Camille Branda, associate and personal shopper in couture and evening collections at Bergdorf Goodman since 2011, considers the shop a museum, in that it is a space defined as much by beautiful things, as the creative people that work with them. In September, we met and discussed how these elements intersect to shape one of New York’s most iconic specialty stores. It was a pleasure to wander its spaces together, and admire the craftsmanship and ideas behind the garments. And Camille has a discerning eye – before launching her own Image Consulting Business a few years ago, she led a fulfilling career as the VP of Product Development and Sourcing for The Echo Design Group, an accessory and home décor company. While there, she travelled the world to look for novel fabrics, products and manufacturers. Camille relives this experience of discovery every day at BG, as interaction with designers enhances her understanding and appreciation of the clothing. It is the constant flow of diverse people – from the designers to those that work on the window displays and customers – that make BG an ever-changing creativity hub. This is reflected in the way she talks about her job:
Everyday I arrive excited, as I approach 5th Avenue, and see the store and its magnificent window displays. This may sound silly, but it really does thrill me. We start most mornings with a clinic, directed by a designer or designer representative, who introduces us to a particular product, to understand this brand and its seasonal inspiration. We then go live and meet the customers. Curtain unfolds at 10:00 and the real show begins!
This sense of theatre is reflected in the movement and crowds that characterise the store’s ambience. And Camille clearly moves to this fast rhythm: when we met, an hour before her next appointment, she seamlessly conversed with me in between phone calls to clients and fitters. Perhaps it is the personal shoppers, who are the most integrated within the intricate spaces of the shop: they tie all the floors together in their creation of looks. And their clients, who Camille describes as more “educated” than ever, demand thorough service. In turn, she has learned much about the many individual and cultural perceptions of fashion and the body. For Camille, ‘the “one-on-one” relationship is intimate and rewarding. We talk lifestyle, goals, preferences, and challenges, as well as colour, style and proportion as we walk through the store to feel for likes and dislikes… I am not only interested in making a big sale, I want to build a relationship with customers for a lifetime.’ Through close observation – the unspoken is most revealing – and listening, she is able to best advise on clothing that ‘accommodate[s] and improve[s] a customer’s personal style.’
Clothing is one element of a puzzle that shapes the picture of one’s image or style, based on self-presentation, expression, and the physical realities of the body in a certain space. In a typical day for Camille, she might style outfits, as ritualistic as that for a wedding or debutante presentation, or plan wardrobes to correspond to the minimalist space of an art gallery, a formal state dinner, or business and casual settings. This multi-layered definition of style was a thread that ran through our conversation, especially when we discussed unique characters, such as the late American heiress, horticulturalist and collector Doris Duke. Camille became fascinated with Duke after a recent visit to her mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, whose objects and decoration reflected its owner’s extraordinary life and unique outlook. Similarly, Camille’s memory of her mother, as ‘sophisticated, polished and elegant’ and ‘a true style icon,’ lives on in objects and pictures, with which she surrounds herself. She joked that her mother ‘groomed [her] for Bergdorf Goodman at a very tender age,’ and a few days after our meeting, she sent me a childhood photograph of herself in a carefully constructed ensemble ‘styled by Mom.’ Taken in her bedroom, she wears a coat with a large white fur collar over a dress, accessorised with leather gloves, a bag, and an ornamented hat. Her prim crossed-legged pose completes the image.
As she grew older, Camille used fashion as her own means of creativity and self-expression. She recalls wearing a shearling coat and printed headband while in high school. The processes of styling and wearing this outfit were, for Camille, transformative experiences that made her feel ‘so cool and simply amazing.’ Through them she could assert her independence, as well as relate to the wardrobes of films, including Love Story and Annie Hall.
Camille has thus always combined the realities of fashionable dressing, with a ‘romantic, fun’ fantasy realm. Throughout her career, Camille has honed her expertise and fashion eye, and now similarly seeks to enhance and elevate her clients’ images to match Bergdorf’s own, stylish reputation.