As the pandemic slogs into the 19th month in the U.S., Talbots has sought a little holiday levity with Barbara Costello.
The social media sensation who introduced the world to cleaning Crocs in a dishwasher and three-ingredient blueberry muffins (with ice cream being one) has a new gig with Talbots. Better known as @BrunchwithBabs, the Connecticut life hacker and multitasker, who has 1.3 million TikTok followers and 487,000 more on Instagram. Having shopped at Talbots for 40-plus years, Costello is helping to attract slightly younger customers to the retailer, according to senior vice president of brand marketing Bill Miller. This is Costello’s first brand ambassadorship and she is the first influencer to be given a spread in Talbots’ December catalogue.
After what has been a dreary stretch for millions, Miller said Talbots’ more lighthearted holiday strategy is in line with Costello. “That’s also part of her success. She just makes you smile, when you watch her hacks. She’s engaging. She’s really for all ages. We were like, ‘OK, this is real. She’s a brand fan of Talbots. We’re a brand fan of Babs.’ That’s why it works. You do need to smile these days.”
The company sees a lot of buzz, in terms of site traffic, interest and sales. After Costello kicked off the “How Do You Holiday?” campaign for Talbots wearing a GWP apron in an Instagram Reels, women across the country called its stores looking for the item. “It’s basically completely sold out at this point,” Miller said.
“We can’t talk about sales [publicly] but we definitely see impact when she wears our clothes,” said Miller, who noted she has two more Reels coming up, one about the retailer’s upcoming Black Friday collection and another about the ease of Talbots’ buy online, pick up curbside program. The partnership will continue into 2022.
After 18 months of being on social media, Costello has racked up followers but the 72-year-old still described herself as “very new” to the forum in an interview Monday afternoon. Her daughter, who had a motherhood blog and was expecting a third child, encouraged her to dabble on TikTok. “She had an Instagram account called Mrs. Nipple. Her last name is Ariola so that kind of dovetailed,” Costello said. Posting a recipe and receiving a lot of heartfelt messages put everything in motion.
“I really didn’t think that I had to post more than a few times, but here we are 18 months later,” Costello said. “I was blown away by all of the emotional reach out to me from people, who had been separated from families at the time. These messages still come in. I get several a week from somebody, who may have lost their mom not even necessarily recently, but maybe 15 years ago. There is something that reminds them of their mom if I am the grandma that they never knew. That has really touched my heart. And I really did not expect that.”
During the holidays, she aims to connect with people via recipes, tips and a sweepstakes to win a brunch with her. “It’s personalizing the holidays through Talbots and Babs,” she said.
After announcing her ambassadorship with Talbots, Costello offered a holiday hack, a make-ahead appetizer. “I fried the bacon, chopped the scallions, grated the cheese and measured out the other ingredients to make these little appetizers on party[-sized] rye bread, froze them on a cookie sheet and put them in a bag. Lo and behold, they’re good for three months. When someone comes in, you pull them out, put them under the broiler and you have these lovely appetizers ready to go,” Costello said.
In terms of style tips, Costello, who has eight grandchildren, said, “I’m an older person, right? I would be considered a senior. You’re never too old to be fashionable, to look your best and to have fun. There are clothes made for older people, right? I think the style of Talbots is fun and fashionable for a 35-year-old or a 72-year-old. I would hope to touch people even older people to say, ‘Look, no matter what our age, our shape or whatever, we can look good. We can wear fashionable, well-made, classic clothes.”
The best style advice that Costello has ever received was via a Color Me Beautiful party, where attendees were advised on a specific color palette — inspired by one of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall or winter — and based on their skin tone, eye color and hair color. “I am a winter. I have to say that nailed it. That was many, many years ago we were all into that,” Costello said.