Neapolitan Background

2011 March 24

The Retailer Files, Vol. 2: Kelly Golden, neapolitan

neapolitan boutique

(NEW YORK) We're back with the second volume of The Retailer Files--the series that gives you an inside track on your favorite shopping meccas. This week: Kelly Golden--the peppy owner of the Chicago outpost, neapolitan. While Ikram holds court for downtown chicsters, Golden's boutique has become a pantheon for North Shore natives in search of luxe outside the city limits. MARIA DENARDO

Why did you decide to open neapolitan?
I used to travel quite a bit for work. I would go to different cities, shop, find the latest boutiques. I recognized there were so many options and so many different lines that I couldn't find in Chicago. I'd go to San Francisco or New York and they would have a totally different collection--different prints, different colors. I thought, 'We're only seeing such a small grouping and it's all kind of the same in Chicago.' I also noticed there was poor customer service here. I would talk to people who felt the same way when they went in to buy a dress somewhere and nobody would help them. I have no retail or fashion background but it was really nagging at me for a couple years so when the time was right, I opened up the store.

Why did you pick Elm Street?
I went to school and grew up in the area, in the North Shore of Chicago. The cycle is usually that you graduate from college, you live in the city and work for a while, and if you get married and have kids, people tend to move out of the city. You're kind of stuck out here. There were a lot of young, fashionable women living on the North Shore without a place to shop. It's such a great location because it's such an underdeveloped market. People can shop in their own backyards.

What was the initial reaction from consumers when you opened?
We were on the map immediately. We definitely made a splash in the North Shore. We were carrying pretty high-end lines from the get-go like Chloe, Lanvin, and others. Customers were really shocked they could actually find these brands in Winnetka.

How has the economic climate affected your boutique?
We were really fortunate. We were slightly affected but it wasn't anything resounding. Since we're in the luxury goods market, we were somewhat sheltered from the reality of what happened. Things have definitely improved since then though. It wasn't like what happened in New York or the West Coast. The Midwest was more shielded.

How often are you in the store?
I'm usually here five days a week.

How do you learn about new designers?
I read any magazine and trade journal I can get my hands on--a lot of them come from European magazines because we're trying to find something that not everyone has. Word of mouth, talking to other boutique owners, going to market appointments, and fashion shows. I think there is a lot of talented designers out there but they need to have the financial component, otherwise they're not going to make it.

What row do you sit in at Fashion Week?
Anywhere from the first to the fourth or fifth. It depends on how many tickets and if I'm going by myself or bringing a client. If I'm bringing four clients and we all want to sit together, we'll sit higher up. It also depends on what show it is. I'm not one of those retailers who has to be in the front row.

Who's the neapolitan woman?
She's anywhere from 20 to 70. She is very fashionable, intelligent, classic, and chic. Some of my clients are working women who sit on boards at major companies, some of them are very involved in the charity circuit. They're well-traveled and they know what the latest and greatest fashions are so we have to stay on top of it.

What's trending in your boutique at the moment?
Color. Anything with color, especially in our climate. We just hit the 60s the other day and people are excited to shed their wool sweaters and coats and go for color-blocking, higher-waisted wide leg pants. We've been selling a lot of denim dresses and denim trousers.

What's your top seller right now?
We've been selling a ton of Kimberly McDonald jewelry. She does a lot with agates, geodes, and really rare stones. We've been selling a ton of Christian Dior handbags too. It's an exclusive product because they're sold in only one other place in Chicago. We also carry the line Loewe and their handbags are doing well this season.

How much is your customer willing to spend on a handbag?
We carry Bottega and we had one of their handbags that was over $4,000. We sold all three of them within the first two weeks. Handbags continue to be a big business for us. If people are going to invest in something, they want their money's worth. There's been a shift. Instead of spending $8,000 on an evening gown, they buy a great handbag or jacket--pieces that they can wear more often instead of just one or two nights.  

You host a number of trunk shows. What's the benefit of a trunk show for a boutique?
If a designer can come in, like Wes Gordon or Derek Lam, the clients always want to meet the man or the woman behind the collection and hear about their inspiration. They love to see how designers mix-and-match pieces and meet their idols. They're mini movie stars for a day. Designers have a lot more credibility to a customer than a salesperson. It brings more recognition to a brand. If someone doesn't know Wes Gordon but comes into the store and meets him and sees how charming he is and how wonderful the collection is, they'll buy a couple pieces and be hooked. They'll come back every season to look at his pieces.

So you're aware of a designer's personality when choosing?
Definitely. Some designers are better than others and sometimes their assistants are just as good or better than having the designers there.

Who pays for the trunk shows?
Typically it's a shared cost between the designer and the boutique. It depends on the designer and the event.

Do you wine and dine your designers?
When they come in, yes. I'm actually hosting a dinner for Wes at my home tonight and when Derek comes in, we're doing a dinner in a private room of Sundra downtown.

What's a cardinal virtue of a boutique owner?
Someone who knows their clients. When I go to the showrooms, I'm not buying four black dresses. I'm buying this dress for this customer, this dress for that customer, this top in this color. I'm personal shopping for all my clients. That's what sets a boutique like mine apart from Saks or Neiman Marcus, where they have a buyer for an entire country or region.

We hear you have an espresso bar in your men's store. Do you have one in the women's boutique as well?
Any adult who wants espresso or coffee or beer or champagne can have it but it was just something we thought the men would get a kick out of. They've only asked for beer though. No espresso. Just Heineken.

What do you consider to be the greatest success of neapolitan so far?
Neapolitan has expanded three times since we've opened. We wouldn't be here if we didn't have wonderful clients. The clients are very loyal to us. The continual growth and success has been a nice process that's allowed us to remain exclusive and pick what lines we'd like to have. Wes just told me this is the most beautiful boutique he's been in! It was really nice to hear.