MODEL-SLIM Georgetown Woman, full-time professional, moved from Chevy Chase into DC and found her closets weren’t big enough to hold the ballgowns she needed maybe four times a year. What to do? Why rent, of course, the latest thing in upscale shopping for special (i.e., older, higher-income) people supporting special causes and events.
But she wasn’t able to find what she wanted at a local rental venue. Enter Armarium—cue the French word armoire, where one stores precious things—a New York-based “premier luxury fashion rental service,” that recently came to Washington for a two-day showcase of current fashion offerings at the Jefferson Hotel.
(Also take note: The word armarium, a word as fancy as some of the finery, also once meant a place to store arms.)
The special event the Georgetown Woman had in mind was November’s Knock Out Abuse Gala, a premier event that raises funds for four homeless shelters aiding female victims of domestic abuse. Timely, yes?
Consider this scene that has taken place at that event for 24 years now: hundreds of women dressing up mainly for other women until joined later by men (also supporters) wearing very boring tuxedos.
In DC, at the Jefferson, several hundred gowns from a dozen or more designers (known as brands) were displayed on racks. A discreet dressing room was constructed on site. One of the first sales (or, actually, rental) was a long-sleeved shapely gold-and-silver-sequin Pucci that must have gone for a high figure. Michelle Obama favorite designers Naeem Khan and Jason Wu were well represented.
The Jefferson’s general manager dropped by to cast a vote for a sparkly gray long-sleeved slit-up-the-front Missoni he liked but wasn’t about to commit his wife to. Just looking, he said. Cheryl Masri, co-founder with friend Jill Sorensen of Knock Out Abuse, came by with her equally trim daughter.
Armarium flourishes in New York City on East 52nd Street. The founders, Alexandra Lind Rose and Trisha Gregory, admired what the other big wardrobe-rental outfit, Rent the Runway, had built. But they wanted to create a niche for truly “editorial” pieces, the catwalk stunners that capture everyone’s attention but rarely get put into production.
In fact, a trendy architectural number by Brit designer Christopher Kane caught everybody’s eye but few takers: at retail, maybe $6,000; here, to rent for four days, “only” $650.
That’s basically the equation. Find a knockout gown you never would imagine owning and rent it for way less. Stylists in house help adapt it to your form. Photos fly back and forth on the web between client and stylist. Speedy delivery. Personal service. Jewelry and evening bags an option for rental as well. Twice a year, clients are informed of an inventory sale. Fashions change fast so don’t expect to find something hanging around six months from now. Sizes from zero to 14. You will never show up in a gown that another client has rented: Armarium employees keep notes.
Georgetown Woman demurred. She wanted a $700 rental but thought it was too much to put out for a single night. (The average rental—Armarium prefers to refer to it as a “loan”—is around $450.) Her fallback, she said, would be sales at Saks. But she didn’t leave. She lingered, drinking the champagne on offer and talking to other women present, having a second look at the tantalizing gowns that turn Cinderella into a princess.
Like candy lovers in a sweet shoppe. Who can resist having a bite?