Attention to Retail

ATTENTION TO RETAIL

La Perla

Madison Avenue, New York City

La Perla

Valentine’s Day is coming and a lacy little something-or-other is always a great gift idea. All February long at Attention to Retail we’ll be wandering around intimates stores.

I was nervous entering La Perla’s uptown store, situated deep within Madison Avenue’s famed shopping row. Part of my worry stemmed from my new duty as a fashion flâneur: how do I take photos of underwear? The other part: what am I looking for? I had a not-untrue story—that I was shopping for a gift for my girlfriend—but even so, I wasn’t quite sure what I was shopping for.

An associate greeted me as I entered the bright, open space (and dropped my snowy umbrella at the door). I told her I was looking for a Valentine’s Day gift. She told me that lots of guys come in around this time of year with the exact same idea and that I had nothing to worry about. As I walked up and down the racks—tastefully spare, but intriguingly and variously well-stocked—she offered helpful advice, correctly gauging my cluelessness. A bra and panty set is a good choice, she said, but for Valentine’s Day she suggests something a litle more special. And something in red.

The space was far more sober than I am used to from an underwear retailer. Victoria’s Secret, the biggest player in this space (though likely not one La Perla considers a competitor), is aggressive in comparison. Here, the idea of what “sexy” means is more whispered than shouted, and that is reflected in everything from the mannequins to the campaign photography. My associate offered me a copy of their latest catalog, presented on almost every flat surface, so I may have a better idea of how their wares work on a body. The photos were artful, interesting regardless of context; often they hardly tried to sell the garments advertised at all. A $500 nightgown is presumably more of an aspirational purchase.

Soon I was reviewing a number of looks and options as my associate filled a counter with garments pulled from hidden drawers beneath, behind, and beside the floating racks. We narrowed down to a couple ideas when she asked me a question I hadn’t even thought to dread: "What’s her size?" Luckily she was a pro and navigated me swiftly through what would have been, left to my own devices, a disaster.

I seemed to have caught them in the midst of a change in inventory—many of the looks in their catalog were not yet available, and opened boxes filled a back counter (at least they were pretty). Still, the options available were plenty; and not just lingerie, but sleepwear, bathing suits, and even a small set of shelves touting a men’s line of briefs and undershirts. I took my new friend’s card, lots of conclusions written out on its back side, with the suggestions that I may return. But there are still a few more stores to see first!

Have gift ideas for Valentine’s Day? Let me know via email or on Twitter and I’ll see you next week!