The developments in social media in recent years have really pulled back the curtains on the great and powerful OZ that is the fashion industry. Not only do we know designers by face, who know everything from where they’re pulling inspiration, down to the posh printed vintage accent chair they may be sitting on when they do it. However, it’s a bit of an illusion like most things fashion and most things digital. We’re not any closer to them than they are to us. That’s where Karen Parker O’Brien and her innovative Style Room shopping tours come in.
O’Brien founded the shopping tour service to give customers a real life look at designer fashion in New York City. Clients who book a private shopping tour can expect to be personally guided around the city by the fashion industry vet, who has worked in fashion for over 20 years, and given exclusive one time access to designers’ showrooms with the opportunity to shop pieces at largely discounted prices. However, more importantly, it’s an opportunity to tangibly, intimately and exclusively experience fashion. I had the chance to sit down with O’Brien to talk Style Room tours, skeptical designers, her dream celebrity tour group and advice for female entrepreneurs. Hear what she had to say below.
What events led to you starting Style Room?
After 11 years of having my own multi-line showroom representing fashion designers from around the world and selling their collections to the stores directly, I wanted to explore a more intimate angle with the fashion industry and the consumers. My clients love fashion, but mostly only through magazines, stores and online shopping. I thought it would be amazing to unlock doors that I’ve always walked through by having so many friends who are designers, and introduce a world most people can’t experience unless at a mobbed public sample sale.
Why do you think a service like this is important?
It opens the consumer’s eyes to the tons of emerging designer labels out there that don’t advertise on the side of a bus, yet they’re in all the top stores, and featured in the best magazines. Plus, they learn a bit about the behind-the-scenes part of the business side of the industry, which I feel is important and fun to appreciate what you own and spend money on.
How does a typical tour usually go, from start to finish?
Most clients book the 5 hour limo tour, but there are other options. That includes being picked up at their hotel in their personal limo where we have an intimate setting to talk about the industry and what their customized tour entails. Being brought around to the various neighborhoods and designer’s showrooms and studios where they meet designers face to face and have the opportunity to shop at 40%-65% off retail, and then dropped back off in style to relax before their next adventure in the city on their own. It’s more than shopping, it’s a full experience with friends and loved ones while enjoying the fashion industry at a whole new level.
Do you find that designers are usually open to participating, or a little more skeptical?
They’re always a little skeptical during the first 2 sentences while speaking with them, but once they learn that I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years and know all the ins and outs and totally “get it”, they are very comfortable learning more. After the first tour with them, they always say I can come everyday.
What type of bookings or groups do you get most often? (Girl trips, couples, tourists, wedding parties, etc)
It’s split pretty evenly across the board between husband & wives, boyfriends & girlfriends, girlfriend getaways to NYC, and mother / daughter experiences. I would say it’s 75% international, 25% domestic from around the USA. Australians travel the farthest without a doubt. Hats off to them for making that long journey. One day I have to attempt it myself. And I’ve also had many clients from Dubai and Kuwait.
Does a Style Room tourist have access to the designers or deals once the tour is over?
Only via their websites at full retail.
Do you have any rules for participants or anything that is off limits?
I ask for them to kindly not mention the designers’ names when writing reviews, blogs or articles. We try to keep it under the radar that designers are selling current merchandise directly to consumers at a discount. And, it’s part of the surprise and experience to only find out once we enter their private showrooms and studios.