If the music blasting across Covent Garden's fashion shops does not put you off, the ice-cool assistants will. How is it that they can afford to be so terrifyingly well dressed? Because they get hefty staff discounts and clothes allowances. And why do they look so good? Because that's part of their job, says Tamsin Blanchard
RED OR DEAD
Sarah Leon, 25, wears her own top, and the suede skirt ( pounds 170) and boots ( pounds 75) are both from Red or Dead. Frank Horstmann's suede shirt ( pounds 170) and boots ( pounds 75) also come from the shop in Thomas Neal's Centre, Earlham Street, WC2, of which he is the manager. He is 28 years old. Full-time staff are interviewed by Red or Dead's boss, Wayne Hemingway, and are given four items of clothing and one of footwear each season. There is also a 30 per cent discount. They are obliged to wear some Red or Dead, but can mix it with their own clothes, as both Sarah and Frank have. Staff are chosen for their personalities, but being a part-time model (like Sarah) also helps.
Lisa James, 21, wears a muslin shirt ( pounds 75), wool waistcoat ( pounds 70) and chalk- stripe jacket ( pounds 208) from the Michiko shop in Neal Street, WC2. She does public relations for the company, and doubles as a sales assistant when required. Oliver Macgregor, 22, wears a hand-knit Michiko jumper ( pounds 250). He was previously an assistant at Paul Smith and fits perfectly with Michiko's image by working in clubs at weekends. Oliver gets a 40 per cent discount but no allowance. He thinks that is fair, 'but everyone on Neal Street gives each other a discount so I don't spend much on clothes.'
Michael Flynn (left), 27, worked at Saint Laurent and Krizia before becoming manager of PIL, in Neal Street. He is given a clothing allowance of pounds 1,000 per year, which buys an outfit each season. Shop assistant Colin Fitzgerald gets a pair of jeans and boots each season, and a 40 per cent discount. Michael is wearing his own clothes and Blundstone Chelsea boots from the shop ( pounds 65); Colin wears the same boots and PIL moleskin jeans ( pounds 60). Colin is given an incentive of 1 per cent commission for every pair of boots he sells (averaging 65p per sale). Michael likens working in a shop to being an amateur psychologist, because he tries to judge how much attention a customer wants.
Catherine Montgomery, 23, and Heston Slyfield, 22, work at Agnes B in Floral Street. Catherine wears a jersey top with ribbon tie ( pounds 38), jacket ( pounds 228) and leather jeans ( pounds 398), all from the shop. She spends pounds 70- pounds 100 per month on clothes, mainly at Agnes B: after three months, staff get a 50 per cent discount. Heston wears a classic grey three-button single- breasted suit (jacket, pounds 228; trousers, pounds 116) and shirt ( pounds 56), all by Agnes B.
The staff are not on commission, but Catherine does not mind being a glorified clothes horse: 'People don't notice details of clothes when they're on a hanger - it makes a difference to see them on somebody.'
DUFFER OF ST GEORGE
'I've heard that people think the shop is intimidating, but I don't think it is,' says Chris Apple, 23, wearing a patchwork jumper that will cost about pounds 100 when it becomes available in a few weeks' time. Assistants at Duffer of St George (who do not get a clothing allowance but can 'negotiate prices') have a reputation for being too laid back to help customers, but Kris Reid, 23, who also works at the store's Covent Garden branch, in Shorts Gardens, says she would tell a customer if an outfit looked bad on them. 'There is a limit to how interested you can be in clothes,' she says, 'but at least you can talk to people here.' She wears a top ( pounds 45) from the shop.
The assistants at Paul Smith look as though they have stepped out of his advertising campaigns. They have to fit in to the Paul Smith look and are all incredibly well groomed. After a three-month trial, they get a pounds 500-per-season clothing allowance and a 40 per cent discount. The staff above are (from left to right): James Holliday, 22, in a silk and cotton shirt (retail price, pounds 140) and velvet jacket ( pounds 380); Austen Heath, 30, in a sample suit (he paid pounds 255) and a shirt ( pounds 75) from last year's allowance; Daniel Puddle, 20, in brown moleskin jeans ( pounds 70) and a grey ribbed pullover from last winter; Paloma Perez, 26, in grey trousers ( pounds 155), Smedley roll- neck top ( pounds 89) and zip-front cardigan ( pounds 149) Photographs: Herbie Knott
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