The Washington Post

Forget Tupperware parties. Local trunk shows offer exclusive access.

Forget the mall. Your next clothing purchase could take place in a local hotel, hair salon or art gallery.

Washington area businesses such as the Four Seasons and the Northern Virginia Art Center have played host to designer trunk shows in recent months, as businesses look for new and unconventional ways to bring in money.

For clothing and accessories companies, the short-lived events provide an easy way to rack up sales without investing in store fronts or pop-up locations.

“There’s no question that there’s been an increase in trunk shows,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a New York-based research firm. “As companies cut back on advertising budgets, they’re using some of that money for localized events — and trunk shows are a very important part of that.”

High-end brands such as Oscar de la Renta and Bottega Veneta have long held trunk shows to give their most loyal clients access to new collections, Pedraza said. But as rents rise and economic uncertainty looms, more and more companies are incorporating the swanky events — often complete with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres — early on in their business models.

Laurel Kamen, who founded a line of clothing for breast cancer survivors, hosted her first trunk show in Washington last week. Next month, she plans to head to New York with about 600 items in tow.

“Until we really understand what women want, going directly to women is really the best model for us,” Kamen said. “It helps us learn how to keep track of inventory and grow at a pace we can manage.”

Tabula Rasa, an office space in Capitol Hill, has hosted more than a dozen trunk shows and pop-up sales in the past year, according to co-founder Amanda Clarke.

“It’s a model that really works,” she said, adding that the space is also home to her husband’s consulting company. “We don’t have a lot of retailers here on Barrack’s Row — rent is just so expensive — so this has been a great way to offer some variety.”

It’s also a way to bring in additional revenue. Some retailers pay a daily fee of about $1,000 for the space, while others share a percentage of their sales, Clarke said.

Other businesses, such as Karma by Erwin Gomez, a beauty salon in the West End, say trunk shows help draw high-end clients to their business.

“For us, it’s a way to really cross-promote to our guests and the designer’s guests,” partner Sad Shad said. “It’s about exposure and being able to attract the right kind of cliente.”

Even so, there can be challenges, Pedraza said.

“When you travel city-to-city, you have to drum up awareness each time,” Pedraza said. “It’s more for a brand that wants to be a little more bespoke. By definition, it’s very exclusive — and it’s self-selective too. Clients have to ask themselves, ‘Am I going to take the time to go to you on your schedule?’ They’ve really got to love you.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local retail, hospitality and banking for The Washington Post. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.



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