"Clutches are so important,” said celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe from the chaotic center of Fashion Week on Saturday night.
Clad head to toe in clingy black fabrics—the top half of her sequined!—Zoe was debuting her fashion line on the third hour of QVC's “live at fashion week” broadcast. From the "salon tent," next door to the lofted rooms where Diane von Furstenberg and Carolina Herrera showed their spring collections, she was giving home viewers a glam and glitzy “shopping experience."
She was also selling her heart out. Anyone out there who has any sense at all would just snap up one of her new $73 snake-skin numbers right quick! "I think the clutch doesn't get enough attention,” Zoe said gravely.
So she fixed that in short order, selling three-dozen clutches in the next 20 seconds.
By seizing the ultimate symbol of high-end fashion, QVC (the TV purveyor of Joan Rivers' affordable costume jewelry and Quacker Factory bejeweled cotton separates) effectively punctured the steely, sunglassed forcefield of Fashion Week itself. And they did it through sheer money-per-minute, dialing-for-dollars income.
On Saturday night, they walked away with a 76 percent sell-out rate on 42 items, moving more than 70,000 units. Madison Ave. retailers during Fashion’s Night Out could only dream of such numbers. And following that walloping success, QVC did it all again Wednesday night.
But why schlep all the way to Bryant Park? This show could have been staged in a bunker of Des Moines, like a fake moon landing, and the home viewer never would have known. There are two good reasons: "In the end, our customer wants to be taken on a journey—and they want to buy stuff," said Jamie Falkowski, QVC's director of media relations. So they are taking these women, who are at home on a Saturday night buying things off the good old TV, and providing them a glamorous narrative—a night out shopping in New York! From your ratty old couch, no less.
How can she perform these miraculous feats of talking for three hours straight, without even a bottle of water at her side?
And yes, there is a recession: With sales off for the last four straight quarters, QVC needs to suit up and show up to keep those home viewers spending. To that end, they’ve hired Isaac Mizrahi, who's long had a massive licensing empire, even before he began working with Target in 2002; he also embodies the highest of the high end (senior Vogue staffers have been married in his dresses).
So why is he on the QVC, starting this December—just because it's huge? "Huge, huge, huge, huge," Mizrahi told me, outside the show, across from the McCafe at a burgeoning QVC party in the lobby of the tents, at which they were improbably serving Veuve Clicquot. "No, you know what? I honestly feel right about it, because it's a way of actually reaching consumers, like directly reaching consumers. And I have a shop now! You have to go to my shop, on 67th Street, it's a little shop, and that's another way to reach consumers. Right? I think it's really important. You have to be proactive, darling. Proactive!"
And, somewhat downmarket from there, Mizrahi posed for pictures with Giuliana Rancic, she of E! red-carpet interviewing fame. Hmm! No one wanders into the QVC universe by mistake. We grabbed her by her giant, shiny, black Chanel bag (it was not a knockoff, I can promise, because she produced the authenticity card, still inside the purse).
So, Giuliana, are you having a line with QVC? "Where did you hear that?" Rancic said. "How does word travel so fast? Wait, you don't understand, that whole QVC thing just happened tonight!"
They walked away with a 76 percent sell-out rate. Fashion’s Night Out could only dream of such numbers.
("It's not a done deal, we wouldn't confirm a deal with her at this point," said QVC's Falkowski, "but we're going down the line of working on product categories with her.")
Then—brand extension alert!—I had to sign a release for her reality-TV show, because of course this had all been filmed. Good luck designing, Giuliana! "Maybe we'll do like handbags or something!" she said.
At the three-hour show, host Lisa Robertson, clad in a rather evening-y purple gown, brought out designer after designer. There was Cynthia Steffe. "She's been in all the magazines," said Robertson, and they introduced her crochet front jewel neck tunic sweater ($62!), and a lattice scoop neck knit jersey tunic ($43.50!). Oh and an "amazing, amazing cardigan."
And there was Pamela Dennis, who is mildly gothy/bodice-rippery in her QVC designer guise. Robertson praised her couture roots: "She gives the same attention to detail in these clothes," she said. Even the printed double ruffle blouse, at $41.88, which had already sold 1,600 with two full minutes remaining, and was then sold out with 55 seconds left in the slot. (Now I will tell you the secret of her knit sheath dress with leather flower, which is not that it comes in black and a very wine-colored "berry," nor that it comes demurely to the knee, but that the flower, which adorns the right shoulder, is—yes!—removable! It's a pin!)
This marathon was unbelievable. The models, endlessly traipsing the now-dirtied white runway, looked like they wanted to collapse. (Except the plus-size ones, who just looked happy to be there.)
Later came Marc Bouwer—who got his start with Halston!—and Robertson began selling his $56 knit jumpsuits ("semi-fitted"), which were basically sweat-suits for rural Jacqueline Susann enthusiasts, and crossover knit tops with long sleeves for $38.50.
At one point, they sold 500 garments in 40 seconds. And, in the end? "Everything Marc Bouwer brought us is completely sold out," announced Robertson. There was applause!
This seems a good place to mention that QVC's second-quarter 2009 revenue was an astounding $1.7 billion—down 4 percent from last year, but still.
And who were these attendees? Next to me there were two young girls, one clad in head to toe Hermès. What the—? "We're here for Zoe. That's the only reason we're here," said one.
"She's glamour," said the other.
It turned out they were both Rachel Zoe interns.
But isn't Rachel Zoe, like, over, now that she is on QVC? "She's just pumping up the volume now," said the Hermès one, whose parents are rich, she admitted. Where does she herself shop? "Chanel, Hermès, Barneys. QVC for Rachel Zoe!"
Really? She was going to buy this? "The stuff is like really, really good quality," said the second intern.
Shortly after, came the moment, oh the moment. Because hopes were high for Zoe!
"We have very reasonable price points for what's being sold in there," said Jamie Falkowski. "That fur vest is so close to what Rachel's seen in everywhere, and it's $79 and it comes in three different colors. It sold out before Rachel even got on!"
Here are some of the things Rachel Zoe said for the cameras, while the salon tent's audience stared at the ceiling, now nearly three hours into the show.
* "This is a transitional piece." She was referring to her ultrasuede long sleeve wrap ($116.60). Sorry, gonesies! Sold out!
* "It's not cumbersome." She referred, of course, to her Eternity scarf ($31), which is a scarf that never stops! There is no end to this scarf. That is because it is not a scarf, per se, but a circular piece of fabric that you can wrap once, twice, or even thrice (for that bunchy look!) about your neck. And also it is transitional as well because you know how cold you get when there is air conditioning in summer, Zoe helpfully pointed out.
* "I'm very into making dressy looks casual, and casual looks dressy." This goes without saying.
* "You don't have to be famous to have these pieces."
Once the fur vests sold out, that was the end of Zoe and the audience burst into applause, except for her interns, who were too busy texting on their shattered iPhones and flirting with an Ed Westwick lookalike.
The production team was rightfully jubilant. A producer came and pressed an Altoid into Lisa Robertson's hands. How can she perform these miraculous feats of talking for three hours straight, without even a bottle of water at her side, I asked.
"Drugs help," Robertson said.
Well, call your dealer, you amazing creature, because you've got to do it again tonight.