You know that feeling when you find an outfit that was just ‘made for you’? Well Helene Rapaport has made a career out of it. The talented founder of Bernard Boutique in Esher, Helene can help you refine your style and even introduce you to a few stylish new twists to really up your fashion ante.
In such a tough retail market, we thought we’d ask Helene her tips and tricks for getting your style right, how she keeps evolving and how Bernard Boutique has lasted so long in the fickle world of fashion that is now mostly online…
You opened Bernard Boutique in 1969, how has the fashion industry changed since then and why did you decide to start Bernard?
The most obvious difference has been in the world of e-commerce. It has drastically changed shopping habits and also how we advertise and market both ourselves and the brands that we carry. Spending on throw away fashion is a thing of the past as disposable incomes seem to have greatly reduced. We are mindful of what people are willing to spend their money on and it’s definitely now more about quality rather than quantity.
I have always loved fashion and after leaving school at 15, I worked in various high-end boutiques in Leeds and then in London. Barrie and I were living in Putney and a chance conversation led us to renting a small store in Cranleigh, to be honest I didn’t even know where Cranleigh was!
Is part of the boutique’s success your fabulous personal service and styling skills?
We have always given our customers a one-on-one service and have built really special relationships with them. I’m always surprised that other stores advertise ‘by appointment’ as a service or a ‘styling session’ for their customers to purchase. For us, this is what we have always done and will continue to do, as standard.
You’re a super stylish woman…what’s your go-to outfit and why?
I have my OWN style as you know and it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea! I wear what I really love and am comfortable in and I certainly don’t worry about other people’s opinions!
What do you see women getting wrong all the time?
The thing that gets to me the most, is women who comment that they are ‘too old’ to wear this, that or the other, I hear this far too often. Surely, we should dress to suit our personality and shape. It’s such a great feeling when women try something different and leave the store with a new confidence!
You have such a good eye, how does someone without your talent refine their style?
There’s nothing better than wearing what you love but having advice from someone you trust is priceless. Find the right store and you can’t go wrong. This is why I find it difficult to grasp the online experience as there is no way you can replicate shopping in store to buying on line. We do have a lot of online customers, many of who follow us on Instagram and receive our lovely newsletters, and often call the store for advice. Our customers trust what we select and the brands that we carry. And I get such a thrill when people purchase through our website from the most amazing places all over the world.
Is it a matter of what you feel good in, you look good in?
I think a big part of style is how you pull things together; do you believe that?
There’s nothing better than mixing high-end with those special finds on the high street. So I have made it my mission over the last few seasons, by listening to our customers and finding pieces that work with their lives, to find exciting emerging brands that are high street prices yet fabulous quality and still retain that special feeling.
Bernard Boutique is so fantastic that I’ve basically stopped shopping online… do you think that’s how you continue to set yourself apart in the fashion industry?
That’s so lovely to hear…the store will always be where my heart is, however it would be foolish not to acknowledge the overwhelming importance of online. Our website is an extension of the store, we plan the layout to reflect the in-store shopping experience and we aim to inspire our customers with Instagram posts and twice weekly newsletters created by our instore stylists. This means they are getting guidance from the same source as our instore customers do.
When buying for the store, how do you pick those perfect pieces?
I just buy what I love and spend all the rest of my time researching.
What do you love about the fashion industry?
It’s ever changing, always evolving, risk taking but never feels like work.
What’s the one item you believe every woman should own?
Something from Bernard Boutique!
Who’s your style icon?
Chitose Abe from Sacai – it’s my favourite Japanese brand
Fashion wise, what era do you love?
I love anything experimental in any era!