Top secret storage for Chanel’s best
IAS Fine Art Logistics has been handling, transporting and storing valuable works of art in Australia for almost 30 years. Used by museums and institutions in the first instance, in recent years a noticeable change has been the addition of private collectors to its client base.
So when chief executive Kingsley Mundey heard about an organisation in the US that stores and protects luxurious fashion items for wealthy clients, he saw a connection. With the public’s thirst for large-scale fashion exhibitions at popular institutions (think Alexander McQueen at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Collette Dinnigan at the Powerhouse), museums and arts bodies are increasingly looking for storage facilities for costumes and clothing. Mundey also believed the same private collectors storing thousands of dollars worth of art, antiques and wine, were likely to have wardrobes requiring special care.
IAS approached Garde Robe, which offers long-term, museum-quality garment storage in New York, California, Las Vegas and Florida. Garde Robe was looking to expand into Europe and Asia; Australia wasn’t even on its radar. Nevertheless, a franchise partnership was formed enabling Garde Robe to launch its services in Melbourne this year and Sydney in 2016.
Founded in 2001, Garde Robe is the brainchild of Kim Akhtar, a former manager for British rock band The Cure, and a flamenco dancer, who, like many New Yorkers, ran out of wardrobe space in her tight, one-bedroom apartment. Clients sign up for a 12-month contract: $400 a month for storage of 50 garments, 10 pairs of shoes and a box of accessories.
Garde Robe’s vice president, sales and marketing, Doug Greenberg says very few (about 5 per cent) of customers have just 50 garments. “We have a few members with a handful of irreplaceable items and that is all they keep in Garde Robe’s care. The average would be 200 to 300 items,” he says. “Our largest collection for an individual member was 3500 articles.”
DAMAGE BY HEAT, SUNLIGHT – AUSTRALIAN CLIMATE
While it’s easy to see the service suiting New York and LA’s rich and famous, it seems unlikely that Australia’s small market will trigger a sizeable rise in profit. However our harsh environment may just prove our raison d’être. Garde Robe’s archival preservation approach (acid-free packaging, breathable tissue, climate-controlled air), protects natural fibres from elements such as heat, sunlight, moths and mould.
“In the same way wine will start to turn to vinegar over time, if not stored properly a sequined gown will fall apart,” Greenberg says. Heat is particularly bad for animal skins and fur; sunlight causes dyes to fade; and moisture from sea air can lead to mould and mildew: factors endemic to the Australian clime.
Garde Robe’s Australian manager, IAS business development manager Ian Charmin, expects museums and fashion designers to pave the way. Collette Dinnigan is already on board, thrilled to have found a place to store her vintage collection of fragile silk, lace and embroidered designs. Because Garde Robe photographs each item in its inventory, giving it a description and unique serial number, Dinnigan will be able to view her extensive collection online and retrieve items as she needs them with same day delivery.
Back in New York, I’m on a tour of Garde Robe’s top secret storage facility in Long Island City, Queens. After a rocky period during the US recession, the company is now in the midst of a growth spurt: it outgrew two storage facilities in Manhattan to relocate here in 2007, among graffiti-branded factories, warehouses and red brick buildings with barred up windows. It’s the land of U-Haul and Fed Ex vans, and loud trucks expelling copious exhaust fumes.
But inside are some of the most luxurious and famous fashion items in the world: haute couture, furs and accessories from Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Prada, and custom made suits from Zegna, Brioni and Giorgio Armani. The late Oscar de la Renta’s complete ready-to-wear archive, dating back to 1965, is here, lined up on racks.
In the past two years, space has been added for longer hanging gowns and evening wear, as well as more rows for boxed and accessory storage – a response to a growing demand for this service among cashed-up New Yorkers. Garments are spread across three tiers: the most active clients have their attire on the bottom; those storing for the long term have theirs towards the top – although the white glove service means most clients will never visit the facility.
In one room, different furs have been pinned to a wall for staff to identify coat types: chinchilla, blue iris mink, Lynx Spotted Rabbit. All this information is entered into a database known as the Cyber Closet. “You can build outfits from it, you can tag outfits based on when and where you wore them,” explains my tour guide, senior account specialist, Sara Lincoln.
“We include seasons, colours, anything that it makes it sortable for our clients to be able to find it. So if they want to sort by all their green pieces, for example if they’re going to a green party, they can.”
If actress Gwyneth Paltrow searched by silver items, the Calvin Klein gown she wore to the 2011 Oscars would come up. One of the world’s most famous pop stars could find her wedding dress here (it’s presumably too large even for her to store at home).
Another signature service offered by the company is valet delivery, targeted at multiple homeowners and business travellers flying constantly between two or more cities. “If you’re living in New York and travelling to Melbourne, you’d have a Garde Robe collection in Melbourne,” Charmin explains. “Then prior to your travel you could log into your private closet, select the items you’re going to need for your stay, and we would have those items delivered to the residence or hotel.
“You’re travelling luggage free, which expedites your progress through customs and quarantine … Upon the completion of your stay in Australia, we’d pick those items up, launder anything that needs to get laundered and then put them back into storage in readiness for your next event or travels.”
Back in the New York facility, we walk around a stack of Jimmy Choo, Gucci and Christian Louboutin heels piled at least 10 rows high in plastic containers, belonging to a single client. “She’s a fashion lover,” Lincoln nods enthusiastically. “She likes her items to be categorised based on the collection they come from, so I do a bit of research and kinda pull out and identify Spring, Summer, Winter and the year. I mean, her wardrobe is spectacular.”
IRREPLACEABLE ITEM PROTECTION
We continue past a rack labelled “Ivanka Trump”, to a collection belonging to the wife of a famous fashion designer. It’s hard to imagine just how valuable some of these items are.
“You know, if you’re shopping at Gap you don’t really think about this stuff,” says Lincoln. “But we have vintage and heirloom pieces, custom, couture – irreplaceable things. And you want the best for it. People spend so much money on their clothes and there is such an investment in their appearance, their closets, their collection. We really help protect that.”
NEED TO KNOW
While Sydney-siders will have to wait til next year to enjoy the perks of Garde Robe’s exclusive services, the company has already opened its doors in Melbourne, offering clients a one-year membership starting at $400 a month, plus tax. The fee includes storage for up to 50 garments, 10 pairs of footwear and a large box for accessories, as well as a wardrobe consultation, access to the Cyber Closet and in most cases, complimentary pick up and delivery. Australia is the first market Garde Robe has launched in outside the US. Phone (03) 8329 6222 (Melbourne) or (02) 8988 7575 (Sydney), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.garderobeonline.com.au