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Personal Best

Personal Shoppers Help Harried Executives Fill Out Their Wardrobes
Kimberly Cihlar
From the Print Edition:
Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00

(continued from page 1)

Yet, Garanimal-esque groupings or trend pulse-taking don't always best serve the man requiring special shopping attention. Connecticut-based heart surgeon S. Jacob Scheinerman, who admits he is not a fashion aficionado, concedes, "As a regular guy, it's hard to know men's suits--not every suit fits a man well." A good personal shopper will recognize that some men profit more from a 42-regular Ermenegildo Zegna suit than the same size Prada suit--or vice versa.  

You wouldn't think a cardiac specialist would ever consider a fashion situation life or death, but sometimes the wardrobe flat lines. "It was my son's bar mitzvah and my wife drove in to New York to pick up two preordered suits, but for some reason the store was closed. Believe it or not, the guy who is my personal shopper arranged to have the suits altered and sent to us in time for the big event. Clearly, that was way beyond his call of duty, yet it meant so much to us."  

The problem is that finding a personal shopper willing to deliver this kind of service isn't as easy as letting your fingers do the walking. Most professionals come as referrals from other clients, a colleague's wife or one's own spouse. Sometimes, the referral might come from a sales person on the floor. Be assured, however, the first measurement taken must be the one that ensures a good working relationship with your personal shopper. It's imperative that he or she knows you and your preferences and that your personalities fit like, well, a glove.  

According to most personal shoppers, preliminary getting-to-know-you phone calls and face-to-face meetings are imperative to find out a client's needs and wants. Visits to a client's home are often warranted to weed out or optimize existing wardrobe choices.  

Developing trust and a close relationship with your personal shopper may ensure that he or she will be able to buy clothes for you, gifts for her (from you) and recommend or reserve hotels, restaurants and entertainment worldwide. Getting that kind of personalized service isn't cheap. These culturally astute individuals receive as much as $500 to $1,200 a day for services rendered on a per-need freelance basis.  

Be advised, you don't always have to hire from the outside to take advantage of someone shopping with you, for you or because of you. Better men's stores, such as Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf's Mens and Neiman Marcus, offer in-house catering to men who need greater assistance than that which they might receive from a sales associate manning the floor. It's not unlikely that personal shopping services were developed initially to relieve salespeople who couldn't deal with the needs--and psyches--of certain shoppers.  

If there is a psychological makeup for those who use a personal shopper, a healthy-sized ego probably plays a big part. Sometimes it comes down to boys showing off toys. Stories abound of personal shoppers traipsing down to Wall Street with tailor in tow, to find blinds on the corner office brazenly pulled up and an executive client who expects to be fitted (in the attendant state of disrobe) while coworkers blink in disbelief. Warren Christopher, style editor of Men's Health magazine, who did a 10-year tenure as Barneys' personal shopper before operating his own such business, says "Having a personal shopper is often an ego thing; it defines status. It's like having a Rolls-Royce or a chauffeur."  

Leon Hall, co-host of E! Entertainment Television's "Fashion Emergency" and spokesman for The Fashion Association, addresses questions and crises of dress in his book Fashion 411, due out this August from Little, Brown & Co. Over the years, he has become adept at dealing with various personalities--good, bad and ugly. "I used to dress a prince from Saudi Arabia," he recalls. "I shopped all over the world for him, had an unlimited budget and would buy in multiples. He was difficult, but I never had to look at a price tag. He and his entourage would pay in cash, and we'd drop 50 or 60 thousand in one spree. I'd have the tailor come into the hotel suite and spend four or five afternoons there. But none of those men would go into a store."  

Giving over an unlimited budget to any personal shopper is rarely the norm. According to Barneys' Samson, sales don't ever have to be big ticket, yet he recently registered one sale over $60,000. "But my client's house had just recently burned down. When he went to look in his closet, the only things left hanging there were the metal hooks. He had no choice but to replace his wardrobe."    

Kimberly Cihlar is a freelance writer living in New York City.

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