By Molly Creeden | March 10, 2014 | People
Ambre Dahan presides over the relaxed, yet glamorous Beverly Hills atelier of her booming luxury consignment site Walk in My Closet.
It’s easy to understand how a luxury consignment site started with Ambre Dahan’s closet. Tall, lithe, and with a simple, fresh, Parisian style that has a hint of rock ’n’ roll, the 34-year-old French founder and CEO of Walk in My Closet has an eye for an outfit and a wardrobe to keep clicking after. Having spent nine years in design director roles at Joe’s Jeans (husband is founder Joe Dahan), Dahan came up with the idea of Walk in My Closet—partly because hers needed an edit but also because she wanted to share her collection with friends around the globe.
The site acts as a concierge, both facilitating direct sales between buyers and sellers, and also receiving items at one of its four international offices to clean, style, shoot, and sell (“We get these items and they just have a life in them,” Dahan gushes). Launched in May 2013, the space also serves as a virtual fashion diary—members can build a closet using a Pinterest-like button, assembling both items they currently have, and what they’re wishing for. “The idea was to make it editorial,” says Dahan, in her all-white office that sits in a building opposite Balenciaga in Beverly Hills. “It’s inspiration; voyeurism. The community becomes the personal stylist.”
In addition to the shopping element, a substantial portion of the site is devoted to content: interviews with influencers about their personal aesthetic (featured members include actress Kelly Rutherford, socialite Julia Restoin Roitfeld, and model Elettra Wiedemann), playlists, mood boards, a packing list app, and trend posts. While customers from around the world are engaging and selling, the items Dahan sells from her personal closet are in such demand, members e-mail asking when she’ll be ready to part with the next batch. For now, she’s focused on securing funding to invest in marketing to grow the brand (she currently heads up a team of 10—all wearing many hats) and she plans to add video to the mediums through which influencers are introduced. The appeal of secondhand shopping, she says, is the thrill of the chase. “It’s looking for that special item. It’s kind of a treasure chest to find that unique piece, something that you missed the first time.”
Diego Berdakin & Josh Berman
Entrepreneur Diego Berdakin and MySpace cofounder Josh Berman were working at News Corp., developing new Internet properties for Rupert Murdoch and Peter Chernin, when their attention kept getting pulled to what was happening in the e-commerce world, namely the ascent of companies like Vente-Privee, Ideeli, and Rue La La. “And then we saw Groupon,” recalls Berdakin, 28. “Its growth was one of the most unbelievable things we’d ever seen. What they did was hypercurated… one decision instead of 10. We really believed there was something there—users want stuff delivered to them; they want us to get to know them better, especially around fashion categories.”
The technologists set about pairing up with people who knew fashion and merchandising, and in 2010, launched JewelMint with an inaugural jewelry collection designed by actress Kate Bosworth and her stylist, Cher Coulter. Three other membership-based shops followed—ShoeMint, StyleMint, and IntiMint—each of which delivers a monthly virtual showroom to members tailored to their style preferences. Since the company’s founding, collections have been designed at the hands of actress Rachel Bilson, the Olsen twins (who have a small stake in the company and recently became cochairs of its advisory board), and CFDA winners such as jeweler Philip Crangi. Partnerships with designer Erin Fetherston and luxury lingerie brand Cosabella are on the way this spring. “You look at the value you can save consumers and you’re like: ‘Wow,’” Berman, 44, says of their model, which eschews the vast markups of most department or specialty stores. “They’re getting great affordable luxury for $30 because we don’t have to pay rent [for a brick-and-mortar store].”
The brand has raised $80 million in venture capital and has settled its 100 employees into an office complete with yoga classes and community bikes in Santa Monica, a neighborhood that’s been nicknamed “Silicon Beach” for its proliferation of tech start-ups. It never occurred to Berdakin or Berman—both now shoe-savvy (on this day, Berdakin is wearing patterned Soludos espadrilles and Berman, black Louis Vuitton high-tops)—to launch the business anywhere else. “Finally, we’ve had enough gravitational pull around LA where you’re starting to see this virtuous cycle,” Berdakin notes, of the arrival of incubators, venture capitalists, and talent from UCLA, CalTech, and USC. No matter how big the company gets, says Berman, “We want to stay here and build this community in LA.”
StyleSaint founder Allison Beal sources design inspiration from her community of fans
Thirty-one-year-old Allison Beal garnered a cult following for StyleSaint, her sustainable women’s apparel line, well before the brand had debuted a single piece of clothing on its website. “I was terrified of just launching and hoping people would come,” says the former fashion marketing and business development executive. StyleSaint was unveiled first as a social community called “The Saint Society” (“kind of like Vogue meets Pinterest,” she explains), where users can “tear” images from the web and make their own digital magazines.
Membership grew organically and today, the company has yet to spend a dollar on marketing. Beal also encourages users to share their inspirations, which will inform silhouettes, patterns, and fabrics of future designs. The first collection, launched in September 2013, was built around silk chiffon and lace, which Beal was seeing pop up all over The Saint Society. “I check on StyleSaint every single day over a cup of coffee when I start work,” she says. The eco-friendly pieces are manufactured locally and in small batches, in an effort to minimize waste. The company has been lauded within the tech industry and launched on a very public platform at TechCrunch’s 2012 Disrupt conference, where Beal and cofounder entrepreneur Brian Garrett competed against other start-ups (“I think I was almost the only woman in the room,” recalls Beal, who is often high-heeled, and usually high-energy).
They’ve raised about $5.8 million in capital (most of which is from General Catalyst, which also funds buzzy eyewear brand Warby Parker) and are about to move into 7,500-square-foot offices in Downtown LA. Beal’s personal style, effervescence, and grit continue to be the heartbeat of the brand. “I genuinely started a relationship with this group of girls,” she says. “We have ambassadors all over the world who are sharing the voice of StyleSaint. I feel like they’re our street team.”
LEAF.tv founders Erin Falconer (left) and Geri Hirsch are catching the attention of top retailers with their stylish how-to videos
“I was raised by a single mom and had to figure out a lot on my own,” says LEAF.tv (Living, Eating, and Fashion) cofounder Geri Hirsch, 30. “I wanted to build a brand that helps girls learn how to do whatever they want, quickly and concisely…. It’s not only, like, here’s a black dress, but here’s how to wear it four ways.” Styling an LBD is just the beginning of the trove of skills, tricks, and recipes visitors can master by watching LEAF.tv—a site filled with one-to-three-minute videos that artfully instruct on how to do anything from making your own tuxedo pants to wallpapering a bathroom.
The idea came from two bloggers—Hirsch, of the fashion-focused site becauseimaddicted.net, and Erin Falconer, 37, of pickthebrain.com, which explores motivation and self-improvement. The two met working at a startup five years ago and started shooting lifestyle videos on the side with commerce layered in. “Let’s say you’re a 20-something girl and you just moved into your first apartment,” says Hirsch. “You don’t know how to cook, and you don’t have a lot of stuff in your kitchen. If you watch all of our videos and see the same All-Clad pan 10 times and you’re like, I can sear a fish on that; I can sauté a piece of chicken; I can also make croutons. Then all of a sudden you think: Maybe I should buy that.”
The shorts were eventually picked up by YouTube channel StyleHaul and caught the attention of Barneys New York, which commissioned a shoppable web series. From there, the women raised $900,000 in funding (re-upped this past August) and launched their own YouTube channel in January 2013. It unveiled a stand-alone website in November, filled with videos shot mostly at Falconer’s light-filled Venice home—a place that is pleasant, but not frilly; her appliances and décor feel within reach. Between StyleHaul, YouTube, and their own site, the pair are on track to make 500 new videos in 2014—all while maintaining the blogs that launched them. “It’s exhausting,” Falconer says happily.
Pose is a mobile app that started with a problem common to any fashion fanatic who’s browsed for a dress with the help of a friend present only via cell phone: “I moved to LA and was communicating with a lot of my friends in New York about what they were wearing—or what they were thinking about buying—over text message,” says co-founder Alisa Gould-Simon, who left Manhattan for LA in 2009 after a stint as a fashion journalist. “There were details that I wanted to know in order to have a better conversation around shopping—how much was it? Can I see a better picture?”
Fashion blogs were also gaining steam, and Gould-Simon, 29, envisioned a place where she could see what everyone was wearing in one place. A serendipitous encounter with entrepreneur Dustin Rosen, who was working on an app similar to her idea, led to the creation of Pose, which was unveiled in January 2011. “It’s like a magazine built for your phone,” explains Gould-Simon from her company’s Westside office, where a French bulldog is also in attendance. “But what’s unique to the platform is it’s elevated. A lot of the content is from influencers, top brands, people who are spending time to create amazing images.”
Those personalities, who regularly upload shoppable photos of their favorite style finds, include supermodel Coco Rocha, The Man Repeller blogger Leandra Medine, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and stylist Rachel Zoe, who came on as an investor last year. In total, the brand has raised $4.6 million, and a recent merger with Little Black Bag—a subscription website where members receive bags whose contents they can trade—saw the company double in size and created further opportunities for collaboration.
“I think LA is unique for its Wild West ethos. There’s a lot of flexibility to experiment—to really be inventive,” says Gould-Simon, clad in a long A.L.C. skirt and spiky Fenton Fallon necklace. “And because it feels like the underdog, there’s an inclusive and supportive environment. LA really wants one of its own to succeed.”
photography by brigitte sire