Despite the temperatures nearly reaching 40 degrees outside, it is busy in the shop. Owner Mirjam (44) is sitting on the settee at the back of the shop. The air conditioning is blowing a cool soothing breeze through the shop which is filled again with autumn fashion.
‘I had just left school and did not yet know what I would do,’ she starts to tell. ‘My boyfriend, now my husband, had a fashion shop in Haarlem and he asked whether I would like to help him. I really wasn’t into the fashion world and was more at home with physics, chemistry and maths. I was just 18 years old and very shy. I barely dared to speak to customers, but I am very inquisitive and began to understand why people bought things. Why one person can wear print and another can’t. About sizes and fits. The human body is a bit like maths, a puzzle. I then also began to buy in stock myself. ‘Are you an authorized signatory?’ they asked when I sat at the table with the large brands. Now I advise those same brands about colours and fits. My husband has his own label and over the years I have learned a great deal about fabrics and production and can see what suits people.’
‘Last year we celebrated being in fashion for 25 years. I cried all day long. Because it is such a special profession and I get so much appreciation from people. It is so wonderful to send someone away looking more beautiful. When you look fantastic you believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter who you are, a stay-at-home mother or a notary. Clothes can make sure that you become better in what you do and in particular that make you feel better. No psychiatrist can match this. I find all women beautiful, but the trick is to make sure that someone feels even more beautiful. Your figure determines your style. Sometimes a customer wants something which really does not suit her. Then I say: just go to a different shop, I do not want my name associated with this. And then I take something from the rack which suits her much better. Money is not a motive for me, I want people to trust me. Sometimes I refer them to another shop, such as Pauw, BeOne or Claudia Sträter, because those shops suit this type of women better. I don’t mind. As long as they stay in this street.’
‘Over the years we have expanded our fashion shop to various shops, but I decided to withdraw and to divide the shops and activities amongst various family members. At a certain time, when a washing machine mechanic came to deliver a new machine and poured his heart out to me about his burn-out from a previous job, I began to see the light. It felt as if he saw that I did not feel good. I am a perfectionist, but with so many businesses as well as three children I was not happy. I went back to what I enjoyed: advising customers about the best clothes to wear and to buy. When I make purchases all my customers go with me. They are all in my head. They have become friends who share everything with me. They sometimes even text me at night.’
‘My shop is a mix of brands and styles. Hip, classic, trendy. Whatever suits the woman. Some women are leaders when it comes to fashion, others are more followers. But you have to keep on renewing yourself. This is also my task: continuing to stimulate people, so that they buy something which makes them really happy. Fashion is age-related. If you are young you can wear anything. Then a Zara dress will look lovely on you, because you have a good figure and your skin is young. If you are older you have to take this into account. I myself no longer wear short skirts, because that is too childish. If you are older you have to wear better quality fabrics. They hang better. I also learn more every day. Recently, there was a woman here who was in her eighties and I looked out something for her. ‘But I can still wear this in 10 years’ time,’ she replied insulted. She was right. I stopped immediately with that brand. People always want to feel 10 years younger and this is also possible with the right clothes.’
‘I’ve had this shop for 20 years in this street. The Beethovenstraat is an international street and that makes it such fun. Here people from all over the world live for a short or long period, but they keep coming back, even if they are back living in Australia, New Zeeland or Suriname. I have a customer who comes here every year from India. The first thing that she does when she arrives by plane is drive to the Beethovenstraat. She was here recently for three days and came shopping every day. On the last day, her husband came to thank me: ‘My wife never buys anything, because she does not find anything good enough. You understand what she wants and I am pleased that she buys so much from you.
It is also not surprising that many people from all over the world buy their clothes here. We are very innovative in Amsterdam. In Belgium, clothes are often a bit classical, in Italy often a bit too tacky, with too much glitter. Those people often come to me if they are in the Netherlands for a visit. I have many customers who have very little time. Then they call if they have an hour to spare and then I get clothes ready which suit them, so that they can try them on immediately. And then they leave the shop happy. Or I send them the clothes. Since recently, I can also advise them remotely. On the basis of a photo, I then select clothes which suit them or I send them.’
A customer comes in. ‘Sorry, I’m wearing my sports gear,’ she apologizes. ‘But you are wearing lovely earrings. I also have a gift for you,’ says Mirjam. The woman leaves the shop looking radiant. Mirjam continues: ‘The Beethovenstraat is fun because a great deal of intellectuals live here. It is not a showy street. Very different to the PC, for instance. People go there for the large brands such as Chanel and Gucci. For those people these types of people determine their status. I am not that sensitive to brands. You have to wear what suits you. Sometimes, these types of customers come here and then I try to get them to move to a different style in steps. They receive more compliments, so have more self-confidence. After 5 years, they have changed so much that they no longer need any Gucci.’