Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise
Girl Meets Dress
in conversation with
Girl Meets Dress, GMD, is an example of a trend in the luxury sector. The trend towards less outright aquisition of luxury goods and services and an increasing desire to part-own. Known as fractional luxury, high net worth individuals do not need to make a huge investment in one product or service.
Given dynamic and evolving lifestyles, the rich can stay richer by accessing luxury according to their needs at any one time. Similarly, renting offers more freedom and can be quicker than pondering over a decision to spend large sums of money.
It is also a trend which makes luxury more affordable for the masses. Enter onto the fashion catwalk, GMD. Think OMG I can now wear Herve Leger to that wedding this summer. Girl Meets Dress allows anyone to rent a top designer brand and the company is fully adept at exploiting the benefits the latest internet technology can offer.
I caught up with the exotically-named Xavier Lacaros-Aquise at London’s eTail Europe conference where he was presenting the company’s success story.
PML: This is an amazing site and concept. My first thoughts are “how can this be profitable?” Do you not find that with this level of personal service, not to mention the hazards of a red wine spill on a white Chanel cocktail dress, you struggle with making this work financially?
XLA: In the same way that car rental, DVD rental and house rental have existed for years, the concept of dress rental has a similar business model.
After as many years in the business you learn the tricks of the trade when it comes to keeping fabrics in pristine condition and remember our guests aren’t exactly going to a muddy Glastonbury but more the jovial christening of a new relative, a hot dinner date, or a work event.
That said, we do offer a £7 insurance option to help customers feel very much at ease so they can simply focus on having a wonderful time.
PML: One of the best things about this site is the hotline on every page with a landline number. This is the simplest and most effective customer service which every large retailer fails to achieve. How much is it used and it is efficiently managed?
XLA: Because every customer is ordering a dress for a specific event in mind, often when time is short, it is important that our customer service team are on hand to answer any questions. Often they request styling advice, dress code help for the event – or simply want our stylists to send them a list of dress suggestions to narrow down the selection process. I think in that sense it makes us different from the department stores which couldn’t offer this level of personalisation for a variety of reasons.
We also have a Live Chat function on every page which is very popular, and it enables us to be there for our customers with an immediate real time response.
PML: Do you consider yourself to be in the luxury sector and how would you interpret that?
XLA: The dresses we stock are the best and most coveted designer brands starting at a retail value of around £300 and go up to £3000. The Girl Meets Dress experience is very much a luxury offering and many of our customers also shop on other designer stores, purchasing these brands, as well as renting them from us.
We are very much in the luxury sector, but democratizing fashion by making any brand accessible to all women for the first time. We make it possible for a girl to see a dress she loves in Vogue, and no matter what the price tag, experience the brand by wearing to an upcoming wedding she has. Similarly we enable new designers who also have high production costs to reach new customers without their small scale operating costs being an issue
PML: What is the typical demographic of your customers?
XLA: The demographic is varied. From teenagers, students and girls going to Prom, to 25-40 young professionals with busy lives and many social events, and 50+ women, mothers of the bride, corporate event dressing and summer occasions such as Ascot, Henley etc. They all love expressing and experiencing fashion and beauty.
For example we have just announced an exciting partnership with W London (London’s W Hotel) where guests will be able to use the service for the events they have while staying in town. They will be able to order dresses from either a curated collection in the hotel, or through the website with same day delivery.
PML: How do they hear about you and how do you grow the business?
XLA: We use online and offline strategies to promote Girl Meets Dress. We combine traditional and digital channels. The added benefit is that our customers love to share their discovery of the service with their friends so word of mouth also plays a part.
PML: Do you plan to branch out into shoes and accessories? Where could you take GMD?
XLA: Girl Meets Dress launched with dresses, bags and jewellery on the website. We then launched hat rental which had become extremely popular in the UK due to the tradition of wearing headpieces to weddings, as well as many summer outdoor events such as Ascot.
We started International delivery in 2014 and have expanded into Europe, targeting customers from over 30 different countries including France, Germany, Spain and Italy and enabling women in all parts of the continent to have global designers delivered to their doorstep. Customers can rent over 4,000 dresses from over 150 designers.
This is the first time designer rental has been made accessible in Europe. The expansion into Europe aligns with the GMD team’s global ambition to build a brand combining e-commerce and merchandising expertise with a deep sense of innovation and luxury.
PML: How did you get into this business?
XLA: We were the first company in the world to rent luxury fashion online and it is wonderful that Girl Meets Dress has pioneered the way for rental as an exciting ecommerce category within the larger Sharing Economy market.
The idea for Girl Meets Dress came to my Co-Founder Anna Bance while she was working as Head of UK PR for French Luxury brand Hermes. As we know, celebrities have always borrowed dresses for special events, and she noticed that with the proliferation of social media everyone was now a mini-celebrity in their own world, adding an increasing social pressure to a women’s inherent desire not to wear the same dress twice. Why shouldn’t this be available to the masses we thought.
Anna and I met when my first company, which was set up straight out of university, was hired by Bance’s then-employer, luxury brand Hermès, to do a product launch. While her background is very much rooted in fashion, I consider myself more of a numbers and operations man. I ended up working with Anna on launching Girl Meets Dress, while also holding down a job at the European technology investment bank Bryan Garnier.
Launching Girl Meets Dress gave all women access to this luxury – being able to easily wear more relevant, trend led, time-sensitive fashions, while continuing to invest and buy only in those classic pieces which will stand the test of time.
When Girl Meets Dress launched back in 2009, the recession mindset dominated which was fantastic timing for the concept. It meant that “cost per use” was a huge driver, as being smart with money and where to spend it was highly regarded. It is “Chic” to be pound savvy as it were.
PML: Please give me a fascinating fact about GMD
XLA: We were the first company in the world to rent luxury fashion online