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2012 November 20

Website to Watch: Luxury Newbie, Vaunte

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Leah Park and Christian Leone Leah Park and Christian Leone
Photo courtesy Vaunte.
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(NEW YORK) What happens when two Gilt Groupe alums have a meeting of the minds? Things get personal. Welcome to the exclusive world of Vaunte, a by-invitation shopping website where fashion's elite can gather to buy and sell luxeware from their own wardrobes. Think a mashup of Gilt's discounted designer duds with the insider closet appeal of The Coveteur. Founders Christian Leone and Leah Park hopped on the phone post-launch to give The Daily the lowdown.
BY MARIA DENARDO

How did you come up with the idea behind Vaunte?
Christian Leone: Leah and I worked together at Gilt Groupe and have been talking about this concept for a while. We noticed people were shopping and there were plenty of flash sale sites, but there wasn't really any retail site online where people could go to talk about the items and share what's in their own closets. There are tons of great clothes out there that people aren't using.
Leah Park: Take, Shannon Hoey, for instance. We went into her closet and found that she loves dark Chanel and Balenciaga items. But then we saw a bright pink Valentino dress in her closet. It's gorgeous, and she loved it, but she never really found the place to wear it. We all have pieces that we buy because they're stunning, but they're just not our style.  

And the site is members-only?
LP: We have about 1,000 people joining an hour right now. It's so fun to see people like Sophia Bush and Debra Messing on the membership list. We haven't denied anyone yet, but our membership is very specific. Right now, we're accepting membership submissions from our friends and family in the fashion community, which isn't a small list. After you join, you're allowed two invites to give out. We do that so our members will think hard about who would appreciate the site. We want to make sure we have a community of like-minded people. 

What was the first members-only club you joined?
CL: Mine was probably Cub Scouts...
LP: And Brownies.

What's the process behind nabbing your featured members, like Jill Kargman and Lela Rose?
LP:
For now, we're exclusively concentrating on starlets—basically super fashionable women whose closets are mainly designer-driven. We hand select women through Christian's contact list. Then we schedule a day to go to their home and look through all the items they're thinking of selling. We shoot their profile, their environment, and a few key pieces on them. The rest we take into our studio, verify the items, shoot them on a model, and upload images on the site. There are tons of great pieces. Jill Kargman, for example, had a wedding dress made by Karl Lagerfeld. He used a vintage Chanel dress that she loved but never wore before as inspiration. We took a picture of that dress, and now it's a conversation piece on the site. 

Is there anything off-limits in terms of selecting garb to sell?
LP: We're a curated site, so we only want the best. Obviously we're not going to sell lingerie or swimwear, unless it's new and still has the tags. We don't want to just throw things away. We want to sell items that women want to show off. 

Do women get emotionally attached to their sell piles?
LP: Christian's so honest with everyone. Women would try on an outfit, and he'd say, 'Oh my god, you should just keep that!'
CL: It's important to be honest because we want these women to continue to use our site. It's a true curation—I know that word is overused—but these women are actually putting together these collections for themselves. There's no pressure about what they keep or don't keep. In the end, these items tell a story about who they are. 
LP: Our goal is not really to be a consignment store, but to change the psychology of how women shop.

When an item is sold, how's the money distributed?
CL: Sellers receive the funds instantly. Vaunte takes around 20 percent for our friends and family who sell on the site. But it really depends on how many items they're selling. Very soon, we'll be launching our premium services, where we'll ship a box to someone, and they'll send us their garments. For this, we'll take a larger percentage. We then will select what to feature, have it dry cleaned, shoot it on a model, and ship the remaining items back to the seller. These women will still have profiles, but they won't be as prominent as our starlets on the homepage. 
LP: There's also a charity angle. Anyone selling items on the site can dictate what percentage of the proceeds will be sent to the charity of their choice. The whole idea is to democratize donations.

What common thread are you noticing from closet to closet?
LP:
I've seen a lot of Birkin bags!

Would you ever put your own closet on Vaunte?
CL: I have these great vintage pieces from my grandmother that will go up soon.
LP: I'm going to sell an Alexander Wang leather jacket with these huge white furs coming out of the arms. When you wear it, you look like a big, bad-ass angel. But I could only wear it a few times, because everyone remembers it.  

Who's closets are you gunning for?
LP: Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, and Carine Roitfeld.
CL: I'd love L'Wren Scott. Or Giovanni Battaglia

Who's closets are lined up for the future?
CL: We have Karla Martinez, Ann Caruso, Iris Apfel, both Veronica Beards, the Swanson sisters, Jennifer Creel...We've shot about 70 women.

Are you sticking with only New York City chicsters?
CL: We started with women in New York, but in a couple weeks, we're headed to L.A. Then we'll go to San Francisco, Chicago, Texas, Miami. St. Louis. Our one criteria is women that have amazing designer wardrobes.

What's on the horizon for Vaunte?
LP: After our premium services launch, our next business goal will be peer-to-peer, where people can upload their own photos, which we'll have to vet of course, using a mobile app and automatically ship the items themselves. We're not a consignment shop. We're here as a tool and as an online fashion magazine for every closet.




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