Find shopping tedious, don’t have the time for it, or can’t decide what to buy? Personal shoppers are just the thing for you.
For his wedding, Aditya Mittal — a real-estate developer and owner of branding firm Watermark Luxury Designs — needed the perfect sherwani. Dreading the process of multiple trials and fittings, he approached personal shoppers Sanya Dhir and Puneet Dua. Though apprehensive initially, the lack of time, guarantee of exclusivity and promise of finding the best within his budget made the idea of hiring a personal shopper appealing. Dhir and Dua, co-founders of Luxury Shopping and Styling Services, found Mittal a Sabyasachi sherwani. Happy with their choice, Mittal hired them to dress his entire family for the wedding.
Being a personal shopper is all about customisation — the client’s taste takes precedence over the label. “We’re not pushing a sale, the client’s need is the priority,” says Dhir. The profession is popular in the West where the likes of Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine (of Trinny and Sussanah Undress fame) work on a commission-on-sale basis, but in India personal shoppers cater to a very small segment of luxury shoppers. “Everyone is fascinated with luxury, the trend will catch up soon,” believes Dhir.
At present, LSSS has a portfolio of around 250 clients comprising NRI families and corporate honchos. Not wanting to favour one label over another, they do not take cuts from stores and instead have individual charges (which they refused to reveal). LSSS offers a range of packages priced from Rs 15,000 to 5 lakh: there’s “FRAC” standing for friends, relatives, associates and colleagues of the client; “styling on call”, “corporate power programmes” and so on. “Wardrobe weeding” involves reviewing a client’s existing wardrobe and throwing away the “riff-raff” without offending anyone — tact is crucial to the profession. “Some men with double chins want to wear the bandhgala,” says Dhir. “It is then that I explain to them what works and what doesn’t, in the best way possible.”
Women are harder to please, admits Dhir. To avoid ego clashes and “cat fights”, the duo divides the male and female clients between themselves — Dhir handles the men and Dua styles the women.
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Their profession is fairly tedious, claims Dua. It begins with an informal interaction, generally over coffee. “We steer the conversation around the client to assess his taste and establish a rapport with him.” Next, the shopper presents a catalogue of different looks and “shade cards” to the client that fit his complexion, pocket and personality. From clothes, accessories (jewellery, shoes, handbags and wallets) to hair and make-up, the shopper attends to all.
On receiving the client’s mandate, the shopper visits various markets — sometimes in other cities — to find the best deal. Chancing upon something that will be ideal for the client, the shopper reserves it by paying an advance. If he knows the retailer well, there’s no advance and the merchandise is delivered to the client’s house. Usually, the client visits the store for a trial and buys the reserved outfit if it suits him. “Unless you’re Deepika Padukone, the chances of finding a gown that fits you at Mcqueen (Alexander) are slim,” says Dhir, lamenting the lack of designer wear tailored to fit the Indian figure.
The shopper must do his homework, stresses Dua. In order to buy daily wear for a client, for instance, “I need to know details like where he walks on a daily basis — wooden floors or cemented ones? I’ll choose something as basic as the sole of his shoes accordingly.” Impromptu shopping is another demand of the profession. “A client might call us last minute, just before boarding a flight and demand a tie for a board meeting,” says Dhir. Knowing whether the said client prefers Ferragamo or John Lewis, she ensures that the tie is waiting for him at the hotel before he arrives.
Staying within budget is not difficult if the shopper understands retail. Both Dua and Dhir studied retail at the Pearl Academy of Fashion in Delhi. Dua has also served as a senior associate for the Italian label Salvatore Ferragamo.
According to Dua, weddings are where the “real money is”. “Weddings are a tense time for everyone…” He recalls instances when an irate client has thrown a fit if a made-to-order outfit hasn’t arrived on time — and he/she has had to be consoled with an expensive perfume. “At the end of the day, we don’t want to lose the client,” he adds. High-profile clients with big budgets aside, Dhir and Dua cater to every pocket. “We were once approached by a family demanding an extravagant wedding outfit with a budget that would only fit Karol Bagh or Chandni Chowk,” recalls Dhir. Undeterred, she rolled up her sleeves and went to Old Delhi to bargain hard.
The venue and décor, in the case of a wedding assignment, have to be taken into account before dressing the bride or groom. “If I know there will be red lighting, I will not dress up my client in neon and make him or her look like a fool!”
So do they ever succumb to shopping for themselves, while on an assignment? “I recently spent Rs 18,000 on a Gaurav Gupta dress,” confesses Dhir. “I just leave my personal credit card at home,” adds Dua.
Boosting the client’s confidence is also part of the job. “Some of our clients have a lot of money, but they might not know how to pronounce Salvatore,” says Dhir. “We give them the confidence to walk into a store and pick out what suits them, remembering the advice we gave.” The recall value, it seems, makes the client come back to the shopper for more.
How does one become a personal shopper? “You just need an eye for the finer things in life,” claims Dhir. An encyclopedic sense of fashion doesn’t hurt either. “We read our Harper’s (Bazaar) and Vogues, of course…but shopping is the best teacher!”
“One must observe trends and listen to the client,” adds Dua. Watching them grimace in disgust over a woman wearing a leather jacket over a sari featured in a prominent label’s look book, shopping for a living doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all.