Written by A Wild Dove | Photographed by Eric White
Bernard Paul’s reputation in the retail scene is as stellar as the ready-to-wear he peddles. As far as salespeople go, Paul is an icon, having managed the sales floors at top retail destinations from Bagutta in Soho, to Gucci, to Bottega Veneta. Now, master of touting Phoebe Philo’s minimalist creations at Celine, Paul shares with us the key to his success (hint: be natural!) and his first memories of falling in love with fashion:
What is your first memory of fashion? When did you know you wanted to be a part of it?
My first memory of fashion is when my mom or dad would take me to the department stores, such as Barney’s or Gimbels when it was still open, or Bergdorf’s, with my brother and we would get outfits. Also our great aunt would take us out pretty much every weekend to get something new. I would get straight A’s so I could get clothes from this cool shop in Park Slope called E’spirit Homme. They had the coolest pieces from European brands.
Can you take us through your path into becoming a retail success?
It started when I first went to clubs, like World on 1st Street. I must have been like 16. I met a lady named Phyllis Swan, whose husband or working partner was a designer named Isaia. They had a small shop on Seventh Avenue directly across from the original Barney’s. We had four seamstresses in the basement and FIT interns making every piece that hung on the racks. It was such a cool experience. From there I met a client and she wanted me to go to Soho with her to help pick out some RTW from a boutique called Bagutta. As soon as I walked through the door, I was hooked! They carried John Richmond, Rifat Ozbek, Callaghan, Alaia, Commes de Garcons, Plein Sud, Dolce and Gabbana. I wanted to work there immediately. So I asked the owner, Marc Regev, who was known as Marc Bagutta, and had an interview with him on the basketball court on Thompson Street. He took me under his wings. I was 18 years old and started just part-time.
What were some key moments in your career that have shaped your path?
Just being in the environment of that boutique. We were like nothing out there. Coming into our store was an experience. We literally went to showrooms and hand picked what pieces we would buy for our store.. So by 1991, I started going to Milan with Marc, buying the Men’s collections, such as Romeo Gigli, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Versace, Neil Barrett and then as years progressed started going to Paris and buying newer collections. I remember going to Azzedine Alaia’s showroom and him making us lunch at the appointment. Or seeing Olivier Theyskens first collection, or going to view John Galliano and Dior. To sum it up these were memorable times.
What makes a good sales person?
I believe that you have to be you. You cannot put on a facade or change your own character as a salesperson. Just be yourself, people appreciate that. Personality is everything. I was told a long time ago, some people have it, some don’t. You gotta love it!
How is selling womenswear different than menswear (apart from the obvious reasons)?
See that’s something I don’t do. Selling is selling. I would not change to be one way for a woman and another for a man. Really, in luxury, what is the difference?? Humans are humans, some cut from a different cloth, but that’s about it. It’s really about listening to the “customer,” her or him. People want to be heard and paid attention to. And the most important is being true.
How has the retail environment, or shopper, changed since you got into the business?
I think the retail environment has become a little more mainstream. If you want something now, you can just google or click something to find it. I remember the days when you would just fall upon something new or only a few handful of people knew about it. These days everyone also has their own freestanding stores, it’s the sign of the times.
What do you love about working in luxury? Celine?
I believe in the vision of Phoebe Philo at Celine. She has such a creative soul. I truly believe she has the power to set the trends.
If you weren't in sales, what would you be doing?
I would be a recording artist. Performing, singing dancing, writing. Music has always been a passion, it runs through my veins.
What do you do to unwind from fashion?
To unwind I have a period before work where I am working out, completely alone. It’s kind of a meditation for me. Also either running or walking a few miles a day, with some tunes playing, love it!
How do you stay balanced in this crazy world?
Staying balance in this crazy world is taking everyday as it comes, truly. But my wife, Julie our our daughter Ava are my inspiration and are strength truly comes from them. The love received keeps me balanced in this crazy world.
Salespeople, stylists, skincare specialists and all manner of self care mavens—they can be so much more than simply people who provide a service. If we’re lucky enough to score a particularly first-rate one, they might be closer to our therapists, confidantes…basically our support team. They work magic on our wardrobes. They whip us into shape after a rough week. They set us straight when we’re mired in bad vibes. They nix our doubts and fix our hairdos in one fell swoop. They are truly transformation experts. In this series, we’re giving credit where it’s due: to the pros who keep us on point. Get their take on style, wellness, and how we can all learn to love ourselves a little better—even after we’ve left their stomping grounds.