November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Apparel & Accessories

(Page 3 of 9)

“The Internet has been such an enabler for us,” says CEO Mike Smith. “You could do something like this on a one-off, rental shop basis, but it would be very difficult to do on a broader scale.”

Smith says the site aims to establish a third leg on a three-legged stool of luxury goods consumption: buy new, buy used or rent.

Avelle’s customers rent handbags, jewelry, luggage and watches by the week or month. Avelle’s handbags are valued at anywhere from $200 up to the vintage Hermes black crocodile Birkin bag valued at $49,000. While that’s a price tag that may be hard to swallow at retail, for the fashion obsessed the weekly rental of $1,632 for Avelle club members is a lot more palatable.

Site functionality mirrors the high-end rental merchandise with crisp and highly detailed product imagery; an authenticity guarantee for the 4,000-plus designer items available for borrowing; and merchandising features geared toward the fashion-focused audience, such as Trends and New Arrival links on the top navigation bar, the ability to search by price and designer, and a wait list to get in line for a chance to rent the hottest accessories.

Celebrity-focused site efforts such as the Tyra Banks TV show and Sex in the City film promotions are right on target for this site’s audience, says Lauren Freedman, president of online retail consultancy The E-Tailing Group. Functions including a Match Maker feature that lets shoppers narrow search results by product attributes such as a bag’s lining color or strap length support choices so detailed as to “almost overwhelm,” Freedman says, adding that she’d like to see search on the site run a bit faster. Still, she says, the search function “does a robust job.” Back to top

Connecting every day
The typical younger woman who visits loves fashion. “But she’s even more interested ins shopping,” says Bradford Matson, chief marketing officer at Bluefly Inc. “She loves pop culture and she loves to stay involved in the world.”

Bluefly stays involved with her by sending her an e-mail message each day, a message tailored to her tastes. It also connects to her through the TV shows she watches and by having fun with current events.

For instance, during the presidential election Bluefly created a widget it called Fashion Decision 2008 that let customers vote on such issues as whether Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s sunglasses were cooler than those of opponent Joe Biden (Palin in a landslide), or whether Michelle Obama looked better in a Republican red dress than Cindy McCain did wearing a Democrat-blue suit (Michelle by a nose).

The online-only apparel retailer also features deals tied to popular TV show Gossip Girl. Bluefly advertises on the show and characters are shown carrying its shopping bags. On the web site, customers can shop the “closets” of characters like Serena and Blair, that is, browse merchandise these fashion plates might wear.

The election-related polls and Gossip Girl promotions contributed to a 25% increase in online buzz about Bluefly in October, according to digital marketing firm Zeta Interactive, which tracks blogs and web communities.

Bluefly also sponsored fashion show Project Runway, and sold the apparel designed by Christian Siriano, who won the reality show’s competition for aspiring designers this spring. A video of a subsequent fashion shoot with Siriano was posted on and on YouTube, and Bluefly and others blogged about his clothes. The clothing sold out in a day, and unique visitors to increased 70% that week, Matson says.

“I really like,” says Lee Diercks, managing director of consulting firm Clear Thinking Group. “They give a strong impression of being very fashion-forward, with the tie-ins to Gossip Girl and the new designer talent they feature.” Even more important for Bluefly, Diercks notes that “my daughter and daughter-love this site.” Back to top

The cusp of fashion
One look at the carousel of models on the home page of, and you know you’ve run across a different approach to online fashion marketing. Click on the carousel to bring a “look” to the forefront, and click on the model to get product thumbnails of everything she’s wearing, from jewelry to shoes.

The stuff is never all from one designer; the technique mimics how young (or young-thinking), fashion-forward shoppers put it all together. And they can branch out from a look, picking a bag here, some shoes there. All the while, they can listen to Radio Cusp, the site’s answer to a retail store’s piped-in music.

You might not know that you’re in an offshoot of the refined luxury retail chain Neiman-Marcus. “Our contemporary business was growing, but we couldn’t turn ourselves into a contemporary store,” says Ginger Reeder, vice president of corporate communications for the Neiman-Marcus Group Inc. “We thought that our younger, boutique-oriented luxury customers were being underserved. That customer is distinctive in that she has a refined personal sense of style, is open to new brands and designs, and is very comfortable with herself. She’s less interested in being Armani from head to toe and more interested in putting together a personal look.”

The Dallas-based department store chain wanted to attract more of those customers, and in 2006 opened its first Cusp retail store. (There are now four, soon to be five.) Some are in malls, others on city streets, and they serve as a laboratory for new ideas. So does the web site, launched earlier this year.

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