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Women seek out SouthPark Nordstrom's 'Style Guys'

By Lynn Trenning
Correspondent

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  • Do this, not that

    A dynamic duo of savvy stylists at the SouthPark Nordstrom store offer their thoughts on looking your best.

    Gil Gatch’s advice to women:

    • Find something fun about fashion that you identify with. For some it’s the pumps and handbag. For others it’s the knock-out dress or the power suit.

    • No matter what your thing is, I love seeing younger women opting for the classic and traditional, while the older women reach for more youthful looks, sporting bold statement pieces. This can be risky on both sides. We can’t have the young girls looking boring or the older ones looking like they are trying to wear clothes from their granddaughter’s closet.

    • Avoid the contrived at all costs. But don’t be afraid to push the envelope, stepping outside of your box just a little.

    Hade Robinson, Jr.’s advice to men:

    • Comfort is important, but oversized clothing is totally out!

    • So many men, especially those having midlife changes, seem to want be 20 all over again, but what looks good on a 20-something doesn’t necessarily look the same on a 50-year-old.

    • Embrace color – men have such a palette of color choices now. Be open to designs and patterns – no more solid shirts unless the business meeting calls for that.

    • Beyond good shaving products, have a good cleanser, moisturizer, night and eye cream. Yes, men must work at it as much as women do to keep healthy, good-looking skin. Get good haircuts with a professional barber or hair stylist.



When women shop, many turn to their girlfriends for advice. But at Nordstrom at SouthPark mall, they might reach out to a pair of men.

Hade Robinson Jr., 46, and Gil Gatch, 32, run the personal styling department, where they oversee a team of 13 personal stylists and one beauty stylist. Their clients include couples, families and children as young as 8.

You’d never know Robinson and Gatch have been a team for only a year. Stylistically different, they’re so in sync their repartee is delivered in a seamless stream. “You know how two people just mesh? …It’s like we’ve been brothers all our lives,” says Robinson, the department manager.

Sandra Jordan, 50, lives in Bethlehem, north of Hickory, but drives 70 miles to shop in Charlotte. “When I first met Gil I had never had a man stylist for women’s clothing, so I thought ‘oh great, a guy,’ ” she recalls.

Gatch quickly won her over. “He’s a great person, and he’ll do anything for you,” she says. “If he gets a handbag he thinks I’ll like, he’ll send me a picture. Sometimes you get caught up in your own little fashion box, and it’s nice to have someone pull you out of that a little bit,” she says.

As it turns out, a lot of people need help shopping outside the box.

About 10 percent of department store consumers use a personal shopper, says Britt Beemer, Chairman and Founder of America’s Research Group, Ltd. And it’s not just the big spenders.

While the perception might be that only the affluent use this service, Beemer says people who use personal shoppers are “mostly a time-stressed consumer.” His group’s latest study shows that nearly all of these shoppers “did not want to make a buying mistake” or wanted advice.

‘If it doesn’t look good’

At Nordstrom the personal styling process begins with a one-hour consultation by appointment. The service is free. Clients are questioned about work and their free time, “so we can draw a mental picture of the type of person we are working with,” says Robinson. Then they get into size and what the client wants.

It could be a complete wardrobe overhaul or an outfit for a special event. “The misconception people have is that they have to come in and spend a lot of money,” says Robinson. “You can spend $50 or $50,000,” he says.

Belk and Dillard at SouthPark both have one personal shopper who works with walk-ins and by appointment. Macy’s has personal shoppers at some of their stores, but not at SouthPark.

Neiman Marcus has two dedicated personal shoppers at its SouthPark store, although Public Relations Manager Kristin Jackson says all of the salespeople on the floor are qualified as personal shoppers.

The ultimate goal of personal stylists is to build trusting relationships with clients.

“It doesn’t do me any good for them to go home with a bag of things they hate,” Robinson says. Part of his job is to talk clients out of a bad purchase, even if it is an expensive designer dress. “If it doesn’t look good on her, I will tell her that, even if it costs thousands of dollars.”

Varied backgrounds

Robinson was raised in Pageland, S.C., and earned a bachelor’s degree in television and communications at Winthrop University. He lives alone and is still searching for the “one.”

He’s been a fragrance model, spent 14 years in the hotel industry and worked at Ivey’s and Sears before being hired as a men’s clothing sales associate at Nordstrom.

When his manager realized he was outfitting customers from head to toe, he was given the opportunity to be what was then termed a personal shopper. When the Personal Stylist Department was introduced three years ago, he was promoted to one of the first personal stylist managers in the company, he said.

Gatch earned a degree in philosophy from the College of Charleston. His prior job was executive pastor at a “pop church” in the University area, where elements of popular culture, such as multimedia presentations and rock music, were blended into the services.

He is currently doing post-graduate work at Southern Evangelical Seminary, and intends to earn his doctorate degree and teach.

His wife, Heather Gatch, is the visual manager at the SouthPark Nordstrom, where she’s responsible for mannequins and window and floor displays. Heather’s experiences at Nordstrom were the impetus for Gatch to apply for a job there.

Gatch specializes in working with women, while many of Robinson’s clients are men. “I was a kind of mama’s boy,” says Gatch. Women “are just way easier to talk to.”

He is an expert at sizing up a client and delivering an honest assessment. “I can say, ‘Remember that thing that you are self-conscious about; that’s not helping that,’ in a nonchalant, non-insulting way.”

‘Counselor and motivator’

Charmaine Belgrave, 61, is a retired nurse who met Robinson when her husband, Dr. Enrico Belgrave, needed a tuxedo. She credits Robinson with bringing her husband’s wardrobe to a new level. “Hade knows his size, he knows his aesthetic, and he lets us know when things go on sale.”

Now Robinson advises her as well. “He really believes in getting a good designer dress, something that is timeless, and working back with the accessories and the jacket,” she says. “Hade has impeccable taste … and has a great eye for color.”

While women clientele come from a broad demographic, Robinson mainly works with three types of men. The first are starting a new career after college and have nothing. Second are guys who are having a career change. Next are men going through a lifestyle change, such as a divorce.

“I like to take them out of their element and push the envelope,” says Robinson. “Southern guys – everyone looks like they are wearing the same uniform. Southern men love their khaki pants and their polo shirts.”

Robinson sums up the profession with a few analogies. “You end up being their support and counselor and teacher and motivator. When you are working with someone in their private space, you see a lot and they share a lot …You talk about clothing, but you hear what they are going through. You put on that doctor coat.

“Everybody looks like a blank wall, and we take this blank canvas and dress it up and make a beautiful portrait.”

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