My thoughts on the shopper-salesperson relationship have always been a bit like Patrick Swayze’s in Dirty Dancing: “This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine.” Meaning, if I need your help, I’ll invite you to cha-cha. Otherwise, please do not offer any unsolicited advice or not-so-casually trail five feet behind me as I shop.
Until, that was, I started to look for a new leather jacket. I searched for two seasons and continuously came up short while zig-zagging through stores defeated and depleted. It was time to enlist the help of a personal shopper at Paris’s famed department store, Galeries Lafayette.
Such a VIP experience is exclusive in that it’s necessary to book in advance and often reserved for the likes of Saudi princesses, but otherwise the service is free of charge. Of course, when you’re being welcomed into a 400-square-metre space on the top floor of a store more than 120 years old and decorated with sculptures worth thousands of euros, it’s understood that you’ll drop as much on a new wardrobe — or, so I was told, “at least between €500 and €800.”
Prior to my appointment, which I made by completing a brief form on their website, I received a phone call from a stylist named Isabelle who I’d be meeting the following day. She asked me for my size and about the sort of brands I like to wear, and requested a photo.
“I’ll use it to create your file and shop appropriately,” she said. “Meet me inside by the private entrance to the store on rue de Mogador. I’ll be next to the Hermés jewellery department.”
Fabulous! I thought. Would there be champagne? Caviar? Truffles?
The next day, my anticipation escalated as I was whisked through the frenetic ground floor by a crew of staff dressed in black. Led by Isabelle, a petite French woman with thick red glasses and an Anna Wintour-style brown bob, we walked under the magnificent 43-metre stained glass dome inaugurated in 1912. The store’s opulence remains intact as also evidenced by the art nouveau ironwork on the circular balconies and the last remaining staircase and elevator, which were based on the designs of the Opera House just a few blocks away. I’d be getting a private ride to the sixth floor with the store’s manager who greets all VIP guests.
Personal shopper Isabelle
Immediately upon entering La Suite, as it’s known, all was calm. Gone were the sounds of hangers sliding against metal, tourists chattering or heels clacking on the floors. Here, inside Paris’s largest space for private shopping, it was just me and life’s little luxuries: huge windows providing views of Sacre Coeur, vases overflowing with fresh red roses and pink orchids, a massage room, a library of fashion books, and several private dressing salons – some of which were bigger than my entire apartment. A green, beaded necklace-like sculpture by artist Jean-Michel Othoniel hung from the ceiling, as the contemporary Galerie Perrotin is responsible for filling La Suite with rotating artwork, all of which is, of course, for sale.
Isabelle set me up in the romance room, which meant that the 18-or-so leather jackets she had pulled stood out in striking contrast to the lacy pastel lingerie by British label Olivia von Halle and paisley-packaged soaps by the American beauty brand Fresh. On a low table in front of the velvet couch sat a bottle of Evian water and a tray of macarons from Pierre Hermé. Eager to Instagram the splendour of this set-up, I went to reach for my phone only to realise it was in the pocket of my coat, which had been hung up without my realising.
Isabelle, who’s been a personal shopper with Galeries Lafayette for more than 20 years, got right to it by helping me into the first jacket: a feminine and flirty Ted Baker with gold zippers and a waist-hugging peplum for €425. It quickly became an early contender. Then there was a collarless, studded number from Pablo for €495, followed by an olive green jacket (matching my eyes) from Salsa, a French brand I wasn’t familiar with. And, while I liked the red quilted lining of the €655 Kooples coat, the silver flower studs seemed too kitschy.
“You mentioned liking flair,” said Isabelle. “And although you said you don’t normally wear Sandro, I pulled this one with…” Fringe. She had me at fringe.
The size was a bit tight, but style-wise it was love at first wear. With that, one of the junior stylists disappeared to fetch a bigger size, while I slipped into a €1125 metallic silver motorcycle option from French brand Iro. I love shine and shimmer, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the fringe.
In the meantime, I snacked on a passionfruit macaron, followed by salted caramel, and tried on a few of the outfits Isabelle pulled so I could get a sense for how the jacket might look with various wardrobe items: jeans or a dress; boots or heels; a bulky sweater or a light blouse.
The next size arrived, but my inability to raise or cross my arms meant the sweet style assistant would be heading back down to the floor a second time for a replacement.
At this point, my prior qualms with personal assistance shopping had shifted. It was quite nice to have someone help with the heavy lifting. Plus, at no point during my time with Isabelle did I wonder if she had missed something I might have found myself.
By the time the right size arrived, I was sold – on the experience and the €395 jacket. The only problem? The sleeves were just a touch too long. Before I could say as much, Isabelle was on the phone with the tailoring department and within what felt like seconds, someone had arrived to measure them. For only €20 (with my Galeries Lafayette loyalty card), the sleeves would be altered in a week.
Giddy with delight, and on a sugar high from three too many macarons, I handed it over to the seamstress while Isabelle jotted down the outcome of my appointment in my file. After bringing the tags to La Suite’s private register to pay, I thanked her and left having realised nobody puts a personal shopper in a corner.