When fashion-obsessed Olivia Vincent found out that the mother of the guy she was dating was the co-owner of her favourite Auckland shopping destination, Muse, she felt like she’d hit the boyfriend jackpot.
When she learned four years into the relationship that the luxury fashion boutique was up for sale, she immediately told her boyfriend’s mother, Madeline Healy, and Madeline’s close friend and business partner, Jo Gould, that she wanted to take the reins. “I’d always dreamed of owning my own store and everything about Muse was glamorous to me,” says Olivia, who at the time was working for fashion PR firm, Showroom 22, in Auckland. At the age of 26, Olivia’s dream job became a reality.
Thanks to her dedicated staff, her own mother’s accounting expertise, and the ongoing support of Madeline and Jo (who still pop into Muse weekly to lend a hand), Olivia hit the ground running. But having worked in fashion since she was 14 years old, including as brand manager for Vivienne Westwood in London, Olivia brought plenty of customer service experience to the table.
“I’m a firm believer in getting to know my clients individually,” she says. This exercise enables her to coax her clients out of their fashion comfort zones – a favourite aspect of her job. There’s a practical motivation, too. “If I understand everyone’s likes and dislikes I can buy with these preferences in mind,” she explains.
Three times a year, Olivia travels to fashion weeks in London, Paris and New York to view new-season collections on the runway. She then visits the showrooms to view her favourite pieces on a model, and tries everything on herself, “because everything always looks too good on the model”.
After deciding which pieces will work for her customers, Olivia places the order and waits several months for it to arrive. Buying for the ‘wrong’ hemisphere isn’t as problematic as you’d think, she says. “I focus on trans-seasonal pieces that can be worn year-round, but the timing tends to work out quite nicely. These days, New Zealand designers are dropping their autumn/winter ranges as early as February when it’s still 25°C, and that’s when my summer stock arrives.”
Olivia says her role at Vivienne Westwood taught her about “every designer worth knowing”, and she draws on this knowledge when buying for Muse. And she’s always on the hunt for emerging designers – resort-wear brands Cecilie Copenhagen and Dodo Bar Or are two new additions to the Muse stable.
As far as inspiration goes, Instagram is a valuable resource that offers “real-time feedback on fresh looks and labels”, but Olivia says you can’t beat being where the action is. “Travelling for buying trips you are exposed to so much street style, it’s infinitely better than peering into your phone.”
Olivia is also inspired by her personal heroes including Man Repeller author, Leandra Medine – “she’s a power house” – and American fashion matriarch, Diane von Furstenberg. “I met her on a buying trip a while ago. I admire everything about that woman,” she says.
In June of 2016, Olivia launched Muse Cashmere, a capsule collection of cashmere wraps and jumpers that are made in Nepal by the same family that manufactures for French fashion house, Celine. The collection has been a hit with customers. “It’s the best feeling seeing people wearing them,” she says. “Good feedback feels even better when it’s something that you’ve created.”
Muse Cashmere might be Olivia’s unique contribution to the store’s 19-year legacy, but maintaining Muse’s reputation for top-tier fashion and customer service is her key priority.
“So many retail encounters feel like just a transaction – the customer is in and out. I love building relationships with my clients, it means everything to me,” she says. Muse assistant buyer Rebe Burgess says she’s never worked for such a hands-on boss. “She spends so much time with the customer, she could be hidden away in an office but she’s always here on the floor. People come to the store just to hang out for two hours and it’s purely because of Liv.”
Muse Boutique, 11 Teed St, Newmarket, Auckland
@_museboutique | museboutique.co.nz