Thursday, November 05, 2009

From No-End to High-End

Fresh out of Paris and ready to take Toronto by storm, Marlo Szellos is the one to trust.

Fashion is sacrifice. That’s meant in a good way, of course. It’s a two-faced industry, with the one side being glamorous, and the other being draining and down-right dirty. And on one Wednesday afternoon I was fortunate enough to get a hold of Holt Renfrew’s Personal Shopper and fashion guru, Marlo Szellos. Keep in mind that this was no easy task, for a moment I’d wondered if I saught out royalty by mistake.

Once my courage took hold and I picked up that telephone, I began to be passed around like a saltshaker at Thanksgiving dinner. First contender being the reception desk for Personal Shopping at Holt Renfrew, next I’m onto Mini-Marlo, her assistant of course. Lastly, I find myself ear to ear with the lady in question; Marlo Szellos.

My nerves calmed themselves down right away upon hearing the voice of a woman so friendly, serene and welcoming. After explaining my status as a fashion student at George Brown College she graciously accepted my request to interview her about her career and expertise in the industry. Off we went into an hour long fashion filled adventure. Fancy that, I even managed to catch her during her lunch break.

Dedicated and working in the fashion industry for the past 12 years, and merging into her 3rd year at Holt Renfrew, Marlo still manages to balance her family life and work. This being her least favourite aspect of her job, constantly being away from her husband and her two children, ages 7 and 9. It’s tough, but just another factor in proving that she is a fashion powerhouse.

Marlo’s career began at Western University majoring in French language, amongst other French studies. She always had ambition and dreams of eventually moving to Paris. Once she completed her studies here, she and a friend made their way to Paris where they studied Fashion together. “I had never planned nor hoped for a career in Fashion, but I became infatuated with the industry quite quickly. I was constantly learning more.” But although it is with most fashion hopefuls, design was not her area of interest. “I knew I didn’t want to be a fashion designer, but it was the other aspects of the industry that fascinated me greatly.” And so it began.

Upon graduation, Marlo was offered countless internships. Before moving to Toronto, she accepted a position at a buying office, HGAF, where she spent 9 years of her fashion career. After moving back to Toronto with a year of Trade department experience under her belt but no styling experience, a Personal Shopper position opened at Holt Renfrew.

Marlo quickly snatched up the opportunity to apply, and was granted the job immediately. “I didn’t go into this position with any kind of client base, I managed to develop all of this on my own,” she says. But was she nervous? “If I knew then what I know now about this type of job and the industry that I’m in, I would have been very nervous”. What about now? “I was given many tools and connected with many people quite quickly, everything has worked out so well. Being a Personal Shopper here at Holt Renfrew and working in the fashion industry, it’s almost like owning your own business!”

A typical week for Marlo is Monday to Friday with many appointments laid out each day. All of which exist for one main reason: to shop. This is what Marlo does for all those men and women out there who can’t. “My duty is to really concentrate on my clients, build a relationship with them and focus and recognize their needs when it comes to fashion. And even their everyday life”. Sounds personal. “It is a very personal job, hence the title!”

Her favourite part of being a Personal Shopper is really her creative freedom, “I truly get to express myself and help my clients express themselves through fashion,” she says. “My biggest and most appreciated compliment is when a client is truly pleased with what I have picked out. I love hearing about how happy and confident they are, and how many compliments they have received”. As well as making her clients confident in themselves and in their fashion choices, she loves to break them out of their comfort zone and introduce them to new designers and styles. She believes that options are endless, and shuns fashion myths. “If you never play around and never try certain things, you will never know what works and what doesn’t. You won’t have fun with fashion”. The passion in her voice is evident, and there is no doubt that Marlo loves what she does.

Her client base is primarily women in their early 30s to late 40s, as well as men in their 40s. For a potential client to acquire Marlo’s Personal Shopping services and fashion advice, all it takes is a call to the Personal Shopping suites and ask to set up an appointment with her. “There is no minimum purchase required, and I do not refuse anyone”. Personal Shopping is entirely complimentary! All that clients pay for is the clothing and accessories that are picked out for them.

I’m curious to know, as a hopeful future Stylist or Personal Shopper myself, what advice she’d offer to someone like myself. As well as what challenges she faces in her career. “Finding certain pieces for my clients is not always an easy task. Sometimes pieces need to be ordered from another store in the city, or even another province”. Frustration can build up due to the fact that certain clients often work within certain budgets. This is difficult since Holt Renfrew only carries high end premium brands.

The job is also all about trust. “Clients and I face a challenge when we have contradicting opinions. But I always stand by what I believe in and I am always honest with my clients, they have to learn to trust my instinct and be comfortable with me”. She says that this trust will come easy after you have developed your own sense of style, and you are confident in who you are and your choices. A big suggestion she offers is constantly learning and studying the industry, knowing about all the different aspects. Whether it be designers, stylists, photographers or trends. You name it. “This is SO key that I can’t stress it enough, as well as product knowledge. Representatives for the designers we carry are constantly visiting to talk about their collections,” sounds nerve-racking. “You have to know your stuff”.

Marlo’s number one quality for a personal shopper is being great with people, and you have to be very patient. “I have my own style, and just because I may like something for myself, does not mean that it will work for my clients”. And also, for all you other hopefuls out there, “There is no salary for Personal Shopping. You only receive commission from the clothing you sell”. So, not only are you styling, but you are selling as well.

Before we knew it, the time had flown by. We exchanged our thank-yous and good-byes, when she was kind enough to extend a coffee invite my way. I quickly accepted. Excited, anxious and nervous all at once. Of course, weeks later, this date has yet to take place. But I understand, the Fashion industry never sleeps. Although I hope Marlo manages to catch up on hers! Fashion has swallowed her up, and thankfully for all those out there who are overwhelmed by the idea of styling and shopping, the industry has yet to spit her out.


Anonymous said...

Great interview!

Alyssa N. said...

Love this article! Cute and well written!

Nancy G. said...

I felt like I was there, in the interview myself.. love it!

Sarah. H said...

This interview was in great detail. Very well written!