By Phillippa Stewart
Personal shoppers: time savers and miracle makers.
These people can replace your broken belt buckle, find a matching bracelet and pick up your bagel all before breakfast.
Wait, isn't that what Google and a (far cheaper) PA does?
Why are pricey personal shoppers steadily becoming part of the upscale traveler’s lifestyle?
We challenged three experts shoppers -- Gabrielle Teare, London-based fashion blogger and personal shopper; Angela Stone, author of “How to Become a Personal Shopper" and Fiona Foxon, lifestyle managing director of concierge service Quintessentially -- to convince us that a personal shopper isn't just a needy human doing the Internet's work.
Personal shoppers work one of two ways. They can function like a concierge service -- you tell them what you want, they find it and bring it to you.
Or, they escort you on a bespoke shopping tour.
When you touch down in a city, local personal shoppers can act as personal guides to the best boutiques and stores, helping you find anything from art deco antiques in Shanghai to a Parisian wardrobe overhaul.
CNN: I’ve just arrived in Hong Kong and have forgotten my shoes. I’m off to a party two hours after landing. Can you help?
Fiona Foxon: "Yes! Let us know what you want. We have members’ personal details and preferences on file and we can meet you at the airport or your hotel with some new shoes in your size.
"Members often come to us if they’re away on a business trip and have forgotten things like cuff links or phone chargers.
"We have 63 offices around the world and if we don’t have a physical presence in a specific location we organize fixers and use our local contacts on the ground.”
CNN: What weird things have you shopped for?
Foxon: “The most bizarre thing recently was finding a replica of the Pope’s house slippers.
"But we get all sorts of requests. We have a number of Japanese clients in Hong Kong who can’t find specific ingredients like fish flakes for sushi.
"We have also tracked down sheep’s placenta in Switzerland for a Hong Kong client. Apparently, it’s revolutionary in facial care. Makes my stomach churn!
"We never source anything illegal or immoral. We won’t find drugs, women or organize adoptions."
CNN: Why should I choose you over a guidebook?
Angela Stone: "Knowledge is power. I’m shopping on a regular basis. I know the brands and what’s good for your shape, size and age.
"Plus, I’ll assess your existing wardrobe and see what’s not right for you and what’s missing. I’ll take photos of you in new outfits consisting of garments you may not have considered yourself."
Gabrielle Teare: "People fly in from around the world to (see) me because they want to know where to find the best shopping in London. I’m an expert -- I’m in the shops all the time. I’ll also go through what colors suit you and look at your body shape, then we shop.”
Not surprisingly, the personal shopper service doesn’t come cheap. Excluding the cost of whatever you buy, Quintessentially charges US$65 per hour on top of an US$5,160-$39,000 annual membership fee.
Angela Stone charges NZ$200 (US$165) per hour. A personal shopping session can last for several hours. She recommends seeing a professional shopper for a consultation every three to six months.
Teare doesn't reveal her prices, citing competitive reasons and the fact that she offers a bespoke service to her clients. But she says she works by the half day or full day.
In a nutshell, hiring a personal shopper is more expensive than buying from Net-a-porter.
CNN: Personal shoppers claim to save their clients a lot of time, but they cost a lot of money. What do we really get for our cash?
Foxon: "We can jump queues. That Birkin bag might take you six months to get from ordering in the shop. Through our contacts we can get it for you quicker.
"Personal shopping is not a lazy option, it’s giving time back to our clients so they can do more. We’re not being paid to Google. We always vet our suppliers and make sure they can be trusted."
Teare: "I help people buy less but buy better. Most of us only wear 20 percent of what we buy -- look at the rubbish in our wardrobes."
"People get stuck wearing the same thing, be it rugby shirts, the wrong colors or shapes. Because I buy so much some shops give me discounts."
Stone: "I call myself a fresh pair of eyes. I see where I can take my client on a journey -– a transformation from the inside out.
"We fritter too much money away on emotional purchases. You don’t need a lot of pieces, just pieces that work for you."
No-nonsense fashion and lifestyle blogger and international marketing director, Jacqueline Raposo, has her own take.
“I think pinpointing personal style is quite difficult and as someone who travels I wouldn't expect a personal shopper to get me," she says.
"I'm from New York, I like black, but I also hate capped sleeves and any sort of ruffle -- can you figure out my style from that? I wouldn’t expect anyone to.”
The lady has a point.
CNN: How do you avoid clashes of opinion? Isn’t style subjective after all?
Teare: "You have to style people in their style, not yours. However, if the client is out shopping with me I always say 'try things on.'
"Some people say to me 'I’m not wearing that,' but then they come out of the changing room and start flirting with themselves, running their hands through their hair saying, 'Look, it’s me!'
"Also, I always tell clients: only buy things you love."
Stone: "Styling someone is definitely a process. You need to find out who your clients are, their needs and lifestyle. However, they quickly start to realize if someone is going to be their best friend and have them looking fantastic."
CNN: I hate what you bought for me -- what happens now?
Foxon: "If a member doesn’t like an item, we’ll rush back to the shop."
Teare: "People I shop for keep about 98 percent of what I buy for them. If it’s not right, I’ll take it back."
CNN: Will hiring a personal shopper for an image overhaul get me a promotion?
Foxon: "Image, unfortunately, or fortunately, is so important. A personal shopper-cum-stylist can revamp a person. It’s important for your career that you look and act the part."
Teare: "Men often have amazingly sparse wardrobes, those who consistently wear black, navy and gray could really benefit from seeing a personal shopper.
"Women, if you’re competing with a guy at work then they may be spending at least US$1,000 on a suit. You’re wearing a cheap suit from the high street, but you’re doing the same job and asking for the same money.
"I tell my clients, use all the assets you have. Be effective and be professional."
CNN: TV makeovers often consist of getting naked and ridiculed. Is this what will happen?
Teare: "A lot of TV humiliates people. Why do you need to grab bosoms to make someone look stylish? It makes for good television, but it’s unreal.
"Personal shopping is a relationship of respect and we’re here to make people look good. I see people in their underwear every day of the week so clients never need to feel embarrassed."
CNN: How do I avoid hiring a shoddy shopper?
Stone: "You must be comfortable with your stylist and make sure you know what they’ll do for you. Most reputable personal shoppers will have a website.
"Do your homework and ask around. I recommend talking to boutiques and department stores and seeing if they suggest anyone."
Teare: "Look at the person and look at their website. You want them to know about fashion. If their blog or website isn’t creative then they can’t style."
Don’t have the time to hunt around, or can’t be bothered? Check out our list of top fixers for the super-rich traveler