Celebs learn the ABCs of special treatment
In a town where first-round “Survivor” rejects claim VIP status, the three-letter acronym threatens to become meaningless.That’s why retailers are reinventing its definition. “People in this town demand more,” says Hillary Rush, owner of the eponymous Third Street shop. “They spend a lot of money, so stores are going out of their way to please by delivering to the house and even taking customers to dinner.” What follows, then, is the new world order of VIP. Very Inexpensive, Please. The secret Nike showroom tucked inside a Marina del Rey office park is a Willy Wonka warehouse of high-end sporting goods — vintage sneakers, top-tier tennis gear — free to certain celebrities, directors, screenwriters and entertainment execs. Requests are vetted through a company rep who determines whether or not someone may go to Niketown. “It’s an absolute playground,” says one studio exec, who asked not be named. “You get walked through six or eight themed rooms and you pick out what you want. Then, you sit and sip Pellegrino in a waiting room until they come out with everything assembled in beautiful bags.” Exclusive showrooms serve a dual purpose: They lure publicity-shy talent with free stuff while dodging the risk of rankling the average (read: paying) client. Similarly, some receive discounts and previews of upcoming merchandise at the cozy annex and garden patio at the Tod’s store in Beverly Hills. And Coach does the same at its two-story pied-a-terre in West Hollywood, outfitted with the hottest bags and shoes. Vacate Incidental People. Boutiques without hideaways take another tack. If Lindsay Lohan or Jessica Alba stops by Intuition on West Pico Boulevard and requests privacy, the boutique is abruptly shuttered and non-famous customers are dispatched a few doors down to Buttercake Bakery for a time out. “We get customers from Intuition a couple of times a month,” says bakery owner Logan Levant. “They pay for themselves and they’re okay with it.” Intuition owner Jaye Hersh insists no one fusses over the evacuation — or demands that she front for the cupcakes. “They come back with a sugar high and ready to shop.” Customers and starlets can coexist at Lisa Kline’s eponymous Robertson Boulevard boutique, but shutterbugs are thwarted by a black curtain that drops across the storefront. Kline also rewards her VIP shoppers with a key fob much like a Ralphs club card that entitles them to discounts of up to 30%. To qualify, a customer is expected to drop at least $1,000 per weekly visit and shop exclusively at her shop; the staff tracks her elite clientele (400 to 500 out of 10,000) with a spreadsheet. “You never know what other people are doing,” says Kline of other retailers and their perks. “I do too much. I am generous to a fault.” Very Impatient Patron. Jay Carlisle, manager of Beverly Hills jeweler Martin Katz LTD, once flew cross country to personally deliver a pair of 9.5-carat diamond earrings to a loyal New York client — at no extra charge. Fedexing was not an option. Still, says Katz, “The jewelry business is more over the top. At this point, it’s almost like, ‘What wouldn’t we do?’ ” When the next shipment of Tara Subkoff for Easy Spirit shoes arrives at Hillary Rush next week, Rush will pinch a few pairs for her waitlist-intolerant customers. “I will always put aside my best merchandise for my best customers,” she says. “Or I will show them pictures of what I will be getting in so they can pick out what they want before anyone else sees it.” Retailers have come to learn that to cross a VIP could result in more than losing a client. Pesky paparazzi provide the stores’ most valuable advertising. If the starlets quit coming, free exposure in magazines like US Weekly evaporates. “We’ve had girls come in and say, ‘Hold this and don’t show it to so-and-so because if I see it on a friend at the Roosevelt, I’ll be mad,’” says Jeannie Lee, owner of Satine. She complies, of course. The Very Infuriated Person is the VIP no one wants to see.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more