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Confessions of a Luxury Salesman: How To Unload a $45K Jacket

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.


Stuff you can't afford: Tom Ford SS13 RTW.

Dear People Who Will Never Own a $75,000 Coat,

There's a whole world out there that you and I will never really be privy too. And in honor of Racked's first Whale Week—a tribute to all things stupid, crazy expensive—why not gossip about it?

This world I'm referring to is one populated by very wealthy, very fashionable women, the $6,000 jeans they wear to lunch, and the men and women who delivery them their fashion fix. Specifically, the showroom staffers who hook up retail buyers with exotic skins and outrageous embroideries. Showroom staffers are the salespeople who sell to the salespeople. They display garments from the types of labels that are just a baby step south of haute couture (and sometimes just as expensive), and sell them to places like Barneys and Neiman Marcus, who sell them to you. Or, you know, not you—but someone.

This is how the most expensive of the expensive ready-to-wear collections make it into boutiques and department stores. Think Valentino, Tom Ford, Rodarte, Balmain, Fendi, Marchesa, Alexander McQueen—that level. Specifically, they deliver very special items—the evening wear and outerwear and statement accessories. The straight-from-the-runway pieces that punctuate a collection and feature special treatments and over-the-top embellishments on top of rare fibers and exquisite hardware.

Stuff you can't afford: Balmain SS13 RTW

A friend of mine represents a handful of such brands and admits that he and his team have become completely desensitized to the outrageous prices and the equally outrageous customers. Each market week, he finds himself up-selling to store buyers with asides like: "That's a great jacket for the price—it's only $6,900!" Often his colleagues and clients wholeheartedly agree—clucking approvingly at a black blazer that retails for more than I paid for my first three cars combined.

But there are times when clients don't cluck approvingly—he admits a handful of buyers have actually laughed out loud upon hearing prices. And maybe those ornery retail reps just haven't gotten to the Kool-Aid (which, at least in a high end fashion showroom, is not Kool-Aid but actually gratis designer sushi and imported Beaujolais) yet—but they ask, "Why?" Why should this cost so damn much?

His response is often literally, "Why not?"

If the buyer has a sense of humor and is asking after something that is heavily embellished or embroidered, he jokes that garments are "priced by the pound." He says there is also a lot of "jacket or a car, your choice" snarking, to make light of the situation.

He tells of a $75,000 jacket he sold that customs wouldn't allow into the country—it was fashioned from some endangered creature. I asked if that meant no-one got the coat: "In the US, no—in Europe and China? Oh shit!" Apparently is sold like hot cakes.

Another piece that has become legend around the office—a metal jacket that retailed for $45,000 "and easily weighed 45 pounds."

He says only about eight stores in the country buy those highest-end items—the most notable being Neiman Marcus. Most will only buy one such garment and often have a specific shopper in mind—a regular customer with a lot of cash and a collector's eye. If it isn't one star shopper, the store will have a few prime suspects—all of average size and very much above-average wealth.

Stuff you can't afford: Gucci SS13 RTW.

There is risk involved—which explains why a shop won't stock a full size range of $18,000 dresses. Though, of course, it "depends on how hot the collection is and how strong the selling staff is—but 70% [of the highest-end items] will sell at full price." Then stores go into VIP discount mode; offering private and sometimes early discounts to their best regulars.

Otherwise, my friend says lot of boutiques send the pictures (and prices) of the most special, expensive pieces to their customers and ask them if they want in—pretty much pre-selling the item and avoiding all risk. Bigger stores do the same thing by communicating details to their best sales associates, who then pre-sell to their best clients.

Of course, there are those customers who really, really know what they want. Those women note specific runway looks to their contact at their store; requesting pricing and availability. If those looks are available at a price they agree to then the store buys from the showroom and the rich lady buys from the store. One woman in the deep south buys "the craziest things" through a store in Dallas—"head to toe looks"—often $65,000 or more per delivery.

That's how I shop, too.


· All Whale Week coverage [Racked]
· Love, Frank [Racked]