Retail Species – The Personal Shopper

The Person: Andrea Talha

The Company: Style Liberation
The Job Title:  Personal Shopper (and founder of Style Liberation)

The Story: Fashion is in the family and Andi Talha has been doing this ever since she can remember. Family members got her to buy their clothes when she was a teen. Boyfriends were always comprehensively styled. And the legend that is Mrs Burstein at Browns of South Molton Street took her on and very quickly put her on the buying team, realising that Talha had ‘the eye’.

The eye?Yes, the eye to look through piles and piles, and floor after floor of stuff and to pick out the one T-shirt that is any good. Mrs B ‘the most amazing woman in fashion’ started her on the shop floor which Talha reckons is the best training ground for anyone aspiring to join this growth industry – all different sizes and shapes come through the door and you have to make them all look stunning.

OK, imagine I have no style – now what?Well, that didn’t take long. The first thing you do is decide whether you want a two-part session (wardrobe clear out and shopping spree) or just the shopping part. If your moan is that you have ‘so many clothes and nothing to wear’ then you probably need bin bags for the charity shop and Talha rummaging in your wardrobe filling them. If your complaint is that you have no clothes full stop then it’s the shops for you and she will buy you a ‘capsule’ wardrobe with essentials, accessories if needed, shoes etc. You fill in a client information form first – allowing her to do some research on you – and then it’s all systems go.

Sorted. And how much lucre might I be parting with? You will pay precisely £400 for any one session with a discount of £100 if you do both. And then obviously you need the money for the clothes you will be purchasing. You wouldn’t be able to do it on much less than £500 and Talha reckons the average spend is £1,500 – £2,000.

Yes, I thought as much. Another club for the super rich: But it’s not though. Dispel this myth. She has the full range from people on paramedics wages, to people who have saved up for ages, to non working mums, and yes, City gents who  give their long suffering PA a shopper session for Christmas with £1,000 to spend. Oh, and teenagers.

Stop. Rewind. Who?Talha is seeing a strong growth in the teen market. Her youngest client to date has been a 13-year old and the group as a whole makes up 5% of her market and is quickly increasing. Although she admits that the image driven world we inhabit is ‘scary’ she does believe that giving a teenager a sense of their own style when young  allows them to disregard what the media is telling them later. Actually Talha confides that very often mums are totally right with their ideas for their children but coming from a personal shopper makes it acceptable. Shush, don’t tell the kids.

I can’t see many men doing this? Again, this just shows what a sad and lonely world you live in. 25% of customers are men and for them it’s just about the clothes. Forget wardrobe clear outs and a list of what they ought to replace it with. They need to see it physically on.  She gets a lot of clients from broken marriages dating again, workers with no time (as Talha says ‘Shopping is endurance and I am a time saver’) and some wives just send their hubby in for a refit. Sometimes men buy Style Liberation vouchers for their wives that can come as a bit of a shock to the lady in question but Talha is well used to the counselling side of the job.

Yes, I was wondering about the qualities needed: Well, the eye we know. Plus stamina – because this job involves being on your feet all day going up and down Oxford Street, or wherever the client is, and patience is another requisite. As is a good ear – she isn’t in the business of telling them ‘you will wear this and like it’. And finally you have to be very passionate about what you are doing for your client.

Nitty gritty time. What sort of shops does she shop for her clients in? Talha does a total mix. She will buy from Primark and Alexander McQueen although admittedly probably not for the same client. There is nowhere she won’t go if there is a shop there, but she almost always uses department stores because lots of different labels are gathered together. She loves and will use independents for individual items but she has a limited amount of time – most sessions will last from 4-5 hours  and in that time the entire capsule wardrobe needs to be purchased but she’ll keep ‘em there till closing time to get the thing done right.

Personal shoppers’ personal favourite.
Blimey. Endurance is the right word. Where’s best on Oxford Street? Personally speaking she loves Selfridges for the helpfulness of the staff and the witty individual style of the place. But she actually uses John Lewis and House of Fraser because although they are run less smoothly Selfridges has been getting rid of some of her key labels – Oasis, French Connection, Nigel Hall menswear – and putting in more Top Shop and H&M (even though there are already three H&M stores on Oxford Street and one right next door). She thinks this is to accommodate the Russian and Chinese customers but it doesn’t help her. And get this – Selfridges has a policy of only giving out their ‘nice bags’ to shoppers on the higher floors. Her clients spending £2,000 on the ground floor get offered a measly plastic thing. (She gets the girls to run up to the next floor to get the proper bags.)

What a bunch of meanies. Does she get commission? Nope and clients always ask. A lot of personal shoppers do take commission from certain shops and all the shops want personal shoppers to use their special suites because they want some involvement but Talha ignores the comfy sofas and all the coffee you can drink because she would rather work totally independently. She will often advise her clients to open a store card on the day they make the big purchase or wait until the 20% off day.

So austerity has kicked in a bit? Talha has only noticed this season that more affluent clients make the odd comment. But in general she thinks London retail is in a bubble and always will. It’s when she goes to places like Manchester that she notices good shops in good spots closing.

OK, I have one more question. Do you know what it is? Yes, because you are so predictable. The most money ever spent on a shopping session is £29,000. The client was only on a stopover on his way to New York. He was in oil. He got waylaid by some accessories.

We’ve all been there.