Paula Lundgren is on a mission to rid Austinites of what she calls “unsupervised purchases.” That is, splurges that make no sense, such as the fur coat that will never see the light of day in the balmy Texas climate or the miniskirt for a mother of three. With such remedies in hand, Lundgren is spreading her fashion-conscious message one person at a time as Austin’s busiest personal shopper.
The tall, gregarious blonde rarely works less than six days a week, zipping from clients’ homes to stores and back again. Her roster of 250 clients now includes everyone from a 14-year-old going to a dance to an 84-year-old who lives in a retirement home. “She still wants to look good,” says Lundgren, matter of factly. “She has a personal trainer.”
The bulk of Lundgren’s business, though, comes from the 30- to 50-year-olds, from all around Texas to as far as Boston. “They want to look their best, but they’re busy,” she offers. “They’re all working, have children, husbands, big careers.”
Lundgren says these ladies — who often bring in their husbands and children, too, for a fashion overhaul — seek her out when they realize they’re disconnected from the world of current style. And she’s more than happy to offer her advice. “Really, I just want to put what I want on you. I’ll listen, but I’m pretty headstrong. If you’re coming to me, you’re really ready to hear someone else’s opinion,” she says, noting that Tracey Reese, Prada, Donna Karan, DKNY and Nanette Lepore are among her favorite labels. “Some people like to try to manage and control me, and I might say, ‘Why do you use me then?’”
Customers pony up $110 an hour on weekdays and $135 an hour on Saturdays for Lundgren’s opinion and fashion assistance. And she’s willing to go the distance for them, whether it’s hunting down the right wedding dress at a local Austin boutique or making the 90-minute drive to San Antonio’s Saks Fifth Avenue for a hard-to-come-by Chanel bag.
On a recent day, two clients, via Lundgren, dropped a total of $50,000 at Saks. “Let’s see, that was a Moschino look, Prada dresses, two great bags, seven pairs of shoes,” Lundgren recalls of the splurge. Typically, she stocks her clients’ closets for everyday events, weddings and social events, but no occasion is off limits. “For some of them, I’ve even picked their funeral outfits,” she says with a laugh.
Lundgren started down the personal shopping path 15 years ago when the Austin boutique she was working at closed its doors. At the time, she already had been moonlighting with private customers. “I realized, ‘Excuse me, I’m making 35 percent of my income on my day off,’” she recalls of her decision to go solo. “So it was do or die.” Prior to that, she worked at Neiman Marcus in Dallas and also spent two years as the first-floor manager of Macy’s in New York’s Herald Square.
But the native Austinite, who received her B.S. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1979, can’t see herself living anywhere else but her beloved city. “No one else thinks of Austin as the fashion capital of Texas, but we do. I mean, our boutiques are great,” she says, citing the Garden Room, By George and Therapy among her favorites. “I have people coming from out of town to shop here because the boutiques are better here than Dallas or Houston, where big department stores put the smaller shops out of business.”
That’s one reason why she has no plans to join a larger store’s personal shopping department. “I like my freedom. I don’t feel I’m indebted to anyone. I’m there for the client only, not to promote this store or that,” she admits. “I’m free to be honest about everything.”
And such brutal honesty just could be her greatest fashion talent. “I’m known for it,” she says. “I’ll say, ‘Your teeth are yellow, go get them whitened right now.’ Or, ‘It’s time to get an eye job,’ or, ‘No, you don’t need an eye job.’ And they’ll say, ‘Thank you, Paula. Nobody else told me.’”