Three-Part Harmony

BY ROBIN HOWARD

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This fabulous dress that makes me look awesome? Oh, it’s just one of many in a magnificent wardrobe that I put together all by myself,” said no woman ever.

Here’s a fashion truth: If you see a woman who looks put together, she’s had help. And why shouldn’t she? There are people who spend their lives studying how fabric should drape, how the cut of a garment can minimize or enhance features, and how scale and color can erase years and pounds. These experts know how to help people feel good and look their best, and smart women find them and friend them. After all, beautiful, functional houses are not built by architects who run willy-nilly through Lowe’s, and comfortable, stylish wardrobes are not built by women running willy-nilly down King Street, or the Champs-Élysées for that matter. It doesn’t matter where you shop or how much you spend—if your clothes don’t look good or feel good, neither will you. Comfort and style require attention and expertise, and nobody knows that better than Anne Summer, owner of Rapport—a unique women’s clothier on King Street.

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“I used to be a frequent shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue. I got to know a handful of the staff and placed a lot of trust in them,” Anne says. “When they left Charleston in 2010, I missed the personalized attention. I missed having access to the designers that I liked. There was a big void.” So Anne did what any of us would do: she opened her own store. “Women have a relationship with their clothes. Women need a wardrobe of pieces that they trust to make them look good, even on bad days. We help our customers find those pieces. That’s why I named the store Rapport,” Anne says.

Rapport, French for “a close and harmonious relationship,” is the place in Charleston where you’ll get the kind of personalized attention that you’d get in Saks or Bergdorf’s. What you won’t get is the socioeconomic sizing up or pressure that usually comes with shopping in a store that carries Ferragamo and Paul Ka.

“We’ve tried to make this a very comfortable place. We have some of the best designers in the world, but the store and all of the staff are approachable, and we cater to a wide range of budgets. We like to say we can dress you from the backyard to the ballroom,” Anne says. The shop carries fine and fun outerwear, chic cocktail dresses, elegant evening gowns, sporty cotton shirts, colorful denim jeans, sharp jackets and classic blouses.

Rapport is approachable, even employing a fuzzy, friendly Schnauzer named Otto who greets customers and makes sure the hospitality stays very Charlestonesque. Though the atmosphere at Rapport is small town, you’d have to get on a plane and fly to a big city to see collections like Armani Collezioni, M Missoni, Akris Punto and L.K. Bennett, the designer that Kate Middleton made famous. However, Rapport is special because it’s curated carefully to ensure there are unique pieces in a wide range of price points.

“We’re very focused on the things that can anchor women’s wardrobes for years to come,” Anne says, illustrating her point with a wonderful moss green Dubarry of Ireland jacket. “But we also carry pieces that keep a wardrobe fresh throughout the seasons.”

Suzanna Bryant, Rapport’s longtime store manager agrees. “Charleston women live very faceted lives. They dress up for dinner, they go to lunches, they go to the office, they go to the beach,” she says. “But we have a certain sense of style; we don’t want to see what we’re wearing on someone else.” Suzanna’s 25-year tenure with Ralph Lauren makes her a rock-solid resource for Rapport’s loyal clients. “I love Rapport because we all focus on quality and excellent customer service. We want women to enjoy shopping here,” she says.

Rapport’s small but powerful staff is legendary. Amelia Hendrix is a customer favorite because she knows the difference between style and fashion and won’t let a customer walk out on the wrong side of either one. Marie-Laure Arnaud is a former Parisian model who shares with customers the elusive French skill of dressing like an original. Heading up the in-house tailoring department, Vittoria Garofalo is an expert, third-generation tailor who learned to sew in Italy.

Between them they speak fluent French, Spanish and Italian and all have the same philosophy: Clothes are an important investment. They should make you feel great. And, if you have a fashion emergency, they’re there for you. “We had a bride who decided she didn’t like the dress she was going to get married in. The wedding was the next day but we found something she loved, altered it and she left feeling great.”

Regarding the subject of alterations, here’s another fashion truth: “Very few women can pick things off the rack and walk out on the street looking terrific,” Anne says. “We have a full-time alterations staff who ensure clients leave Rapport looking like their clothes were made for them. And it’s all complimentary.”

The lovely thing about Rapport is you have access to big-city collections and haute couture gowns in a genteel Southern atmosphere. There’s no hurry; there’s no pressure. You can pet Otto while you mull things over, and the staff, every one of them, feel like your very own smart girlfriends who will tell you the truth. They won’t say you look fabulous in a certain cocktail dress or cashmere sweater before they get to know who you are, what your priorities are for your wardrobe and what styles attract you. Only then will they steer you toward the styles you’ll look good in, and toward pieces that fit in your budget.

Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer based in Charleston.