It was a little early for a cocktail party — 11 a.m. San Francisco time — but public relations executive Allison Speer wanted to look her best for Paris-based designer Andrew Gn, host of the event.
She donned a Chinoiserie floral and lace blouse from his spring 2020 collection, did her hair and “I even put on some makeup and earrings for the first time in a while,” Speer related.
Then she logged onto Zoom for a gathering organized by Neiman Marcus, which propelled its typical designer personal appearances into the cyber world, adapting to lockdowns and travel restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
“The pandemic has caused so many to feel so isolated,” Speer said in an interview. “A Zoom call like this with a designer you love and seeing friends and clients left me feeling hopeful that we will return to a normal life of events and celebrations.”
Neiman’s quietly introduced the hour-long Zoom events in April as a way to “continue to engage with clients while our stores are temporarily closed,” according to David Goubert, chief retail officer of the upscale department store, which soldiers on online despite being close to a Chapter 11 filing.
Already, Neiman’s gathered clients to see designer Lela Rose fixing cocktails at her ranch; Brandon Maxwell sharing his post-pandemic plans, and jewelry designer Ippolita Rostagno giving a tour of her home.
Gn’s event, held May 1, had him talking about life under confinement, and sipping wine — it was evening in the French capital — while Neiman’s executive Chuck Steelman flashed photos of his spring and fall collections.
Speer confessed that it was a thrill to catch a glimpse of Gn’s home.
“We learned Andrew has been busy cooking and working on his garden,” she said. “We did not get to see his whole place but I knew he was at his mid-century modern apartment from the gorgeous vignette behind him that had fabulous magenta peonies in a gorgeous Jean Van Dongen vase and some 19th-century African sculptures and one by Henry Moore.”
Asked how the online gathering stacked up to a physical event, the eagle-eyed Speer replied, “Andrew has a warmth and true affection for his clients, and Zoom is amazing. I felt like I was sitting with him in his apartment; it was really special and intimate.”
About 30 clients from Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Palm Beach, Fla., joined the call, and Gn did his best to interact with everyone. “It was a lot of questions and discussion,” he said, likening the experience to a TV appearance. Gn typically travels each year to the U.S. to meet top clients, and had a trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles planned for March that was scuttled by the health crisis.
Neiman’s has more video conferences scheduled this week and next with a variety of personalities including Carolina Herrera designer Wes Gordon, perfumer Francis Kurkdjian and luxury skin-care guru Tata Harper.
“Our events create a moment of digital escapism for our clients,” said Goubert, noting the Zoom gatherings are by invitation only, with no minimum purchase required.
That said, no one is discouraged from spending.
“The response has been incredible, and our clients are being inspired to shop,” Goubert said. “While nothing compares to the energy of an in-store event — being together with a group of friends, sipping a glass of Champagne, and being able to touch and feel the collections — this is a great alternative.”
Indeed, online events have their own magic. “During one event, a client even ran to her closet to show her favorite piece from the designer that she owned, which made the designer feel so touched. That extremely personal moment wouldn’t have happened without our events,” Goubert said. “Our clients love seeing designers in one of the most personal of places — their own homes.”
Speer said she ordered a blue and white damask dress by Gn from the selection Neiman’s sent her after the call. “I was inspired after seeing all the ladies on the Zoom in Andrew’s spring collection,” she said, noting she also has her eye on a coat from the fall collection with star and moon embroideries.
Goubert noted many customers have dolled up for its Zoom events in summer dresses and sequin jackets, while others are married to their at-home duds. “We also have customers who are more comfortable being casual,” he said.