‘She had $150,000 of shopping’
IN THE recent thriller Personal Shopper, clairvoyant Kristen Stewart spends her days buying expensive clothing for her boss at the most exclusive stores in Paris, while communicating with a mysterious individual by text message.
The reality of this extravagant world is just as intriguing.
Sydney-based Alarna Hope recalls going to a new client's home to sort out her wardrobe. "I cleaned out $150,000-worth of stuff still with the tags on it," she tells news.com.au while sitting down for a coffee in the city's Strand Arcade. "When I got through the pile she said, 'I could have put down a deposit on a unit with this money.'"
The high-flying businesswoman would travel the world buying designer pieces because she thought they would look good on her shelf. "She loves going-out clothes, but she doesn't go out," says Alarna. "She works 90 hours a week. I say, 'Why have you bought another evening dress?' She doesn't have the lifestyle for that stuff."
In almost childlike fashion, her client will send through photos of a designer bag she is about to buy when she already owns that exact bag. "She doesn't live with anyone and I think she goes, 'I'm just going to do some online shopping' ... She feels prestige in spending."
'I COULD HAVE BOUGHT A CAR WITH THAT'
While it may seem that her job is to help people spend, Alarna says at times she feels like a "door b*tch" for the shopping addicted. She's seen someone spend $15,000 on a pair of antique earrings, and another blow $36,000 on one item. "That put things in perspective for me," says the 26-year-old from Kiama. "I could have bought a car with that."
Others hate shopping, because they don't plan what they want to buy, or can't find things that fit. Alarna has watched a woman pick up two pairs of Spanx to help her force herself into a dress two sizes too small. Another refused to buy a perfectly fitting jumpsuit because it wasn't a size 8. A third wanted to buy an unlined green velvet sheath dress held up with a piece of elastic because it was Yves Saint Laurent.
"The speed in which people buy clothing has gone up 60 per cent," she says. "The impulsive mode is not always good."
Some know exactly what they want. One male corporate client meets Alarna every three months to buy just a few, carefully curated pieces. "He's very particular," she says. "He'll try them on with everything in his wardrobe at home and if they're not 110 per cent, he'll return them."
Is that annoying? "At first it was, a bit," she admits. "He's the type of person who will buy the most expensive thing in a restaurant rather than get something he's half-hearted about. That's just how he is in the rest of his life."
'I PUT MYSELF IN HOSPITAL THE OTHER WEEK'
It's not just the young woman's rich employers who work long hours. The self-employed fashion guru gets up at 6am, sees two or three clients if stores are open late, then goes home to work on her laptop until around 11.30pm.
She visits stores before taking clients there so she knows what is available to show them. Personal shoppers typically have deals with certain stores to get clients discounts, meaning they can earn back her $150+ fee after just a few purchases.
But the former fashion and business student, who has had to help a client sew on a button, says some people don't appreciate the study and work that goes into making yourself an expert.
She sometimes works 24 days in a row and then has one day off - and it's taken its toll.
"I put myself in hospital the other week," she says. "I had some of my ovaries erupt. I said, 'Can you bring my burgundy floral wrap dress in case someone visits?' I had to cancel four sessions, which isn't ideal at this time of year."
Style Doctor Kash O'Hara was a fashion designer and celebrity stylist, but found the pressure of making money from each collection was extreme. Now, she holds personal shopping sessions for people who want to revamp their wardrobe, have lost weight or need clothes for a new season or a promotion at work.
Kash holds one-hour "power shops" for busy city workers and dresses people for Spring Carnival, but her richest clients come from interstate or China. "I had a client from Townsville - there's not much there in the way of shopping," she says, ahead of a session at Westfield. "I'm pretty sure she came just to shop."
The client took her straight to Christian Louboutin, spending $5000 just on shoes.
'I DON'T KNOW HOW TO SHOP'
"I get quite a few from Melbourne, South Australia ... a daughter came to shop with her mother and sister. Some are on work trips with their husbands and have got some time. Others are here themselves for work."
She says the hardest is shopping for bridesmaids, imitating the eye rolls and hunched trudge out of changing rooms. "Everyone has an opinion - 'I don't want strapless,' the brides say, 'I want this.' We get there in the end."
Kash says demand for a professional stylist is growing. Today, she's helping find Christmas gifts for 23-year-old photographer Carolin Margi, who says several friends her age have hired personal shoppers. "I'm hopeless," Carolin tells news.com.au. "It's just good to have a shopping buddy.
"I have a big impulse thing, I just buy and regret it.
"I don't know how to shop. I get really anxious. I'm always asking, 'What do you think?' I need a second opinion."
Kash organises annual weekend shopping trips to Hong Kong if she gets a group of five clients, costing $3595 including flights, accommodation and several meals. But she says it's not all about consumerism. She's focused on encouraging people to buy quality pieces that will last for years.
"There's a lot of fast fashion," she says. "I believe in quality over quantity. We wear 10 per cent of our wardrobe 90 per cent of the time.
"If you know your style, shape and colours, it saves you time in the long run."
Kash says she loves shopping and enjoys buying things for others that she "can't personally afford". She believes a session with her gives people "confidence" not to swayed by shop assistants telling them they look great. "I'm very honest," she adds.
Alarna says the volume and tempo of the music around shopping precincts creates a frantic sense of urgency that plays right into retailers' hands.
These days, we also have to watch out for the tricks of the internet, on which advertisers use geolocation to send us adverts for items we've looked at from stores nearby; and ensure they appear on all our social media channels.
"It's a bit of a cutthroat industry," says Alarna. "Fashion moves so fast, you have to have your wits about you."