A Peek Inside the Closets of Shoppers Who Pay Full Price for Designers’ Latest Runway Looks
After Ana Pettus, a 42-year-old mother who lives in Dallas, watched a gold minidress with a plunging, fringed V-neck go down the runway at the Balmain show in Paris last year, she knew she had to have it.
She bought the piece—she wears it as a tunic instead of a dress—along with three others from the fall 2010 collection at the Paris boutique of the luxury French fashion house. Price tag: €55,150, or about $74,000.
The Balmain pieces now hang in one of Ms. Pettus’s four closets, joining styles from Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as a $50,000 voluminous black-and-white gown with a giant picture of Marilyn Monroe on the skirt by Dolce & Gabbana. “I buy what I love,” says Ms. Pettus, who is married to the owner of a construction business. “They are beautiful pieces. They’re not mass-produced. You pay for that.”
Fashion weeks in New York, Paris and Milan generate a tremendous amount of press and buzz for some of the world’s most expensive clothes. But many of the runway styles are actually purchased by a small group of customers, not all of them from the isle of Manhattan. And unlike celebrities and socialites, who often get designer clothes at no charge in exchange for publicity, these customers pay full price.
"I’m almost immune to the whole catwalk look," says Cindy Rachofsky, a 54-year-old Dallas philanthropist and fan of the designers Derek Lam and Kaufman Franco. When she sees a model on the runway, "I’m not even looking at her size. I’m looking at the cut and the shape of the garment."
She and her husband, Howard, a former hedge fund manager, are fine-art enthusiasts, and Ms. Rachofsky looks at her wardrobe, especially her vintage pieces, as a collection she is curating. “I hope someday someone will find it important and significant,” she says.
In recent months, Ms. Rachofsky has focused on pieces from Alexander McQueen, the British designer who died last year. She purchased a $12,000 gown from his final collection for a charity event and loved it so much that she went back for more. In the past six months, she has purchased 14 pieces, including three from the label’s new creative director, Sarah Burton.
Shopping at home, rather than in the store, is important, Ms. Rachofsky says. A Dallas boutique named 4510 sends clothing to her house overnight.
"When you’re in a store and you’ve got someone staring at you in your underwear in a fitting room, it’s hard to imagine what you have at home that’s going to go with this $3,500 jacket," Ms. Rachofsky says.
At home, she and her husband discuss the styles over a glass of wine. “I can look at what I have, and I can look at my shoes, and I can say to myself, ‘Ok, if I am really going to spend this amount of money, is this additive to what I have?’ ” she says.
Although she keeps most of her runway styles, she says she does go through her closet for a once-a-season purge, sending unwanted garments to consignment shops including Clotheshorse Anonymous, in Dallas.
"It’s hard, it’s like giving up a child sometimes," Ms. Rachofsky says. "But if you don’t feel great in it one season, you’re not going to feel great in it next season."
Another wardrobe-building tip: Develop close relationships with sales people. Yolanda Berkowitz, a 51-year-old in Miami, is partial to Irene Pariserband, a Neiman Marcus associate who helps her find styles she might not have chosen for herself.
Last fall, after Neiman sent Ms. Berkowitz a $3,500 gold, silver and black Victoria Beckham cocktail dress, she called the store to express uncertainty about it. Ms. Pariserband urged her to try it on.
"Of course it was fabulous," Ms. Berkowitz said. She bought it, thankful that it wasn’t like something she already owned. "I don’t need a random little black dress because I’ve got a lot of them," Ms. Berkowitz said.
Like many women who buy runway styles, Ms. Berkowitz wears much of what she buys to charity galas. She gets multiple wearings out of her gowns, including a red Zac Posen one-shoulder gown and a silvery Marc Jacobs dress with a dark-brown sash. She carefully keeps track of which she has worn where and rotates them from season to season.
Christine Chiu wears most items only once. The 28-year-old, who is married to the founder of Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery, goes to events every night of the week—often making multiple wardrobe changes in a single night.
"If you’re going to a gala for some kind of disease and then you go to a hip art event, you can’t wear the same thing," Ms. Chiu says.
She usually attends New York Fashion Week but skipped this season to attend the Grammys. She isn’t worried about missing something good.
"Everyone has their antennas up for me," she says of the personal shoppers she works with. "If they see something cute, they’ll send me a pic." Chanel, Carolina Herrera and Valentino are among her favorite labels, which she buys at Neiman Marcus, Saks and the designers’ own boutiques.
After she has worn a gown once, Ms. Chiu says she stores it at her California home. “Sometimes I’ll donate them to charities, but I would rather buy them new clothes than give them my old clothes,” Ms. Chiu said.
Some women find ways to wear runway pieces in their everyday wardrobes. Bree Laughrun, a 26-year-old Charlotte, N.C., criminal-defense attorney focused on domestic violence, often wears Balmain to court.
She plans a week’s worth of outfits every Sunday. Required to wear a suit every day, Ms. Laughrun says, “I try to get as close to a suit, without wearing a suit, as humanly possible.” One of her usual work-arounds is a black Azzedine Alaïa dress with a Balmain big-shoulder jacket and some “simple” Yves Saint Laurent leopard heels.
Her style is often among the first topics of conversation when she meets with a new clients or witness. “The more outlandish I dress, it helps cut the ice,” Ms. Laughrun says. “We can connect over something I’m wearing. I don’t immediately have to start in on, ‘Well, it says you’re alleging this here, or you’re saying he hit you here.’ “
Some of Ms. Laughrun’s earliest memories are of shopping at the St. John boutique with her mother and grandmother. Now, the three go to Capitol, a Charlotte designer boutique, to shop.
Her parents still help finance her clothing purchases, but now, a year out of law school, she is taking on more financial responsibility.
"Each season, between going through magazines or shows," she says, "I formulate in my mind a list of must-haves."
(Editor’s note: “If you’re going to a gala for some kind of disease and then you go to a hip art event, you can’t wear the same thing,” Ms. Chiu says.)