Retail maven Elyse Walker is the go-to source for many Southern California women seeking her coveted style advice, from what to wear to a red-carpet event to the best power suit for the boardroom, and how to dress casual yet polished on the weekend. Her highly personalized service, which connects clients with an experienced stylist who works with them in the store or delivers a box with a number of ensembles based on the individual’s needs, accounts for more than half of her business. At a time when most people are turning to e-commerce for shopping convenience, Walker finds that increasingly, time-starved women want personalized service and wardrobe advice. “People are coming here for relationships, for expertise, for our experience,” she says. “They’re coming here because there’s so much out there—but they want your point of view. They want that edited perspective.”
The shift in office culture to a more a casual mode in some industries; the need for more versatile attire to meet the demands of a heavy travel schedule; or the desire for a more efficient, effortless wardrobe all require rethinking your closet. Walker’s team is trained to help make getting dressed effortless and fun, and most importantly, to empower women with their clothing choices.
The experience begins when you step into Walker’s highly curated 6,500-square-foot Pacific Palisades flagship in Los Angeles. It’s decorated with colorful custom art pieces (graffiti artist Retna came in after-hours to paint a mural one night) that match her eclectic mix of event-ready ensembles and everyday pieces, ranging from T-shirts and distressed AMO jeans to Alexander McQueen blazers and Chloe blouses. And, Walker’s staff of stylists stand ready to help clients decide on a suitable look for the boardroom, date night, and more. Following her success in this location, she opened a sprawling 12,000-square-foot store in Newport Beach in 2016. And, she’s opening two more outposts this year—both called Towne, one will open in the new Palisades Village retail center this September and another in Bel Air this December. The Towne stores will focus on what Walker calls “luxury basics”—everyday high-end clothing for women and men. Still, her ecommerce site, FRWD by Elyse Walker (for which she serves as fashion director), plays a big role in giving her clients a 360-degree shopping experience.
The most valuable thing you can tell a client is:
“That doesn’t look great on you, I have seen you look better.”
“I shop online and I love a big selection, but people want their go-to person,” she explains. “And sometimes [that person] can help them through a life change. For example, this particular stylist might be more conservative and all of a sudden, maybe you want to be a little sexier or you just had a baby and you’d rather be more casual—it’s our job and my management team’s job to put you with the right team. We all work together.”
With e-commerce, a wide variety of designer clothes are available 24/7 but the relationships she and her team build with clients go well beyond just shopping. “The most valuable thing you can tell a client is: ‘That doesn’t look great on you, I have seen you look better.’ You did not lose a sale there, you’re building a relationship. It doesn’t happen in a year of business, that comes a long, long, long time [later].”
Each relationship is based on the needs of the clients, which range from high-power executives to stay-at-home moms. Once a stylist gets to know a client, they often work with them for years. Some stylists pack their boxes with pieces pulled straight from the runway, and others build wardrobes targeting a new job or weekend basics. “A short-term sale is not how you build a healthy business,” notes Walker.
Walker honed her retail skills at the early age of 20 when the ambitious college student opened her first retail store in New York on Madison and 82nd Street. After college, Walker helped run her mother’s retail store in Scarsdale before migrating west to Los Angeles with her husband in 1996. Three years later, she opened her flagship store, then just 900 square feet. It was an instant hit—Walker and her staff had to scramble to restock the shelves at the end of the first day.
Her advice on some key pieces everyone woman should have in their wardrobe: “Almost every woman can wear ATM T-shirts. And I think every woman should have a YSL blouse if she can fit it into her budget. It’s a good investment. They don’t go out of style, and they’re made beautifully.”