Like so many, I dream about the day when I’ll have piles of money to spend on clothes, “buying out Vivienne Westwood in my Galliano gown” just like the rich girl in Gwen Stefani’s song. But then what would I do with all my clothes and shoes? I have a hard enough time keeping up with what I’ve got right now, and I’m not the only one – there are people who rent whole apartments just for the couture and vintage clothing that they collect.
But now there is another solution: Garde Robe, a high-end storage and valet service for everyone who has enough money to buy couture, but not the storage space to keep it in. The Vice-President of Garde Robe Online, Douglas Greenberg gave us a phone interview from California, where’s he’s setting up the West Coast version of New York’s most closely kept fashion secret.
tFS: How did you get the idea to start Garde Robe?
DG: Well, our founder worked for CBS, and was a flamenco dancer on the side. She had an extensive and elaborate wardrobe, but not a lot of closet space. She used to store her things at her local dry cleaner’s seasonally, as a lot of New Yorkers do. One winter, she had all of her summer things put away and then her boyfriend surprised her with a trip to Jamaica. She called the drycleaner and told them she needed her summer clothes, but they basically explained that they were in a basement somewhere and she couldn’t have access to them. She had to go to the Gap at the last minute to buy all new things to go away the next day.
When she came back, she went to the facility and saw where the clothes were actually kept. It was all in cardboard boxes – which was simply unacceptable. She thought ‘This is New York – there should be a better way’. So she came up with the idea of a white glove service, a convenient and elegant service for people who have beautiful wardrobes that they spend a lot of money on, things they want to protect and keep it organized, while maintaining access to them. To have things cared for properly, not just shoved in a cardboard box.
tFS: So not only do you store, but you also catalog collections for members?
DG: When people put things in storage, they forget what they have and buy duplicates. In addition to putting things in storage, there’s a Cyber Closet component to it. They can see everything and avoid buying duplicates. You can easily select the things that you want rather than having the storage people bring everything to you, or having to go there yourself. With the Cyber Closet, clients can see everything and not have to go to the storage facility at all.
tFS: You also offer at-home tailoring, spot and stain removal, styling, personal shopping and consignment?
DG: The whole point is that we want to be more than just a storage company. Storage is obviously a big component of what we do, but what we really strive to be is like a concierge, or the true essence of a valet. We try to be a personal assistant for your wardrobe. If our members give things to us, and then a year later they’re still sitting there, and they tell us they’ve lost weight, or ‘ that’s so last season’, then we’re happy to be their consignment service or their charitable donation service. Whatever they need to do with their wardrobe we’ll do, no matter what it is. If they choose to give to a charity, we’ll do that and prepare the tax forms for the client. Garde Robe works with such charities as Bottomless Closet, Housing Works, Dress for Success, and Goodwill.
tFS: How did you get designers to join Garde Robe? How did you get them to trust you with their clothing?
DG: We have business relationships with Oscar De La Renta and Carolina Herrera. We’re storing the company’s archives that date back sometimes 30 to 40 years. Essentially, we have pieces that made it on the runway, and inspirational pieces that they’re looking to protect and preserve long term. In these cases, these companies gave us a testimonial and gave us permission post it on our website. In the case of Herrera and De La Renta, those are business-to-business relationships.
The reason that the designers need us is that over the years their archive grows, and it becomes a task to manage it all. We provide a very simple turn-key solution for them to keep the garments off-site in a climate controlled, museum quality environment. So their garments are protected long-term, and they don’t have to worry. The Cyber Closet provides them with visual access, so our professional photography service is very important to them.
tFS: How did you connect with them?
DG: The designers, they have a real need. They don’t have the space in their showrooms or their ateliers or offices. It’s not a cost effective solution to build a climate controlled cedar lined vault – that’s very expensive. So the designers outsource the management of their archives to us, and they know that are paying a far lower rate than they would if the had to do it themselves. People find us through the grapevine, word-of-mouth. We are the only company like this in the world. With fashion companies, and the designers, this is their life’s work, so preservation is critical. A big percentage of what we have is going to end up in a museum in 10 or 20 years. The inspirations that they built on are going to inspire the next generation of fashion.
tFS: Do you have a lot of celebrity clients?
DG: We never talk about who our clients are. We have a lot of celebrity clients – actors, rock stars, models – really big, boldface names. People find us through word-of-mouth primarily. In general, Garde Robe is fairly well known amongst fashion insiders and collectors. We’re not a mainstream, household name because not everyone has a need for our service. We are a niche, luxury service catering to a very high-end clientele.
tFS: How did your service end up expanding to Tokyo?
DG: That’s interesting. We were actually approached by two publicly traded companies in Tokyo. They had read about us in various media outlets. With one of the companies, the president actually heard about us through his daughter. She thought it was a terrific idea for Tokyo. Tokyo has a lot of similarities to New York in that people are very fashionable, they spend a lot of money on clothes, apartments are very small, and storage is limited. So through the grapevine, of the media they approached us. It was a good fit.
tFS: And now you’re taking Garde Robe out West?
DG: Garde Robe is a brand that’s expanding. We’re looking at the West Coast, Spain, and London. It’s now our 10th year in business (we were founded in 2001) and we found that Garde Robe is a business model that has potential beyond just New York, and we are now sort of a global brand. We want to be anywhere where there is a concentration of individuals who are fashion forward, who spend the amount of money that it takes to accumulate a beautiful and impeccable wardrobe.
tFS: Wow. No wonder you have a luggage free travel service – your members are everywhere!
DG: A lot of our clients have homes in West Palm Beach, and a lot of nice, warm weather places around the world. So what happens is, rather than pack away their summer clothes in New York, we steam and press everything and ship it to them on vacation so that they can travel without luggage. It’s eliminating having to pack and wait in baggage claim, or dealing with lost luggage and other hassles. It’s become a very popular service. We now work with travelers all over the world. We have people who live in Europe, and travel to the States a lot. We have people who travel all over the world, and have us send things to them wherever they’re going. We also have people who have multiple homes who keep their things with us, and we ship items ahead for them. Rather than schlepping all the stuff themselves, they let us do all the work.
tFS: What are some of your long term goals, besides expansion, for Garde Robe?
DG: We’d love to work with more fashion stylists, particularly in New York, L.A,. and London, where we’re going to have a presence. Since we have the Cyber Closet look book, they can style their clients remotely and put notes in, like when the client wore something. We are always looking to connect with the best stylists. Our main goal is providing a high level of service for our members, the pinnacle of service. If your focus is only on growth and profit, you overlook service.
You can find out more at Garde Robe.