Online trunk shows may be the province of national retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and e-tailers such as Net-a-porter, but local boutiques are getting in on the action.

This story first appeared in the November 18, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Last week Ultimo, the Chicago-based high-end specialty store hosted its first online trunk show on its new Web site in conjunction with an in-store trunk show for Isaac Mizrahi. The retailer offered pieces from Mizrahi’s resort/spring collection at the boutique from Thursday to Saturday and posted them online at, where they will be available for several weeks.

Sara Albrecht, owner of Ultimo, said she sent out 1,000 e-mails to customers and friends Wednesday, promoting the Mizrahi trunk show and inviting customers who were unable to make it to the Chicago boutique to participate in the online version. (Mizrahi himself was unable to attend the in-store event).

“We view it as a marketing tool. We just launched the Web site, and now it’s easy to launch a mass mailing,” said Albrecht. Normally, Ultimo’s trunk shows are promoted through window signs and mailings to Chicago-area customers. The online element, she expects, will enable the store to reach a wider audience, especially when the store will come up in Web searches for particular designers.

The site showcases nine items from Mizrahi’s resort/spring line, ranging from a $795 color-blocked cashmere sweater to an $18,000 black-and-white coatdress and a $28,000 gold gown. While the site asks customers to order trunk-show items by telephone, fall collections featured online can be ordered directly via the site. For both, Ultimo handles all fulfillment. Deliveries of the resort/spring line begin next month.

“We booked about $30,000 on a dozen pieces, which, given the economy, is OK,” said Albrecht Monday. “Our trunk shows usually run at about $100,000, but we are very happy with this, and it did drive a lot of traffic to the Web site. Clients who viewed on the site came to the store to see it in person, so it is hard to quantify what is exactly Web site and what is store traffic — but both were draws for the show.”

Albrecht said she plans to do a trunk show with designer Gustavo Cadile and will begin talking to designers about the prospect of doing simultaneous in-store and online trunk shows.

Denise Incandela, president of Saks Direct, said, “We’ve been doing online trunk shows for years. We love them and they absolutely are profitable. It’s become a very important part of our business.” She said most of the online trunk shows are for contemporary and ready-to-wear, such as Diane von Furstenberg, Vince and Theory, as well as a few designers. This summer, Saks had an online trunk show for Oscar de la Renta, where the retailer featured nine resort looks and six special order items. “We like to include looks that we bought into, and we’re able to include special order outfits that are pretty over-the-top that we didn’t have to take an inventory stance,” said Incandela. The online trunk show tied in with a trunk-show event, hosted by Saks in San Francisco, in Lake Tahoe, where the line was made available for preselling.

She said she makes the customer aware of the trunk shows via e-mails, marketing them on the homepage and section pages, and working with their affiliates.

Currently, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York aren’t hosting any online trunk shows. Nordstrom has experimented with online trunk shows and has enabled customers to learn about products directly from the designer and preorder them, as it did this summer with contemporary brand Milly.

Net-a-porter has scored with online trunk shows, starting with one for Roland Mouret’s RM collection in July 2007, which drummed up over $500,000 in four days. Last February, it made headlines again when it offered for sale two Halston dresses immediately after the fall runway show for next-day delivery. The site followed up in September with a video of an exclusive Alexander McQueen runway show, whereby customers were able to purchase eight looks from the pre-spring 2009 collection two months before they were normally available. Most of the collection sold out within days.

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