility for designing comes not only from her education but also from the artistic world of Art Basel and the old galleries she would visited in Paris , London and Milano – by herself. And I think we have to give a lot of credit to Debi for traveling all these years, at least 6 times to Europe per year, talking to herself about the selection she was making. Being sure that what she was going to invest in was going to be received in the store the way that she meant it to be. I understand because this is how I learned myself – traveling alone to suffer in silence while making great decisions.

 

JK:

What will it mean when Louis closes?

Massimo:

We will all miss so much when Louis closes. The only thing I can hope is that Debi will continue to help us, through whatever medium she can, continue to see her vision of the future. I hope to belong to a small club of people who can follow her as closely as we can, in the future. When she moved from Newbury Street, which became “The Louis Building” to the waterfront she had a vision. She had been hunting property down at Fan Pier when she first brought me to the area. The Volvo Ocean Race was passing through the city on its 37,000-mile journey, and I said to her, ‘It’s a parking lot with a great view,’ and she said, “exactly.” I understood immediately and smiled at her. I always supported her vision and she made a success of it, as she always does. She continued to share with me how she imagined the restaurant, and the store, and the light coming through, and the way she would present the garments to her customers. I know Debi still has plenty to share with us if she wants to.

I think we will all try to chase, in any way, the future of Louis of Boston, and Debi’s visions. The doors might be closing, but hopefully we will see something from her again.

We need to wait until Debi tells us something. So, we will wait.

Fashion in Boston will never be the same because what she did was so special. It’s like when you have a beautiful painting, created in a beautiful light. You can ask the painter to do it again, and he will always say, “I’m sorry, I can paint another painting, but not the same as the one that I already did. There is only one.”

**

As we began to conclude our conversation, Massimo stopped me and said…

“This is one little thing that I have to share. When Murray passed things to Debi, I was so nervous, especially during the first seasons, not knowing what would be. Once, she came to Milano and I was to pick her up at her hotel. After she got in the car I began to drive away. However, I was listening to her so intently that I didn’t notice a car parked on the side of the street…and smashed right into it. Debi said with her wonderful laugh, ‘Are you trying to kill me before we even start?’ I told her I was paying close attention to what she was saying and she said, ‘Well, you have to drive too!'”

**

And with that, Massimo and I shared a hearty laugh and a fond farewell. A lovely man. Truly one of a kind.

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Our beloved Massimo Bizzocchi

Arthur Jordan – The Best in Boston – A Legend at Louis

Throughout the years at Louis, I’ve seen so much. I’ve met so many incredible people and seen so many rich and exciting things. Colors and fabrics change, patterns and lines evolve, but one thing has always remained the same, and that one thing is Arthur Jordan.

Arthur has been with Louis for as long as I can remember, and as far as I’m concerned, there will never be a better sales consultant in this city. I’ve been watching him work for decades, and quite honestly, the way he works with people is from a different era. He works with respect and taste – acting as part psychologist, part comedian, and part stylist. Perhaps more importantly – part futurist, always knowing a customer wants before they even know they want it. In the eyes of the industry, THAT is a value of a salesperson. No one is as good as Arthur, and no one will ever match his talent again. It’s an art form I am admittedly sad to see end.

Arthur has always been the ultimate wardrobe sales consultant in my eyes. It’s no secret that men aren’t always completely equipped at making the best sartorial choices, and it’s for that reason that gentlemen like Arthur will always be needed and valued.

As we have been preparing to close our doors this summer, nothing has made me happier than to see Arthur’s clients come in to honor him and get a taste of his service – one last time.

There will never, ever be anyone like Arthur Jordan. He is – the quintessential Louis experience.

Now it’s my turn to honor him. I asked my friend and writer, Jamie Kohn, to meet with Arthur and learn more about his past, present and future – and here’s what he told her…

ARTHUR JORDAN

Arthur Jordan has been a part of the Louis family since September 1967. He grew up in Dorchester, and went to Dorchester High School. If you ask him where he went to college he’ll tell you, “U of MP,” the University of Murray Pearlstein.

Jamie:

Tell me about the “U of MP:”

Arthur:

Well, I say that I went to U of MP, because Murray Pearlstein was the one who really gave me my education – in business and in life. My first job in retail was at a local Dorchester shop called Mike’s. Then I headed into Boston proper to work for the National Pant Company. It was in Chinatown, on Boylston Street – right in the middle of what used to be known as The Combat Zone. During that time there were really only two great places to shop in Boston – Martini Carl…and Louis. I had been working at Martini Carl for a couple of years and one afternoon, Bob Itri (who had been at Louis for 45 years during his career) came in one day and told me Louis, Murray’s cousin, had heard about me and wanted to meet me. Now, Louis was just the best store in Boston, and I have to admit I was pretty intimidated. Bob arranged for Murray to take me around the store, and before we were finished he offered me a job. I was shaking – but I took it.

I started to work in the Berkley shop – on the third floor. It was like an upscale Brooks Brothers, but much cooler with the fit and the prices. I worked under a gentleman names Frank Nunuez who ran the shop until the early 70’s. At that time Murray was doing all of the buying, except the street level, which was Wally Horn’s haberdashery shop. Eventually Louis and Murray bought Wally out, and Murray started to buy everything.

After two to three years in the Berkley shop, Murray asked me if I would join him on his buying trips. I figured I must be doing something right. This was around the time he started traveling overseas to the European market. We started meeting with the Italians, marveling at their tailoring and fine lines, and began to bring the look to Louis. Every year, for about 20 years, we would travel to New York City, London, Paris, Milan, and Florence. Went to the shows, and showrooms, and met with every famous designer you can think of: Pierre Cardin, Gianfranco Ferré, Gianni Versace, etc., etc. We were hooked up with the best of the best.

It was fascinating, and quite a ride to be with Murray. He was a fiery man who knew what he wanted. He had a vision, and he had a passion that was just incredible. It was contagious, and I captured all I knew from him.

I traveled and bought with Murray for a very long time before Debi came into the business and continued to evolve the store. I was happy to become the Vice President of Sales and Merchandising, and my passion for the business never changed. There is no place like Louis. I never looked back.

From the concept shop “DOWN with Louis,” to the two locations we had at one time in Faneuil Hall, to the shops in Cambridge and Chestnut Hill, to our home of 20 years at the old Bonwit Teller building, which is now only known as “the old Louis building,” it’s been an incredible life in fashion.

Jamie:

What did you think of our move to the Fan Pier?

Arthur:

The move was characteristic of the Pearlstein family. Murray had tremendous strength and insight, and Debi is the same way. I think that’s been the bottom line of the success of Louis. She and her father took all the heat this town could throw at them, but they were both leaders and always made dynamic choices. I traveled with Murray for many years and got to know him very well. I feel like I know Debi well too, and understand her choices because she wouldn’t have it any other way. She is direct and I will always have an incredible respect for her and all that she has accomplished. I know a lot of people gave her a hard time for moving, but she hung in there – she changed the way she was buying and kept thing moving forward. It was interesting, and quite rewarding, to see the people who doubted the move eventually come out of their comfort zone of Newbury Street to see what we were doing on the waterfront. One after the other, people would walk into the store and it was as if a lightbulb went on over their head, and they finally got what this evolution was all about. The evolution of Louis is what’s kept it alive. Business has been great to this very day, and it will be good to go out on a very high note.

It’s been a great run of 85 years, and I have 47 in.

Not bad.

Jamie:

Looking back, what really made Louis special for you?

Arthur:

Special? Louis has always been special in so many ways, but the thing that stands out to me the most is the dedication both Debi and her father had for always wanting to have the best store in the world – and to merchandise it the way no others do. Instead of trying to have what everyone else has, Louis has always had what Louis had – its own looks and styles. And to this day, the same holds true, and it’s why so many customers continue to love this place I’ve called home for so long. I enjoy having customers from all over the country and all over the world, and I appreciate that while they come to Boston for so many things (education, banking, etc.) they continually patronize the store. Over the years we’ve collected an incredible amount of people who are regular clients. Simply put, I know they love and appreciate this store.

Jamie:

Besides the respect from your clients and colleagues, what do you attribute to your longevity at Louis to?

Arthur:

Well, I didn’t really have a goal to get into retail, but I was young, and liked the clothing, and enjoyed myself. Getting to Louis and meeting Murray was inspiring and led to wonderful things. I don’t know what he saw in me, but I’m still here, so that’s something. But I have to say, he probably fired me at least a dozen times. One day we were walking down the street and I said, “Murray, you’ve fired me at least a dozen times – and I’m still here.” I paused and said, “What does that say about you?” He just chuckled and walked away. I was here to stay and we both knew it.

Jamie: …and once Louis closes?

Well, Our customers are asking where they can shop. There’s no other place like Louis, and quite honestly I’m not sure where to direct them. There is no good answer. Louis has always been the whole package, and we have merchandise you just can’t buy in other stores. You have been hand picking every item in the store, and creating fabrication and cut. You can find Kiton at Neiman’s but it will look nothing like the Kiton you would find at Louis.

Jamie:

If you could leave your customers with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Arthur:

There are no experts, only people with opinions.

I want people to know that they can’t dress for other people. I’m no expert, but I’ve helped a lot of people and seen some amazing things, and it’s a wonderful feeling to help someone and give them confidence.

The “Louis Look” puts checks and plaids and stripes together – but some men shied away because they lacked the confidence to go for it. I encourage you all to go for it, and when someone shakes their head don’t let them shake your confidence.

Jamie:

What’s next for you Arthur?

Arthur:

Customers are asking, “Where are you going?” But I honestly don’t know. I’m listening to offers and thinking about things. I could, but certainly don’t plan to retire. I still have gas in the tank and want to be in action.

This is what I do, so stay tuned for the next chapter of Arthur Jordan.

Arthur Jordan and Joseph Abboud

Arthur Jordan and Joseph Abboud

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Arthur Jordan, Featured in Esquire Magazine

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Arthur’s Original Business Card From “DOWN with Louis”

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Recognition from Esquire Magazine

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Arthur’s Mentor – Murray Pearlstein

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Arthur Jordan / Model

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Arthur Jordan on the left, Modeling for Louis

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Arthur Jordan – Modeling for Louis

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Arthur Jordan – Modeling for Louis

THIS Is Appreciation

From the time I was a young girl, growing up with all things Louis, I was taught many things. But the one thing that always stood out above the others was:

Don’t forget your customer.

Last week I was reading another piece by Cathy Horyn, a fashion writer for New York Magazine, and her message was the same. In the midst of all the business and frenzy – we can’t forget about who is wearing and buying the clothes.

At Louis, things begin and end with our customers. We never want to dictate what they should be wearing, we want to understand what they want, and create an atmosphere and curate collections of clothing that will make them feel they can be exactly who they want to be, but maybe a little bit better. We introduce change and newness and technology in fabric that they might not even know they need in their wardrobe. But once they incorporate it into their lives, they know they do. Retail has, and always will be the reason people go out to buy something NEW.

**

While the weather and other insanity around the world have been taxing on the retail business, you wouldn’t know it if you walked into my tailor shop. Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed that it’s practically overflowing, and that tells me that what I have been doing all these years really did make a difference in our city. And it tells me that our customers are making sure they take advantage of an experience like Louis, before we close our doors.

And I’m honored because of it.

It shows me that our customers understand what it means to walk into a store and have someone anticipate their needs and wants. They know that we know what’s in their closet and how to update their look… one last time.

It has been immensely rewarding to see our customers come in and buy with appreciation, knowing that the experience will soon be gone. I may not say it often enough, but it’s truly rewarding to me to know that they understood. And it means everything to me that they have developed relationships with all of the talented, exceptional sales consultants who have shown such a steadfast commitment to what they do.

A lot of customers have begun to ask, “Where will we go now?” To be honest, it makes me feel a little badly about closing, because I don’t really know how to answer them adequately knowing that, right now, there is not another experience in Boston quite like Louis.

However, I am deeply appreciative of the fact that they appreciate THIS. While press and awards are nice, nothing compares to the rewarding feeling I have lately, knowing people really do get it.

I talk a lot about the changing landscape of retail and fashion, but I hope there are things that find their way back to the authentic place they used to be. Ecommerce may take it down for a while, but once people realize they’re missing the human touch, they might appreciate it once again. I’m hopeful.

I just wanted to say that because of you I feel appreciated for what I did and what Louis stood for, and what it will stand for until we close our doors.

Thank you for making me feel appreciated!

 

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The Revolving Door of Fashion

A long time ago, when I started this blog, I used it as a forum to talk about fashion, but also to talk openly and honestly about the state of the industry and the things I found incredible and / or concerning about it. It’s a slippery slope to write about fashion because on one hand you want to be supportive of the art and design, and on the other you have to be realistic about fashion as a business and the often-ugly truths about it.

I’ve always enjoyed reading about the industry too, and even more so lately with the honesty of some of the writers, and often times even designers who are questioning the state of things and the direction the industry is taking.

Last week, one of my favorite fashion writers, Cathy Horyn, wrote an excellent piece for New York Magazine about something I’ve been saying for far too long – that the industry, acting like a revolving door for some designers, is continuing to lose it’s luster.

If you follow the industry it’s no secret that in an effort to “revive” what were some very successful brands, there is a constant merry-go-round of designers that come in and go out, and get traded like athletes. But should they?

According to various sources, Carven, a fashion house founded in 1945, had many notable license agreements through 70’s, and has had substantial changes in investors and designers in 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, and finally 2015 with Alexis and Adrien Martial Cailaudaud at the helm and showing their first collection for the brand. Is it even fair to keep calling it Carven?

Other examples, where new designers came in and I think ultimately undermined the essence of a brand were Alexander Wang for Balenciaga, and Karl Largerfeld for Chanel. The designers make an effort to identify with the style of the brand, but ultimately end up only able to offer an exaggerated example. They try to make things “modern,” but to many, educated eyes, they come up short and can’t quite deliver the authenticity they may strive to.

And while the fashion writers continue to try to figure out where the authentic designers are, the authentic designers are trying to resist the lure of big business and live a life as close to the integrity of their craft as they can get. Some eventually succumb to fame and fortune, and others (thankfully) say, if I can’t be authentic, then why bother?

What’s even more interesting is that most of the designers that can afford to stay authentic are usually wealthy women, who love fashion, have talent, and won’t – make that don’t – have to compromise for anyone. From Stella McCartney, to Victoria Beckham, to Rosetta Getty, to Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen of The Row, they stay true because the can. The same holds for Phoebe Philo and Céline. While she doesn’t’ come from a place the others do, the brand has stayed true, and Phoebe has real talent, and that is the winning combination.

On the other hand, are people noticing that in most of the major fashion houses where the designers are rotating through are usually hiring men? They come. And then they go. Which begs the question: does having a “muse,” qualify you to design what’s best for women?

It’s just something to think about, really.

And all of this brings me back to the point I continue to make, that things with real substance and integrity are being honored less and less…and less.

I am hopeful for the future in fashion because while Cathy Horyn observes how “many designers have a one-dimensional view of glamour that boils down to tits and fringe,” designers like Phoebe Philo continue to look for ways to remain innovate and authentic – and try to answer the questions; What is too much? What is not enough? And what looks authentic?

Céline

Céline

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney

The Row

The Row

Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham

Rosetta Getty

Rosetta Getty

 

The Method Behind Our “No Technology” Madness

Last month, when I announced that Louis would be closing its doors for good in July, the response was overwhelming. So many well wishers, a handful naysayers, and two or three people who claimed they knew more about my business than I ever could. The assessment walked a fine line between critiquing me and promoting their own interests, but I found the comments interesting nonetheless.

One savvy blogger wrote that they knew Louis was closing because of our major “tech fail.” They stated that the barrier created between our customer and us once we moved from our trendy Newbury Street location to the rapidly developing Fan Pier could only be repaired if we took a cruise down Digital Drive. After a few more clever, yet uninformed sentiments were declared, the blogger asked, “…being such forward thinkers, why (did) LOUiS shun tech?”

Well, for those of you holding your breath…here’s why:

I’ve been reading a lot, in the Business of Fashion, WWD, etc. about the benefit or deficit of adding a multi-channel sales strategy to your business. And there are reasons why the benefit hasn’t been definitively defined and the deficit remains. A shining example is Gucci – a brand that has a global, multi-channel sales strategy that has compromised and weakened, and deteriorated the cachet of what Gucci once stood for.

It was recently announced that, Frida Giannini, the Creative Director for Gucci since 2005, would be stepping down. According to an article in The New York Times, the company claims that after Tom Ford, Ms. Giannini couldn’t maintain the “buzz,” and after 9 years would be leaving the brand. Did she lead the iconic fashion brand astray, or should the fact that “Luxury consumers, particularly in China, have turned away from Gucci’s signature logo-emblazoned goods in favor of subtler fashion statements” be telling them something.

Further into the article you get the sense that their parent company, and Kering’s chairman, François-Henri Pinault, recognizes that “Over the last five-seven years, there has been a great change in the world of luxury in terms of scale and growth, and we are facing the question of how to maintain exclusivity while continuing to grow.”

I would argue that you can’t. You can find Gucci everywhere these days, and when you can find a brand everywhere, it’s not exclusive and it’s simply not a luxury brand anymore.

As is expected, all successful industries spend a great deal of time and money listening to their consumer – and the consumer says that they want it fast, and they want it cheap. But when you give the consumer something fast and cheap, they are at the same time agreeing (willing or ignorantly) to give up a little (or a lot of) quality as well. Companies react to their customers to maximize what they want as quickly as possible, to the point where the consumer experiences fatigue, loses interest, and really doesn’t care for the brand anymore.

Perhaps this is what has happened to Gucci. And perhaps instead of talking about it, the company thought technology would fix it, but actually technology is breaking down the brand even further.

Let me ask you – why wouldn’t a person go into a Gucci store, find something they like, turn their back, pull out their smartphone, and find it online or at another retail location on sale?

People think that brands will be obsolete if they don’t incorporate technology into their model, and my argument is that technology or not, most brands will be obsolete anyway. You can sell out and expect people to pay full price when they know they don’t have to.

Another great example of “too much” is the GAP. After thriving for the better part of 40 years, they are now the perfect representation of how a perfectly good thing can go awry when you grow too much. They have become a sad example of brand that has to be so “across the board” they can’t get it back. It seems that every two years they promote something to the effect of “Too much fashion? Let’s go back to basics,” and two years after that they say “You’re too basic! Let’s get back to fashion.” They just let go of their creative director too, and they can blame whomever they want, but the bottom line is, how can you get it all right when you have so many categories to service?

I’ve heard from several people that the fashion at the popular brand J.Crew is beginning to lag now they too have so. many. stores. Perhaps it can be said that Mickey Drexler, former CEO of the GAP, current chairman and CEO of J.Crew, has become a victim of his own paradigm. He knows how to get these companies going, but burns them out by inventing too many ways and locations to sell them.

Once you get that big, you can’t cut things back, you just have to be that much more generic with what you do.

However, some brands have figured out how to beat the system and keep their sales intact. Stores like H&M, Uniqlo, Top Shop, and Zara have mastered the art of copying design trends, keeping production costs low, and establishing a quick turnover of a product that is unique to them. They control the ebb and flow and they are growing because of it.

There was a day when people didn’t want to buy something with a click. There was a day where people saved their money to purchase something of quality that they coveted. They were proud and they appreciated the accomplishment. Now, sadly, those days are all but gone.

And what of the actual products. It seems like no one talks about the products anymore, they only talk about the incidentals like: is a celebrity wearing the brand, and what was Kim Kardashian’s #OOTD today?

What ever happened to appreciation of craftsmanship? Don’t you want to know what it feels like? Don’t you want to try it on? Don’t you want a knowledgeable sales person to recommend what he or she knows will work with your body? Don’t you want to know that what works for Kim, isn’t going to work for you.

For me, the real problem with technology is that it is taking away the art of choice. Your smartphone or iPad or television tells you what you want, and you believe it. When you shop online, and therefore eliminate all of your senses while doing so, you end up with generic goods – but at a price. And as a result, brands are no longer pushing the envelope the way they used to. Generic is expected and brands are learning how to deliver it. That’s not a world I care to live in, and I certainly wouldn’t let LOUiS live there either.

Eventually consumers will realize what they gave up, understand that overall they weren’t really saving money, but instead were being lured into a world where corporate, crowd-sourced products are simply being reproduced again, and again, and again.

So, while some of you prefer to stay in and shop glued to your smartphones and tablets, other are excited to be out in the world honoring individuality, effort, and ingenuity. Some of us actually enjoy the art of exploration, and make a concerted effort to seek out the things that possess value and have longevity.

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Maison Ullens Sweater and Skirt, Jason Wu Blouse, Pierre Hardy Shoes

The Perfect Fit (It’s Not Over Until It’s over)

Well, 2015 is certainly off to an exciting start, isn’t it? By now I hope that most of you have read the blog I wrote to address the incredible responses we had to the announcement that Louis would close in July. If you haven’t, I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you, again, to our loyal customers – old and new, from near and far – who have articulately expressed that you will miss everything Louis has represented in Boston for nearly a century.

It was a pleasure to hear from so many women who have shopped at Louis throughout the years. I found their comments reflected a sense of sadness that the discovery and entertainment of an afternoon spent at Louis would soon be lost. Many confessed the love they had for coming to the store to find something they had never seen before, or to fall in love with a garment that clearly went against the grain of mediocrity.

It’s been equally nice hearing from the men whom we have been dressing for decades, but the comments I’ve gotten from them seem a bit more distressed. Perhaps it’s because they understand that they can’t find the things we sell at Louis anywhere else in the country – and truth be told, they can’t.

The product I buy is made by hand and I am able to spec it to whatever I want. It’s very interesting to me when I go into stores like Neiman’s, Bergdorf’s or Saks, because while they may carry some of the brands I carry, they usually stock things in only exceptionally large sizes. I often wonder, do they think only a big or tall man can afford quality?

At Louis I know that our customer prefers a cut that is fitted and tailored to perfection. I also know they will want every last drop of the inventory I have because #1, I never buy an abundance of any one item, and #2 these men want (and need) to have a selection of sizes that truly fit.

What some men may not understand is that when you buy a garment in a department store that is already much too big on you, you are essentially asking your tailor to suck the soul right out of it by having it re-cut for you. When you try on a garment and have to adjust the sleeves or a nip or tuck here and there, it’s not taking the soul out of it – it’s making it fit you. That’s what we do best here.

So, I invite you all to come in to Louis before we close in July because, well, it’s not over until it’s over. I’ve spent a lifetime figuring it out what you want, and I understand what fits you well and what you will feel good in – from the moment you put it on, not after you get it back from the tailor.

I invite you all to come to Louis to discover the perfect fit – while you can still find the perfect fit in Boston.

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Keeping Up With Kendall Jenner (And Her 16 Million Instagram Followers)

Forget about Keeping up with the Kardashians, how on earth will we ever keep up with Kendall?

On November 21st the New York Times published a rather lengthy article about Kendall Jenner – daughter of Kris, sister of Kim, and sister-in-law of Kanye – and the new face of legendary beauty industry empire Estée Lauder. This coveted contract has been in the possession of several talented actresses and supermodels in years past, but now…they are handing it over to Kendall.

Forgive the hint of sarcasm here, but I, like a lot of you, can’t seem to quite put my finger on why this family, and this sister in particular is deserving of any such coveted honors. Is it because she’s a leader in fashion and beauty? Is she a style icon in the industry? Has she has earned the spot by working her way up in the fiercely competitive world of modeling?

It turns out the answer is none of the above. It’s widely reported that she got the coveted contract because she has more social media followers than all of us combined, and this is her reward.

Foregoing the route of traditional publicity driven press releases, Vogue magazine broke the news of the contract on their website (their headline read “Kendall Jenner Social-Media Sensation Turned Beauty Star), and the New York Times reported that Kendall (she is trying to drop the “Jenner”) was encouraged to spread the word on her own social channels, and boy did she ever!

Her Instagram announcement post was “liked” more than one million – Yes ONE MILLION – times. The rest of her social media stats are also staggering. Believe it or not, she has 16 MILLION Instagram followers, 9.1 MILLION Twitter followers, and 7.3 MILLION likes on Facebook.

And I’m back to asking myself, WHY?

Why is this generation okay with famous people who are only famous because of the social media followers they have that made them famous? Is this Kendall Jenner’s credibility, and is this the new standard for credibility? Does it mean your fashionable because you have 9.1 Twitter followers?

I’ve addressed it before, but where have all the icons gone? Are you an icon because you have followers or because you truly have a sense of style and walk out the door looking sensational.

I don’t know about you, but I kind of liked it when the collective standard was a lot higher.

Some of you may be saying, “Oh Debi, you just don’t get it,” but I really do. It’s just difficult for me to understand that as a style icon, Kendall doesn’t have style – she has “followers,” and apparently that’s all you need…and what they say goes.

All of this brings me back to one last thought on Black Friday. As I wrote in my blog last week, Black Friday has become a manufactured holiday that maintains little to no real value. Vendors manufacture goods for this sales event to make the consumer think they are getting a deal. I was listening to NPR last weekend when they exposed that the retail giants don’t even change their Black Friday ads from year to year anymore. They simply continue to manufacture the same sub-standard products every season in an effort to dumb down anything the consumer has come to expect. Judging by the lines of people camped out in front of their stores for days and even weeks on end – it seems they have succeeded. They’re saving money and you are getting a deal. Does that sound right?

It makes me wonder, is Estée Lauder getting a “deal” with Kendall Jenner? Has her worth as their spokesperson been manufactured by her followers, so much so that the consumer thinks they’re getting what they want?

It begs the question, does the sheer amount of her followers justify the rest of us giving up standards that have merit, for something that really has none?

Is Kendall Jenner all that we can afford?

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Black Friday (It’s Not a Holiday.)

I can’t help but remember the good old days, when vendors actually believed in the value of their merchandise and went through the exercise of telling us when we had permission to mark their items on sale – which used to be the day AFTER Christmas. Slowly, over time, it kept moving. It went from the day after Christmas to the 21st of December (to help merchants move extra inventory), and then they moved it to the 15th, then the 9th, then the 1st, and then the day after Thanksgiving. Now the vendors aren’t talking, and no one is listening anyway. Retail does what it wants in an effort to compete with each other, and make all of you compete.

Just last week I caught a news story of two women were already camped out in front of a Best Buy store in California for the store’s Black Friday sale. These two ladies have committed themselves to sitting in front of a store, on camp chairs, for over three weeks – to save money at Best Buy.

Should we laugh or should we cry?

To save everyone the trouble of sorting through the hot deals of the season, let’s just say that from now on, Halloween is the new sale date. Hell, why not back it up to Labor Day? At least the weather would be better for camping outside while you’re waiting for the doors to open.

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I find it a little unsettling that merchants can no longer seem to sell merchandise unless it’s on sale. It’s the only tool they have left in the toolshed and they’ve trained Americans to think they should only buy something if it’s discounted. How do you explain “Friends and Family,” if everyone gets the coupon? What exactly is a “Private Sale?” Because the last I checked, if it’s loading in your Facebook feed, it’s not so very private – is it? All of these “sales” really just translate to 6 consecutive weeks of discounted merchandise for the masses.

Which begs the question, Is it even discounted? It’s no secret that some pretty big retailers have been caught before marking things “up” to mark them “down.” Do they really think they are fooling anyone? Do you really think they would take a loss for you? Apparently, the consumer really does. And the vendors keep saying…declaring…insisting, that they do all of this because it’s what “SHE” wants. But isn’t that a bit insulting that SHE won’t buy anything unless it’s on sale? Do customers really want stores to open earlier and earlier every year in an effort to create chaos in the lives of employees and shoppers everywhere?

So I have to ask, why is Saks opening a new 250,000 square foot store in New York City? And why are they moving next door to Century 21 when they already ARE Century 21? Do they really need more space to sell more merchandise at a discount? The last time I checked, when demand goes down, you don’t add more supply. Eventually, like the mortgage industry, which never should have failed (right?), this system will implode too. Retail giants continue to open more stores, but they will remain empty and merchandise will continue to be sold at marked down prices online.

Too much supply, not enough demand? How will they save the industry?

Create a Holiday!

Alibaba.com, a Chinese e-commerce company, broke all records this year with over 9 BILLION in sales for Singles Day. Yes, Singles Day. A “holiday,” created in 1993 to celebrate the young, SINGLE, fashionable set. Brands couldn’t even participate unless their merchandise was marked at least 50% off. And just today I read an article on PopSugar Fashion about the Black Friday “holiday” and the top 21 sales to keep an eye on. I’m sorry, but Black Friday isn’t a holiday.

And while they’re building up New York City, the rest of the country is pulling away from expansion. Retail real estate is projected to contract 37% year after year because malls and other brick and mortar retail stops can’t compete with their own, and others, online sales. Who needs a store if you have 2 dimensional pictures to click on? Consumers are not expected to expect anymore, and most retailers have gotten complacent and have stopped educating their customers about what it means to appreciate something they can actually experience.

By now you may be asking yourself, Debi, why do you care?

I care because retail has always been a huge part of my life, and my observations of the industry help me make better choices for Louis and all who have loyally patronized our store throughout the years. I care because it’s my job to stay connected with the newer shoppers who, despite having a laptop, still appreciate and understand the value of what we do. You can’t find what I have on sale. I keep it exclusive so we can all be reassured that you are buying something of quality, and something more special than the 8 million of something else you can buy online.

I remember, during the last great recession in the late 80’s / early 90’s when my father, Murray Pearlstein, said to me, “Debi, I lived through the great depression, and while things were very tight, there was always somebody who still appreciated something special.”

So people, take a breath. There truly is plenty of time to shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

No matter what holiday you observe, let the spirit linger.

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The Lost Art of Outerwear

Perhaps you’ve noticed that over time different categories in fashion have all but been eliminated from the shopping experience. I can think of at least two of them that are centered in and around the extreme changes in the weather found in New England – the place we all so fondly call home – regardless of how much we need them.

Like you, I too wait with baited breath for the warmth to come after a long, drawn out, cold New England winter…and often non-existent spring. And, perhaps like you, I wait until at least June – after I’ve seen the sunshine for more than 5 minutes – before I even begin to think about shopping for a bathing suit. The issue is that by the time we all feel brave enough to stand under the florescent lights in an unforgiving dressing room, the bathing suits have been marked down considerably and warm sweaters and tall boots are beginning to emerge from the stock room.

As a result, bathing suits, historically a rather large category, are simply getting lost in the shuffle. We don’t even know they’re there before it’s too late and the retail season is coming to a close. A great bathing suit is difficult enough to find, especially if they’ve become nearly obsolete from department stores. Well, some still carry a small assortment, but it’s certainly not what it used to be.

Actually, it’s nothing like it used to be.

The same holds true for outerwear.

People, we live in New England, and to be honest we really can’t afford to have the same thing happen to this category as well. We’re not in California, it really does get freezing here, and during the winter months we need to wear a coat every day to endure the brutality of the season. We really need variations of outerwear in the region because A.) The weather gets really, really cold, and B.) Who wants to wear the same coat over and over and over again?

And can we just talk about “puffers” for a minute?

I don’t need to call out brands, you know who they are, but is it really necessary to reach for a “puffer” every time you venture outside? I get that we have some really cold, crummy, awful days around here…and I get that you can roll it up in a ball and stick it in the washing machine to fluff it up again…and I get that it keeps you warm, BUT it’s not appropriate for every scenario in your life, and I hate to break the news but they really don’t look so great…on anyone.

Do you think the new “shiny” puffers are helping matters?

Don’t answer. It’s a rhetorical question.

Because certain regions in the country (including us) have such a dire need for outerwear during the winter months, you would think the category would be exploding with function and creativity. But it isn’t. Or should I say, it hasn’t been.

And because we have fallen into the habit of reaching for what has become, for lack of a better term, the lowest common denominator in outwear, our heads have been down and we’ve been missing the fact that some people are doing some amazingly new and different things with coats these days. Especially this season where I really saw designers taking fabric with vastly different properties and putting their efforts back into outerwear.

From Proenza Schouler’s wool and neoprene wonders to Jason Wu’s wool and shearling creations to Lucas Nascimento‘s modern interpretation of the 1940’s to Jonathan Saunder’s clever patchwork designs, there seems to be new life circulating around an old “category.”

Fabulous!

Last month we had some incredibly warm neoprene pieces from Jacquemus, and this month they are sold out completely – and we’re just coming to the end of October. Which leads me to believe that some people are packing away their puffers and really starting to get it.

Jonathan Saunders

Jonathan Saunders

Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler

Proenza Schouler

Lucas Nascimento

Lucas Nascimento

Lucas Nascimento

Lucas Nascimento

Jason Wu

Jason Wu

Jason Wu

Jason Wu

Jason Wu

Jason Wu

Jacquemus

Jacquemus

Jacquemus

Jacquemus

Alice Roi

Alice Roi

 

Meanwhile, in Paris…

Each season I board a plane to Paris and expect to find some inspiration when I land. I attend shows and visit showrooms; I talk to other businesswomen and men; I meet with designers and exchange ideas with magazine editors…all in an effort to find and bring new ideas and inspiration back to Boston.

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but as my trip came to a close last week and I found myself ready to come home, I realized that overall, I wasn’t so inspired.

Actually, I’m quite happy with what I bought while I was there, and I had no problem committing to the designers and ideas that I did, but I’m glad I went into it with a definitive point of view – because when people walk into the major department stores in spring, I don’t know if they’ll be able to find one. Sure, you’ll see the trends – but inspiration? I’m not so sure.

I really enjoyed what designers like Haider Ackermann, Jonathan Saunders, Victoria Beckham, and Roland Mouret had to say, but beyond that most everything else smelled quite unauthentic. It seemed the creative air was sucked out of the city in some odd way. Paris has always been about the artistry, but more and more it’s become about going “global,” and the art is getting lost.

I understand that the name of the game is the bottom line, but we can’t forget that ingenuity has paved the road to the bottom line for many incredible designers throughout the ages. There is no question that fashion is losing its edge and becoming too commercialized overall. Authenticity is becoming lost and not only is it affecting the subconscious behaviors of consumers, it’s taking an evident toll on the industry itself.

One of the last shows of Fashion Week was Chanel. Karl Lagarfeld transformed the Grand Palais into a Paris Boulevard and it seemed, a feminist protest. Models strutted together in a large group, shouting with and without megaphones, carrying posters to protest…I don’t know what, or more importantly perhaps, why. Was it a protest of fashion? Quite honestly it left me feeling confused, not inspired.

It seemed there was a sense of anti-fashion off of the runway as well. I couldn’t help but notice the fashion bloggers who are usually very well dressed were a bit more casual in Paris. I saw a lot of boy jeans and white shirts and man-style shoes, indicating that none of them wanted to fall into fashion? I got the sense that Tommy Ton didn’t know what or who to shoot because everyone was dressed so similarly. Nary a Christian Louboutin heel or Céline bag could be found. The tone was definitely toned down and it felt unsettling to me that people were holding back.

Other unsettling news came via WWD where I learned that New York would be adding five new 250k square foot department stores to the borough of Manhattan. Why? So they can sell everything on sale? So the conglomerates that own a great deal of the fashion space can continue to seek a dominant space in the market? At what price?

Quite often I feel like Vanessa Freidman, Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic of the New York Times, is one of the only other people who sees what I see, and is willing to talk about it. If you read her articles it’s clear she wants to know what the purpose is of fashion these days, and why the industry is behaving as it is. What’s going on and what’s it really all about? Do we need another paparazzi picture of Kim and Kanye arriving late to a fashion show?

Unfortunately, my need for authenticity and integrity wasn’t quite satiated this season. It seemed the designers wanted to say or demand something, but they didn’t quite know what it was – and it’s for this reason that the reaction of the industry to build more toward dominance seems quite counterproductive at this time.

My hope is that the industry starts to see and dismantle the hamster wheel they’ve built for consumers to build an appetite with, and instead find ways to encourage consumption that has some meaning behind it. Find a way to encourage originality and authenticity, and understand that people want to devour that even more.

Meanwhile…I’m walking around the city streets of Paris wearing pieces that I brought from Boston. Pieces from Louis, past and present – all mixed up but with a distinct point of view. People were stopping me, asking me how I put things together – finally something to talking about!

…and so I ask, do you really care where Kim and Kanye are today?

Haider Ackermann

Haider Ackermann

Jonathan Saunders

Jonathan Saunders

Victoria Beckham

Victoria Beckham

Roland Mouret

Roland Mouret

(all images: style.com)