Retail may ask itself why it’s losing to the power of the internet, as if it’s a monster that must be stopped, when the real problem is, what has retail done to make us want to be involved? You give someone a reason to desire and aspire and they’ll come – you don’t and you’re dead. Retail isn’t dead, bad retail is.
Just as physical retailers struggle to define themselves in the contemporary setting, it is the unique approaches taken by the creative, the small or the risky that are winning us over.
Dagmar Rousset on Gertrude Street is a wonderful case in point. A demonstration that by being a genuine part of your community – by offering complimentary, yet alternate avenues to the business – you’ll become part of that landscape.
Dagmar Rousset is owner Julia Pound’s alter ego, although the real Dagmar is actually the mother of an ex-boyfriend. Pound’s alternate avenue to her business are the French lessons the store offers, extending her boutique sensibilities into a lovely meeting place for connections through language, art, design and fashion.
Like walking into an exploded paint filled piñata, Dagmar Rousset isn’t backwards in coming forward. Meeting with Pound, you get a sense that you’re missing a little colour. And while colour – and the infinite combinations of it – is what she and Dagmar Rousset are all about, the buying process is less ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ than you might think.
Special relationships such as the one Pound established with German design team Howitzweissbach, a high craft, super-cultish fashion brand, has pushed Dagmar Rousset into places few other retailers tread. Part of the buying process is connection. In as much as she wants her customers to feel connected to Dagmar Rousset, she wants to generate same kinds of relationships with the designers she stocks. In an effort to keep her store special, parts of the collection from US label ALL Knitwear are custom made for the store, just as accessories designer Steve Mono creates pieces for her as well. Nothing is trendy or made by the thousands, all the labels occupy some kind of personal space for Pound and it’s the sharing of this knowledge that makes her and the store special.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing and good ideas don’t necessarily translate to good business. Just before Christmas, Pound was about to close the store for good. The weight of good intentions – on top of personal and perhaps questionable business decisions – was fading the otherwise colourful smile Dagmar Rousset was bringing to Gertrude Street.
Pound is the first to admit she “never think[s] in a hard-nose business way” but in her first few seasons, her buying was off, not so much in style, but in the sense that it failed to address her market. The groundwork had been laid, but the business was sitting on expensive unsold stock. “I was self-indulgent [but] I think I’m getting better. I’m starting to – and I hate this word – compromise,” she says of her buying in the business’s early days. On the verge of closing last year, she received a phone call out of the blue from a prominent designer with a simple yet disarming question: “Why are you closing?”
This designer, now mentor and friend, is set on helping Pound make Dagmar Rousset all it can be. With this added experience and expertise on her side, the need for a sound business plan working alongside a great vision has been made clearer.
The two aren’t mutually exclusive and what was looking like a death sentence six months ago has been reprieved. Look for new arrivals in August and September from uber-cool and perfectly appropriate designers United Bamboo and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s JCDC. There’ll be more from Lu Flux and local heroes PAM too. Plus an exhibition that explores the idea of alter ego (just like Pound’s) and features a window display she says brought tears to her eyes.
Dagmar Rousset operates both within and outside of the industry. She chooses labels that appeal to her. It may be a little left of centre, but one can’t fake authenticity or genuineness; ultimately it is exposed. “I have no idea if I fit in or not,” Pound says in relation to the street and the industry, before adding, “I probably don’t fit in that well.”
But it’s the outsiders that we should look to for the new points of view. In the world we now occupy, Dagmar Rousset is providing the smart retail.