Gilt Groupe doles out daily translations of runway clothes for everyday life

By Samantha Critchell, AP
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Gilt Groupe styles runway for everyday

NEW YORK — Racks upon racks of designer clothes line the most unlikely warehouse inside the industrial Brooklyn Navy Yard, swarming with chic models, stylists, photographers and makeup artists.

Hundreds of pairs of covetable shoes, handbags and belts are lined up neatly on nearby shelves to be parsed out to seven photo studios that buzz nonstop from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. every single day.

This space belongs to Gilt Groupe, a sample sale website that converts often avant garde runway looks into reality — bought and worn by regular folks who feel comfortable dropping a load of money, even with the discount, on things they can’t see, let alone try on.

Through their expansive photo shoots, new ones posted each day at noon, Gilt has to bring clothes to life, explains company co-founder Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. Otherwise, she says, the garments literally lie flat.

“This is about the purchase that’s highly emotional,” she says. “We want you to be swept away. We want it to have all the visual cues, show you how to wear it, how you might transform yourself.”

“None of this,” she says, pointing to the vast office and commotion of people, “would happen if it was done on a hanger.”

Sample sales — with garments askew on hangers if not tossed haphazardly in cartons — aren’t uncommon in a place like New York. It’s a way for designers to subtly sell off inventory to a basically pre-selected crowd since they’re mostly advertised by word of mouth in neighborhoods where stylish consumers live or work.

Typical shoppers probably already have an appreciation for the more fashion-forward items that seem to be left over at the end of the season, and they’ll figure out how to make these pieces work in their already eclectic wardrobes.

But Gilt, which invites new members through existing users, opens up this little secret to many more people — more than 1 million shoppers a month — some of whom might not know quite what to do with a magenta Christian Lacroix bell-shaped cocktail frock, for example.

“We have to answer the question, ‘How do I translate Chloe to Pasadena, California, or Marni in Fort Lauderdale (Fla.)?’” explains co-founder Alexis Maybank.

Longtime friends Maybank and Wilson launched Gilt in 2007, building on their combined career experience in e-commerce and fashion. Their gut, they say, told them that there was a broader audience out there for runway clothes, even if the appetite didn’t extend to runway style.

On a recent day, Gilt plucked four runway looks and interpreted them for everyday life:

—Strapless Lacroix cocktail dress with cascade of bows down the front and bubble hem.

No doubt, the hot pink color is intimidating, says womenswear stylist Tammy Eckenswiller, and the silhouette could be too — especially if you only saw it on a hanger.

Seeing it on a body, even a model’s body, helps a shopper picture what it might look in person, she adds. “It’s actually a forgiving dress, and a great color for a party.”

Eckenswiller grabs some peep-toe shoe-booties with towering heels and a black chunky collarlike necklace as accessories. “By rooting it in black, it makes most of us feel more comfortable. It’s a very bare neckline, so it’s fun to put on a statement necklace, and most people already have black shoes.”

The substantial accessories dress down the dress so it doesn’t have to be worn only to a fancy black-tie event, Eckenswiller says. She says she could imagine this look at a gallery opening, a cocktail party, even to dinner — if you tossed over the shoulders a black boyfriend blazer.

—Ann Demeulemeester purple men’s blazer with rows of ruffles down the front.

For mass appeal, this jacket needs to be toned down and paired with something conservative, menswear stylist Seth Howard advises, suggesting a classic white button-down shirt and a gray flannel tie. A plain gray V-neck sweater provides extra contrast to the somewhat flashy piece, he says.

With dark denim jeans and gray lace-up shoes, he says, this is an outfit that goes from day-to-night, something often talked about in a woman’s wardrobe but something men need, too.

—Marbled gray leather jacket by Odyn Vovk.

This men’s jacket has a short, fitted shape, which, says Howard, risks looking feminine. Khaki pants and a ribbed white tank help “beef it up.” With a button-down shirt and dress shoes, this can even be worn to work, he says, and it goes with jeans for weekends.

“This is probably for someone in L.A. or a metro environment, but everyone loves leather. It’s actually a simple jacket, just the cut is a little unusual.”

—Carolina Herrera red-and-black lace overlay sheath dress.

Even though the dress is flat-out wearable, it can be a little “too uptown” for some women, Eckenswiller says. The addition of a black Valentino coat with a laser-cut lace bottom gives it edge without going over the top.

The cluster of black around the bodice has a corsetlike slimming effect, while the contrast of the black and red against white creates enough visual interest that jewelry and makeup can be kept to a minimum, she says.

Again, this dress is paired with a black shoe, the most relatable option. But don’t fall into rut, either, particularly at this level of designer clothes, Eckenswiller says. “These are about aspirational pieces. Don’t be afraid of being bold.”


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