The Fashion Queen of the South Spills Her Secrets to Success
For Laura Vinroot Poole it’s all about the customer.
In fashion there are some stores that have been so groundbreaking that they only need one name—think Ikram, Colette, Maxfield’s, FortyFiveTen, and, of course, Capitol. Revered for different reasons (importing talent, championing new designers, and a strong point of view, to name a few), these stores and the visionaries behind them broke new ground and offered the customer an unprecedented retail experience when the department store reigned supreme, and they continue to innovate and stand out today. While I have been lucky enough to visit most, there was one on my list to which I hadn’t yet made it, and that was the infamous Capitol in Charlotte, NC. When the opportunity arose to participate in their 20th anniversary blowout—complete with a farm party, baby goats, late-night fried chicken, an Oscar de la Renta retrospective, and a ton of designer exclusives to celebrate the milestone—it was my chance to not only travel south and see the store, but to get some one-on-one time with its founder, Laura Vinroot Poole.
During my visit it was easy for me to get swept up in the racks of clothes, shelves of shoes, and impeccably dressed staff, but it was Poole’s take on fashion and the way she spoke about her customers that captured my attention the most. Capitol is truly a labor of love built by Poole to service her clients, and it speaks to the power of authenticity and staying true to your brand and vision. Below are some sage words of wisdom:
On Charlotte and *really* knowing your customer:
“[The store is in] Charlotte because I’m from here. I think that’s why we’ve been here for 20 years and why we’ve been successful—it’s because it’s not a store about me, it’s a store about Charlotte. It’s a store about Charlotte’s clients. And so when I go into market, I’m not looking for things that would look great on me or that I love—I’m looking for things that are relevant to my clients’ lives. And our life in the South is different. I mean people really do get dressed up to go to the grocery store. You have debutante balls. It’s a different place. And also it’s interesting because people have manners here. And I think that it’s not polite not to be turned out. You don’t show up to an event and not sort of go all out. It’s disrespectful to the hostess. That’s fun to work with. You’ve got amazing people to dress, who are willing participants in the whole process.”
If you need it, other people probably need it too:
“Fashion has always been sort of innate [for me]. I’m not obsessed with clothes. I’m more obsessed with serving people and helping people. And when I moved home—I came home because my husband wanted to go to architecture school here—there was nowhere to shop. All my mother’s friends were shopping in New York at Bergdorf and Bob Ellis for shoes in Charleston, which is Jeffrey’s family store—which was the most legendary store in the world. Nobody really could shop here. You had Bank of America based here. NASCAR is based here. Wells Fargo has a huge base here. And for all of the events that that entails, there was nowhere to shop. It was probably opportunistic. But I love being in my hometown. I understand the events. I also understand the climate. I understand the women. I understand the family dynamics. And so buying for my people—that’s not hard.”
On the importance of discovery and relationships:
“It’s not about ‘Oh my god. Do you have the newest, latest it bag?’ It’s more ‘I want you to meet my friend who’s really creative that I think you would find interesting.’ It’s more about forging these relationships with the client and the designer, rather than with me. I’m just the conduit between them. And I think that young designers love that because these people are so excited. Nobody’s jaded. They’re excited about meeting creative, smart people. My clients have had relationships with Irene [Neuwirth] for 20 years and have known her since she was little. That’s special. They’re very close. They go to each other’s weddings. It’s a real relationship. And for me, if this were just about clothes, this would not be very interesting to me. This is really about relationships and about people. That’s what makes it fun.”
On when it is time to throw down:
“Getting through the recession and getting through twenty years... I think it is something to celebrate. And fashion as an industry is so forward-thinking and forward-looking that you very rarely are able to take a minute and celebrate and say, ‘Look how far we’ve come. Look what we’ve done.’ And for me, it was an opportunity for that. And then early on, it was clear to me that this was not about celebrating me. It’s celebrating the clients and the designers and this relationship we all have together because I really love what I do. All the women that work here—we love what we do, but we know we wouldn’t be able to do it if we didn’t have incredible designers and amazing clients that love their designs. It has always been a thank-you and an appreciation and a celebration of that, rather than me.”
The real reason behind the name:
“My husband is from a small town in North Carolina, and it was this incredible store in the ’60s and ’70s in eastern North Carolina in this tiny town of—I don’t know—50,000 people. It was THE place to go. And it went out of business in the ’80s. I didn’t want [the store’s name] to be about me. I wanted it to just be a memorable name that was easy.”
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