Monday, April 12, 2010

Shopping Sample Sales - Recessionista Style

First Published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

March 28, 2010

NEW YORK -- You don't have to be a die-hard fashion fanatic to access the crazed sample sale events that appeared in episodes of "Sex and the City" and the movie "Confessions of a Shopaholic." New York City is packed with destinations and boutiques dedicated to the bargain-hunting recessionista.

On a recent trip here, I scoured the Web pages of TimeOut and New York magazines looking for updates on key sales. My taste runs more to the peasant couture of British designer Orla Kiely, known for her pear and stem designs, than Louis Vuitton or Versace. But if that's your love, Boutique on 57 sells discounted merchandise for the fashion elite. The discounts are even deeper at venues such as the Chelsea Market on Ninth Avenue that often have more eclectic and exclusive designers.


New York sample sale destinations

Chelsea Market

75 Ninth Ave., between 15th and 16th streets


Showroom Seven

263 11th Ave., between 27th and 28th streets


Outlet 7

117/119 E. Seventh St., between First Avenue and Avenue A


Samples for Ecompassion

2 Great Jones St., between Broadway and Lafayette


237 Lafayette St., between Prince and Spring streets


Boutique on 57

12 W. 57th St., between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas


Sample sale websites

(Membership required, but no one denied)

In the past decade, the Meat Packing District became known as a hideaway for exclusive sales and clothing lines. However, all that has changed with the advent of huge clubs, restaurants and stores such as Jeffery New York that have eaten up the open warehouse space. In the stores and stalls of Chelsea, unmarked doors often lead to a world of sample sales or indie art galleries.

Similarly, storefronts in neighborhoods south of the district such as Samples for Ecompassion, Outlet 7 and Inven.tory have sprouted from the success of limited- and exclusive-run sales events.

On a mission to score a colorful Orla Kiely handbag, which can typically cost $600 for a large leather tote, I took a taxi to the "secret" location published in New York Magazine's Sample Sale Updates.

There were no signs or markers for Showroom Seven, and all the address numbers were really dusty and dirty. The taxi driver wondered if I knew where I was going (I didn't). As I stood on the sidewalk looking at the warehouse searching for signs of life, the driver reversed to tell me I needed to walk down the street a little farther for the correct door.

The moment I opened that filthy industrial door, the color and fabric of designer showrooms changed my dismal impression. A little sign directed me to the elevator that led to the third-floor stalls of Showroom Seven's glorious sale. Racks with humble little paper signs of designers filled every working space.

I was a day late to the opening of the sale, so I missed the grand rush, but there were still plenty of bargains and discounts to make me drool. I scored my beloved Orla Kiely for 75 percent off the normal price and a pair of Charlotte Ronson sandal shoes for the summer. I left wondering what I had missed at the opening but happy for the money I had saved.

Fortunately for the rest of the world outside New York, that feeling of discovery and the thrill of saving can be experienced online on sample sale sites such as Gilt, Rue La La, Hautelook and Ideeli. There are even phone apps so you'll never miss an opening, but don't be surprised if the popular designers sell out within 15 minutes of their release.

Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, the founder of, sought to capture the exclusivity and excitement of sample sales with a website that has 2 million members to date.

"In essence, we wanted to take the sample sale phenomenon to the rest of the country," she says.

Online sales are often like treasure hunts, where both lesser-known and premier designers sell wholesale from their lines. Often there are only a limited number of sizes available, so it pays to be a quick clicker. Also different from rack raking is that each item is modeled and photographed for the sale. However, as a now-seasoned online sample sale junkie, I can tell you it pays to know your exact measurements to get the best fit. Returns are accepted for shoes and clothes.

Bravo recently decided to partner with Rue La La to launch a clothing line exclusively through the sample sale site. Kathy Rose, a recent winner on the cable network's "Launch My Line" competition series, had great success with her two-day online sale. Everything was sold out by the end.

"I thought the people at Rue La La did a beautiful job," she says. "For me as the designer, I was happy with it."

Ms. Rose's nature-inspired jewelry pieces have been sold to Madonna, Cameron Diaz, Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston. On the Rue La La site, her jewelry designs were joined by a clothing line of animal print and gown-inspired designs. Suddenly, her work was not only available to the suburban sect but also affordable.

Now only her celebrity-worthy couture pieces are available at her store in West Hollywood and online at The masses will just have to wait for another sample sale. Oh, the suspense!

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