PARIS — “This dress would retail for $45,000,” says Nicholas Mellamphy, holding up a sexy short cocktail dress by Balmain in their showroom. It is made of a mixture of raffia, leather and encrusted with crystals, and weighs a ton.
But Mellamphy, vice-president and buying director of The Room, a luxury women’s designer department including clothing, shoes and accessories at The Hudson’s Bay Company, is not keen on purchasing it.
“It’s not about the money, we sell more expensive things,” he says.
The woven handiwork of the dress — like some sort of opulent rococo wicker chair — is stunning.
Then there is the matter of weight. It probably wouldn’t be an issue for the private-jet-flying clientele who frequent The Room in Toronto and Vancouver. But Mellamphy has practical concerns, such as sitting down. The model in the showroom could not when she tried on the skirt version.
Last Wednesday during Paris Fashion Week, the Star shadowed the dapper and engaging Mellamphy to see how he selects items that make it onto the exclusive racks at The Room, and the backs of some of the most fashionable women in Toronto and Vancouver.
First stop was the Balmain showroom, housed in building not far from the famed shopping strip, Avenue Montaigne, home to Dior and other luxury brands.
The long showroom is lined from top to bottom with racks of samples. On one side is the spring 2013 collection, hot designs that came down the runway a few days earlier. On the other side is what is referred to as the commercial collection — a more wearable, but no less expensive version of the runway looks.
While Mellamphy selects looks from this retail-friendly side of the room, he will also pick items from the runway collection.
“It’s important to represent runway looks in the buy,” he says, selecting a broad shouldered, nipped waist, leather jacket that was look number 33 in the show.
He buys four of these jackets which will retail for $6,500 each, two in the Vancouver store and two in Toronto.
“A lot of clients have emailed me already about this collection,” he says.
Despite its stratospheric prices, Balmain is one of the hottest labels in Paris. The new designer at the label, 27-year-old Olivier Rousteing has been garnering rave reviews for the glam sexy youthful flair he is bringing to the storied French label.
“It’s almost a second wave of Balmainia,” says Mellamphy.
According to Mellamphy, customers of The Room following the runway shows online often email him requesting specific pieces. One popular in demand piece this time out is a power-shouldered leather jacket.
A body-con yellow knit dress on one of the showroom models — several models wander around the showroom trying on various outfits for the buyers — catches his eyes. From the commercial collection, Mellamphy is intrigued by the colour.
“It’s interesting to see yellow because of the Emmys,” he says.
The recent Emmy red carpet featured three actresses wearing yellow dresses, including Julianna Moore, and Mellamphy feels strongly it will leave a lasting impression.
“The dresses will be knocked off. We’ll be seeing the red carpet pictures for months and the colour will be in customer’s minds,” he said.
Ultimately however it’s not just one factor that pushes a look into the order books.
Besides attending the runway show of the label he is buying to get an overall view of the collection, Mellamphy reads reviews and look at the pictures selected to run in various newspapers.
Media outlets will often pick similar images and they come to define the collection, he says.
“The power of an image is so strong, it’s like a celebrity, people will remember it and will often call me about it,” he says.
Next we visit Balmain shoes, and discover that runway items are often
altered or adjusted for real life.
Stepping into the showroom, Mellamphy immediately zeros in on a raffia bootie which was featured with many of the looks on the runway. But the director says that particular style will not be put into production.
He’s also loving the black patent pumps with sharp sculpted heels.
The heel, we are told, will now be 10cm instead of 12cm as they were on the runway. The heels come in two varieties, black or metallic silver.
He opts for the silver, reasoning, “Everyone has a shoe with a black heel already.”
Then, almost in the blink of an eye, from the glamazonian ultra-luxe looks of Balmain, we are at the showroom of the sweet and innocent — and fairly well priced label Carven, in the Marais district of Paris.
Many years ago, The Room used to stock Carven when it was a haute couture label.
More recently, the historic label was revived and the brand has been gaining fans, not just for its very girlish Parisian looks but also for its affordability.
“Carven is exploding for us,” says Mellamphy. “I love that it has that French woman look — a simple dress and flats.”
But how does this label fit into The Room’s its high-octane fashion philosophy? “It’s very design driven instead of being item or price driven. The look is very lady-like and appeals to our customer because the design factor is there,” he says.
Carven’s show featured a toile print pant suit, but instead of depicting a pastoral scene usually found on these wallpaper-style prints, it was a safari scenario.
Mellamphy bought it.
But once at the showroom, a design that hadn’t run on the catwalk caught his eye — a soft silk print dress featuring Queen Elizabeth postage stamps.
The showroom director explained the print will be slightly changed; the Queen will not be wearing the crown.
But the tiny detail was irrelevant to Mellamphy. “We definitely have to do the Queen Elizabeth print. We were, after all, part of the British Empire.”
Then he notices it’s a New Zealand stamp.
“Oh we have beautiful stamps of the Queen in Canada too you know. Just FYI,” he says to the director, before snapping up the royal design.