Getting Personal with Personal Shopper and Stylist Sara Aplanalp


Photo courtesy Irvine Co. Retail Properties.

By Kedric Francis.

A leisurely stroll around a sophisticated alfresco shopping center is a highlight of the good life in Newport Beach. With its SoCal sunshine and ocean breezes, and impeccably curated selection of brands and boutiques, there may be no better such destination than Fashion Island—especially for those who enjoy browsing and buying.

But what if you’re one of those among us who is acquisitionally challenged—who finds shopping a chore, doesn’t know Chanel from Shinola, and wears go-to garments that predate Google?

No worries. Sara Aplanalp—Fashion Island’s lead personal shopper and stylist for six years— makes wardrobe updates easy for the retail-reluctant. And her services, which are complimentary, are a perfect fit for fashionistas, too.

The charming Aplanalp dedicates herself both to longtime clients who come in like clockwork and one-time clients with a fashion emergency—such as the executive who split the seat of his suit trousers on his way to a day of back-to-back meetings and needed a new pair within the hour.

Aplanalp took his information over the phone, ran to a Fashion Island store to purchase pants that would coordinate with his jacket, had the store sew a temporary hem to his measurements, and drove in the rain to deliver them before the man’s first meeting. “You really saved my behind,” he told her as she delivered the goods.

Resolving such sartorial crises is a crucial component of the service, Aplanalp says, “but the majority of my clients live locally and visit Fashion Island frequently.

“It’s wonderful to work with long-term clients who have trusted us for years, from their prom through their bridal shower to buying a dress as mother of the bride—and all the seasonal wardrobe updates in between.”

She also helps visitors staying at nearby hotels and resorts who want to fit in with stylish locals.

“Our signature ‘coastal chic’ look is an effortless but still pulled-together style,” she says.

“Fashion Island has more than 100 boutiques and brands available to put together this look. Some visitors gravitate toward boutiques and California-based brands; others prefer larger stores such as Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s or Nordstrom.”

Aplanalp has been in fashion her entire career, which has included working in New York with fashion magazines and designers.

Gaining access to her savvy aesthetic is simple: Call her.

“The first step is a consultation to go over details and gain a complete understanding of what items or looks the client is seeking,” she says. That generally includes the budget.

“I present options within those guidelines, but it’s also my job to encourage clients to step outside their comfort zones by suggesting different options and exposing them to up-and-coming brands and trends.”
The next step is to meet Aplanalp at one of the stores or boutiques she suggests. There, she’ll have set out in the fitting rooms a few well-put-together looks in the sizes that the client has provided. It’s an unhurried and stress-free experience.

It’s also a VIP experience. Aplanalp knows the managers, so clients receive immediate and enthusiastic attention. It’s like being a preferred customer, even for those who’ve never been to the store, let alone bought anything there.

Hate shopping? The process is greatly expedited by having preselected items in correct sizes ready to be tried on.

Love shopping? Though Aplanalp recommends at least two hours for a session, she can also arrange a longer retail adventure exploring the center’s shops, boutiques and department stores.

“Our personal shopping service accommodates groups, too—including families or friends vacationing together,” she says. “Our clients often put a day of shopping and lunch on their itinerary.”

A personal shopper can recommend makeup, hair, beauty and other services available at Fashion Island, too. “Everything is at your fingertips,” Aplanalp says. “I also make dining recommendations and book reservations.”

Did we mention it’s all free? Except the clothes, of course. And there’s no minimum that must be spent to use the service.

“I love to see my clients leave with a smile,” Aplanalp says, smiling herself. “Curating memorable experiences makes me happy.”