The mother-daughter team behind Michael's keeps the tradition of high-end fashion consignment alive on the U.E.S.
By Mary Newman
Upper East Side Sustainability is not usually a term associated with high end, luxury fashion, but one family-owned consignment shop has seen 60 years of success by promoting sustainable fashion, offering New Yorkers a place to sell their expensive sartorial items. Michael's Consignment occupies a gorgeous retail space on the Upper East Side, filled with designer names like Hermes, Alexander McQueen, Manaolo Blahnik, Louis Vuitton, and Jimmy Choo.
Laura Fluhr and her daughter Tammy Fluhr-Gates are the second and third generations at Michael's Consignment, continuing the tradition that was started by Tammy's great-great-great father Simon Kosofsky in 1902. Kosofsky was working as a tailor in the Lower East Side when he opened a shop named Cast Off clothing & Furs, focusing mainly on re-selling women's fur coats.
By 1941, Kosofsky's son Aaron opened Ritz Thrift Shop on 57th Street, coining the term "Every woman can look like a million without spending a million." The idea of offering women access to the most luxurious fashion has remained consistent through all 60 years the family has been in business. In 1954, Aaron's son Michael Kosof (their name was shortened to appeal to more clients), headed the current Michael's on Madison Avenue under the same business model his grandfather started in 1902.
"What's interesting about Michael's is that neither my mother nor I wanted to get involved with the family business, but when my grandfather needed some extra help, my mother started working and decided she wanted to become a part of the tradition," Tammy said. "The same thing happened with me, and I immediately loved the entrepreneurship of this store's business model."
In addition to embracing the idea of resale, Michael's also believes in community involvement, and has seen such long-standing success because they have always catered directly to the customers who live in the area surrounding the store. "My grandfather created a real community 60 years ago; he was a very charismatic man, all of the ladies in the neighborhood loved him."
Tammy explained that although the store has grown in popularity, they have business partners and customers that have been involved with the store for several generations as well. The store has relationships with local consigners, and often helps support local charities. They frequently offer discounts to Lenox Hill Hospital employees and PS.. 6 teachers for their hard work, and contribute special experiences, like a night of private shopping, to be raffled off for local fundraising events.
The beautiful two-story shop, located on 79th Street and Madison Ave, is surrounded by some of the same luxury designers that they sell in the store, but Tammy explains that consignment stays competitive by only selling items that are under two years old. Celebrity stylists, costume designers, and television personalities looking for either inspiration or something to wear often visit the clothing racks at Michael's.
"The nice thing about our shop is that everything is all under one roof," Tammy said.
Tammy became part of the team in 2006, offering a young perspective to the established shop. Creating an online presence through social media and an online shopping option, Tammy has introduced her family's store to a new generation of women looking for more affordable high-end fashion.
"I quickly realized that this store is a win, win, win, and there are very few business models out there today that keep everyone involved happy," she explained. "Our partnered consigners win by getting money for items they no longer want, customers win because they are spending less money on the world's most coveted designers, and we are winning by being able to offer such great pricing and fashion to our customers."
MTV Networks senior stylist Alana Kelen often praises Michael's as her favorite consignment shop when shopping for her celebrity clients, and the mother-daughter team that has formed between Tammy and Laura has become very well respected in one of the biggest fashion capitals in the world.
"It's essentially recycling and our customers realize that the products they no longer have use for shouldn't just be thrown away," Tammy said. "So many of our customers take pride in their clothing, and we offer a place for them to bring these beautiful items, allowing other women the opportunity to feel beautiful wearing them."