Brenda, as one would imagine, has exquisite style. As the creative force behind The Met Fashion House on St. Armand’s Circle one would expect no less. In 2001, she and her husband, Geoffrey, began their journey to create a world-class shopping experience in Sarasota. Two children and many seasons later, they have created a brand that has come to define her family.
Since her first sales job at the former Jacobson’s department stores in Michigan and Columbus, Ohio, Michel has been keenly aware of fashion and its impact on men and women. As she learned design concepts, she also developed an appreciation for fabrication in terms of what feels and looks good to a high-end clientele. With her fit frame and striking good looks, Michel often wears classic and sophisticated styles updated with bold prints and must-have trends. A self-described “numbers girl,” she says she learned accounting and finance working in her father’s company, growing up in Michigan. Armed with a savvy business sense, a background in marketing and communications and a strong sense of style, Michel has perfected the personal luxury shopping experience for her customers at The Met Fashion House.
As an entrepreneur and working mother, she and Geoffrey are the proud parents of daughter, Ava, 12, and son, Sawyer, 10. In this GRAVITAS interview, Michel talks about working alongside her husband and how she balances work, family and fashion.
What makes The Met Fashion House attractive to shoppers in Sarasota?
What woman doesn’t love fashion? I think the way that I create for the store and what I select makes us different. We have multi-generational customers, so I have to buy something that fits everybody. I love when I can find a line like DVF, Helmut Lang, or Rag and Bone. There are pieces from each of those collections that can resonate with someone in their 20s or 60s.
The customer service that we offer is the reason people keep coming back, along with our knowledgeable staff and special selections. People like the level of taste in the designers that we’ve brought in. Plus, they can come in, get a latte, and have a conversation. We have a couple that come here twice a year who tell us, “We always wait to do our shopping here because we love your store.”
How would you describe your own fashion style?
I always maintain an updated classic look. I love prints and trends, but I try to represent them in a more sophisticated way.
Do you have a favorite designer?
I love Etro. I think the prints are just so unique and special. I love some pieces from Armani. Such as this knit fur coat that I won’t wear in Sarasota, at all, but it’s a great piece that I think I’ll have in my closet for a long time, and hopefully, pass down to my daughter one day.
How important is the tactile experience for shoppers when choosing fashions?
I touch and feel everything that comes into the store. If the fabric doesn’t feel good, I won’t even consider it.
What made you leave the Midwest and move to Sarasota?
My childhood vacation spot was Longboat Key and my family would come down here four or five times a year. I always loved Florida, but really had no desire to move here. After my college graduation, I moved to Columbus where I had a lot of friends. Columbus was a large city to me compared to where I grew up in the country. Then, my parents had sold their house in Michigan and moved to Longboat Key. At one point, I was visiting several times a year to see my family, so I decided to move here in 1993.
How did you meet your husband, Geoffrey?
I met him on my first day of work. I was working for the men who owned the business that was formally located where The Met now stands. He was a menswear buyer and I was the assistant to the owner, placing me in charge of all of the advertising and marketing. We started dating and were married in 1996.
Why did you decide to open your own store, especially in the fickle fashion industry?
My husband, Geoffrey, had the passion for the retail business and I always knew that I wanted to open my own business. The name ‘The Met’ comes from the Metropolitan. We shortened it to the Met because we thought the word Metropolitan was a mouthful. We were looking at a few buildings downtown when we realized that we could use this existing building. That was 15 years ago and we’ve never looked back.
What’s the yin and yang to working with your spouse?
Geoffrey is more creative and I think he’s definitely better with people. I’m more of a numbers girl. I never forget a number. Our accountants are always laughing at me because I have such a good memory. When I worked for my dad’s company, I was in the accounting department, so I was exposed to finances and numbers. Though, it’s a bit different when you have your own money versus working for somebody.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge of running a business and working in fashion?
You know, it’s trusting your gut. If I think about bringing in a new collection or going a new direction with our inventory, it means that I ultimately have to let go of something else. We work six months in advance, so you have to plan thoroughly, and then, you have to have enough space to execute it properly. Of course, I’ve made mistakes. I always pay attention to our sales because that’s my report card. If an item didn’t sell at full price, I’ll ask, “What happened?”
Perhaps, the biggest challenge is making sure that I have a balanced mix of premier designers with a “bridge,” or medium-range collection. My job is to be the leading creative force at The Met. I buy things that I would like to see on my friends or my mom. I like to keep my clients in mind when I see something special. For us, I like to represent the lifestyle of a designer brand that changes with each season.
Do you feel your voice has an impact on the fashions?
Sometimes it does. I was laughing about a new dress coming up this season from DVF. She’s been producing this particular style of dress for years and now they’re introducing a “long” version, which really just meets the knee. So, I’m like, “Yes! They finally put it in.” It’s only taken me ten years. I definitely always have my critiques, but who knows what’s going to make a change.
What advice would you give women about their choice of fashion?
I think it’s about being open to new things. Not everyone can wear everything, like a wide-leg pant or skinnies, but I think you’ve got to try it on with a complete look before making a choice. You need to put the skinny jeans on with a shirt, like a fuller top, along with the right pair of shoes.
How does being in the public eye as a brand affect you and your family?
We are the brand, so everything we do reflects our brand, both the positive and negative. I feel that I always represent myself in my heart, but I know that sometimes when we show up to an event, people will look at us. Some of them are really nice and tell me, “You look really great,” while some say, “Of course you look great; you have a huge closet.” I know when I am attending a social event, that I’m going to be photographed and that people are going to be looking to see what I’m wearing. Fortunately, my husband and I enjoy getting dressed up and going out.
Would you and Geoffrey ever consider designing your own line?
We have talked about it because we’ve both gained so much experience. Mostly, I say to him the men’s industry is virtually untapped. We never say never, but I think you can only do so much in a day. I would wait until my kids are older.
How do you find balance as a working mom and wife?
That’s always a hard one. I don’t know that I have balance. I’m striving for more of it. I’m playing tennis once a week with some girlfriends, so I’ve made that commitment, at least. Right now, it’s mostly about my kids, my husband and my business. I think the balance is something I am always striving for, but I’m not there yet.
What does success look like at the end of the day?
Success to me, is having happy kids and a happy husband, all the rest falls in place.
What do you enjoy doing with your family?
We’re really just enjoy spending time with the kids, especially when we’re at the beach. We always say we don’t go enough. We’d love to have a boat someday because we like being out on the water. We also enjoy going for bike rides, walks in the neighborhood and cooking together. Sometimes, I make my kids play game night with us. Anyway for us to spend time together is fantastic.