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How Carole Harari's Swiss Style Created a Success Story in Jackson Square

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Photo by Aubrie Pick

Carole Harari is the woman responsible for curating the gorgeous and incredibly spacious La Boutique: L'Art et la Mode in Jackson Square. The neighborhood is teeny and doesn't have a ton of footwork, yet La Boutique's roster of faithful return customers is growing every day. Brands like Shourouk, Freda Salvador, Isabel Marant, and rare finds like Collection 66 and Firma, have folks coming back to see what's new every season. And Harari has a few more tricks up her sleeve, too. She divulges some of her secrets to retail success in our Q&A below.


Photos by Aubrie Pick

1. What did you do before you opened La Boutique? Did you always want to open up a store?

Before opening La Boutique, I was in PR/Marketing. I knew at I some point I would leave the corporate world and open a boutique. When I first visited San Francisco, I saw an opportunity here to bring small and emerging European labels to the city.

2. You hail from France... can you tell us a little bit about where you're from? When did you move to the U.S. and what made you move here?

I am actually from the French speaking part of Switzerland. I moved here almost 4 years ago, after visiting SF and falling in love with this city!

3. (Ooops, sorry for assuming France!) How did you find the brands you wanted to carry when you first opened, and has that changed?

All the brands I carry were designs I actually used to wear and love when I was living and working in Europe. Obviously, our offering is evolving, as I get to know our customer better and understand what their needs are. Some brands were too avant-garde and not adequate for the SF lifestyle, for instance. But we are still consistent with our initial European aesthetic and always looking for new, talented emerging designers.

4. How else have you seen your business change since you first opened?

It takes time to build relationships with customers so the main change is that we now have followers who come back each season to get pieces from their favorite designers. Also, we are developing more and more the event side of the business by hosting our own events, such as pop-ups, trunk shows, art exhibitions, etc?and also by renting out the space for private parties.

5. What do you find sells best? Who are your best-selling designers?

Everything is available everywhere nowadays so I find that the true luxury is exclusivity. What sells best are the smaller labels that we carry in exclusivity in the US market such as Collection 66 from Switzerland and Firma from Berlin.

6. You were carrying Shourouk before she exploded on to the fashion scene. How did you discover her? Did you expect her to become so popular?

I believe the first time I heard about Shourouk was on a french blog. I saw this blogger wearing Shourouk's iconic bird in Swarovsky crystal and found it amazing. I immediately emailed her to tell her how much I liked her work and then went to Paris to meet her?You can never really tell whether a designer will gain such notoriety, but Shourouk's aesthetic was already so strong and her work was of such an amazing quality that I was not surprised to see her become so popular.

7. Is there a label you've always wanted to carry that you haven't been able to yet?

Only one! one of my favorite designer is Dries Van Noten, but when I first contacted them they told me that they had an exclusivity agreement wiht Saks in San Franciso. I think this was actually not a bad thing because as much as I love Dries's work, I am not sure it would have worked here, his style is very unique.

8. How would you describe the La Boutique customer?

Our customer is so diverse it is hard to give one description, but I would say that they want to be stylish in their every day life, both at work, during the weekend with their kids or on a date night. At the same time, they're looking for pieces that will last, and that are perfectly tailored.

7. Do you see a lot of repeat customers?

Yes we do! We have our "Collection 66" customers, our "Firma customers," etc. This is the best reward as a store owner to see that customers are happy with the pieces they bought and are come back to get more!

8. What do you find is the best way to get new customers in the door?

I think it is definetely word of mouth. When a customer is happy, she tells her friends. So outstanding customer services is our number one priority. We've also been very fortunate to receive so much support from the local media, having been listed several times among the best store in the city by 7x7 or Refinery 29 for instance has helped us build a great reputation.

9. How do you like being in Jackson Square? Do you have your sights on any other neighborhoods for a second store?

I love Jackson Square, the neighborhood has so much character and is so beautiful. I believe it matches perfectly our aesthetic?We are not yet considering a second store, maybe in a year or two!

10. You also host events at your space—do you find that increases your boutique sales? Was hosting parties always part of the plan when you opened up your space on Jackson?

Yes events is an important part of what we do. Our objective is to always offer a different experience when customer walk in; either with stunning art on display, a fun pop-up. When we first opened, we definetely had in mind to host events, such as opening receptions, but our events became so popular that we have been developing this aspect of our business even more. It is such a great way to build a community!

We always end our interviews with a lightning round:

10. Beach or Mountains?

Beach (yes, even though I am from Switzerland!)

11. '60s, '70s or '80s?

'70's

12. Jay-Z or Kanye?

Kanye

13. 30 Rock or Parks and Rec?

30 Rock!

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