Canny GILT Groupe Founders Discover They Timed the Market Perfectly; ‘It’s a Bit Taboo’ to Be Seen Shopping These Days!

“We’re floating, we’re just so happy,” proclaimed designer Isabel Toledo on Thursday, Jan. 22, at Shang, the restaurant at the new Thompson Lower East Side Hotel, where designers and socialites had gathered to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the invitation-only sample sale website GILT Groupe.

Upon arriving, Ms. Toledo had been besieged by admirers offering congratulatory kisses for her Inauguration Day coup (she had designed Michelle Obama‘s yellow wool and lace coat and dress ensemble). She was accompanied as always by her husband and business partner, illustrator Ruben Toledo.

“Remember, we were as surprised as you all were. We didn’t know, you know?” said Mr. Toledo. “So it was like what you experienced, but like 10 thousand times bigger.”

“It was not certain,” echoed Ms. Toledo, adding: “The energy’s been great. The studio has been abuzz!”

“You know what, Isabel made a couple of outfits,” revealed Mr. Toledo. “But they’re actually tricky! They said she might wear Isabel’s black and white dress for church. So when I got the first phone call saying ‘I think she’s wearing Isabel,’ I was like, ‘Is it black and white?’ And people said no. I was like ‘Ohhhhh, that’s not us.”

Of course, it was them. Barneys, Ms. Toledo’s exclusive purveyor in New York, had spontaneously re-done its windows in homage. “We have to go on our way home-we should stop by,” Ms. Toledo said to her husband.

Nearby, Marie Claire fashion editor and reality TV star Nina Garcia confessed she hadn’t left the house to celebrate the inauguration. “I was actually home with the flu with a two-year old that was also home with the flu and a husband who was home with the flu!” she said. “But we all watched it.”

She was one of the only women present who hadn’t yet made any purchases on GILT. “I haven’t bought anything yet, but just because I haven’t been really shopping. But I have my eye on a lot of designers,” she said.

(Tall socialite Marissa Noel Brown, whose father’s fund, Fairfield Greenwich Group, lost over $7 billion in the Bernard Madoff scandal, was a reminder that all was not right in the world, despite the cheery glitz in the room). 

Socialite Marjorie Gubelmann said she had purchased an Oscar de la Renta dress, chocolate brown with white embroidery on GILT. “They made sample sales something appealing and not someone’s dirty little secret,” she said, of GILT Groupe’s comely blonde founders, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, who were greeting guests nearby. “So all the best designers are participating because the company they’re keeping with everyone else is great.”

Also: “They have amazing taste in candles.” (Ms. Gubelmann makes the candles that GILT gives as gifts to its clients).

Ms. Maybank and Ms. Wilkis Wilson confirmed that the economy may be tanking, but the online designer sample sale business is booming. “We are trying to bring on 20 new people in the next two months,” said Ms. Maybank. “And it’s been that pace since we started. With the situation with the economy, brands need us more than ever, and we like to be there for them.”

“I think it’s a bit taboo to be walking out of a store with four bags on each side,” said Ms. Wilkis Wilson. “It’s not in line with reality. So you can be getting value at a time like this but also, if you can do it in the comfort of your own home, a lot of people are doing that… a lot.”

The founders said their entire closets had been purchased on their site. Ms. Maybank, for example, was wearing “a McQueen jacket from the sale, $3500 originally, I bought it on Gilt Groupe for $900.”

Canny GILT Groupe Founders Discover They Timed the Market Perfectly; ‘It’s a Bit Taboo’ to Be Seen Shopping These Days!