Laura Gambucci is a designer turned boutique owner and stylist who pairs business savvy and fashion sense within her thriving La Jolla shop. Her secret to success in the midst of a downturn economy? Gambucci maintains personal relationships with all her clients, and travels to New York and Paris throughout the year to hand select new looks specific to her loyal ladies. While she would never miss a Barbara Bui or Jean Paul Gaultier runway show during Paris Fashion Week, Gambucci makes it a priority to visit every trade show, where she discovers new collections yet to be mass marketed to the public.
While dressed in all black, Gambucci’s vibrant personality shines through a subtle smile, communicating her sharp wit and unexpected sense of humor.
Get to know Gambucci, the woman and the boutique, in this week’s San Diego Style Profile.
What is the story behind the boutique?
I opened the boutique in October of 2004, and my vision was to offer women a total lifestyle wardrobe experience with an innovative approach: unique collections that are timeless and current, selected to work with a modern lifestyle, and the opportunity to style outfits for special occasions and everyday wear.
What is your background in the fashion industry?
I have been working professionally in the fashion industry since 1989, and have experience in fashion design, textile design and working as a stylist. I graduated from Arizona State University in ’89 and my first professional job was at Ashworth, where I had a wide range of responsibilities that included production, design, merchandising, styling and marketing. I resigned in ’98 to pursue my dream of starting my own company, which gave me the ability to spend more time with my son. I formed Gambucci Design Inc. to provide design and styling services, which I still do today. These years of experience gave me the necessary confidence and tools to open Laura Gambucci boutique in 2004.
What do you love most about your job?
I never anticipated what started as a business would evolve into such beautiful relationships with my staff and my clients. I love that we have created an environment where women feel comfortable coming in and talking about their lives. They put trust in us to help them evolve their style, which enables them to overcome their body image fears.
Share with us how you’re involved with the community.
From the beginning, I have always donated items for charitable auctions to help various groups in the community. I believe that it is really important to give back to the community, and I’m very grateful that we are in the position to do so. I’m especially grateful that we have hosted fundraisers at the boutique to benefit both Voices for Children and Outside the Lens.
Who is your customer? Who do you shop for?
She is a modern woman with a sense of style, seeking to be unique and open-minded with fashion as part of her everyday lifestyle. It’s not one demographic in terms of age. We have clients in their 20s and in their 80s. It’s really about our client’s ever-evolving sense of style, embracing her own ability to be unique.
Tell us about your trips to New York and Paris, and the fashion research behind the scenes.
I go to New York about eight times a year and Paris twice a year. In addition to attending fashion shows, I visit showrooms and many trade shows, where I find designers who have yet to be discovered. The concept is to find designers who are up and coming. It’s similar to a music label finding new talent and taking a risk that they will make it big. That concept is one that I consider a unique talent of mine, in that I have a knack for discovering new talent before the rest of the pack. I based my store on this concept originally, and I’m now recognized in the industry for the mix of cutting-edge designers that I represent, which is a risk that not many stores are willing to take.
Your favorite designer runway shows to catch?
Barbara Bui-- I’m a huge fan of her collection. She is under the radar in the U.S., but highly-acclaimed throughout the rest of the world. She’s been around since the ‘80s, and her shows are always fabulous with a rock-and-roll vibe. Every season, I look at every single runway show online, and selectively attend ones that I have a particular interest in and can fit into my schedule.
What do you wear when traveling?
I can’t stand flip flops. Honestly. They just drive me nuts. They should only be worn on the beach! When I travel, I believe in looking the way I do in my store. While I recognize the need for comfort, I think there is a fashionable approach to combine style and comfort. Getting on a plane, I wear high wedge booties with a zipper, and I also carry a pair of flats in my bag (but only for emergencies). Light weight layers work well, which accommodate movement and variable temperatures without wrinkling. In the spring time, I’ll have a menswear inspired fitted blazer, or in the winter a beautiful coat. When I get off the plane, it’s right to work, so I need to look as if I haven’t been on a plane for 14 hours. My travel wardrobe is black, layered with bold accessories, which has become my signature look.
What designer collections can we shop in your boutique right now?
It’s a one-stop-shop for women, with everything from clothing and shoes, to workout gear, lingerie, belts, jewelry, hats and handbags. We have the ability to style clients from head to toe for any occasion. Some of the collections we carry are Barbara Bui, Jean Paul Gaultier, Philosophy, Sharon Wauchob, Firma of Berlin and Yigal Azrouel. Coming soon are Pierre Balmain, Karl by Karl Lagerfeld and CNC Costume National.
How does your wardrobe differ from the boutique racks?
My personal wardrobe reads like a history of fashion. I am a collector of vintage, from the ‘30s through the ‘90s. My latest obsession is purchasing vintage Chanel jewelry from the early ‘90s. My personal style is the unconventional way I mix the vintage with the current pieces. I dress in the way I would style a photo shoot, which might combine a recent piece from the runway with something from 80 years ago.
What in your closet do you cherish the most?
My mother’s beautiful turquoise squash blossom necklace, cuff and ring from the ‘70s.
Favorite high-end fashion designers?
Galliano, before his departure. You can’t take away the brilliance behind his vision. Also, Givenchy, Celine, Chanel, Christian Dior, YSL, Lanvin, Karl Lagerfeld, Haider Ackermann and Antonio Berardi.
Personal style icons?
Because I wear a lot of black, I am inspired by the French artist Pierre Soulage, as he paints all in black, which he feels is not a “non-color”, but a luminous color. I also love Edith Head, the acclaimed costume designer. The iconic Coco Chanel, for pioneering the modern era of women’s fashion and becoming possibly the greatest couturier of the twentieth century. Lillian Bassman, the great fashion photographer and painter, whose work is best known for her high contrast between light and dark. And, I like everything from Old Hollywood icons like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren to such iconic pop stars as Grace Jones, Madonna and Lady Gaga. On today’s red carpet, Angelina Jolie stands out for her effortless sense of style.
Best fashion advice you’ve ever received?
My mom always encouraged me to be myself, even as a child, she would tell me, “Just be you.” She also emphasized the importance of investing in quality, not quantity. I believe in that to this day.
Recent fashion trend you absolutely cannot stand?
The long drop waist that is prevalent in so many collections. Unless you are very, very tall and thin, you’re going to end up looking like a tree trunk. Who wants their legs to look shorter?
Your go-to hair salon in San Diego?
I have a few; Julia Crane at Hyde Edwards Salon and Rex Romande at Rex Studio Salon.
Skincare products and fragrance you can’t live without?
L’Eau d’Ambre Eau de Toilette by L’Artisan Parfumeur. I first found it in Paris, and then I found it online. I also took many trips to Japan when I was designing, and asked the Japanese women for their skin care secret, which I adopted. I’ve been using Shiseido moisturizer for over twenty years. My most recent discovery is the SK-II skin care product line.
Favorite newspapers and magazines?
I read the New York Times on my iphone. I frequently visit online fashion sites such as style.com and elle.com. And I love fashion and interior design magazines, especially those from Europe, such as the cutting-edge L’Officiel, Numero and Italian Vogue.
When you’re not working, where can we find you in San Diego?
Spending time with my family and friends is very important to me, whether it’s cooking an Italian meal or going to my son’s theater productions. My son and I enjoy the various forms of art that San Diego has to offer, such as museums, galleries and theater. I also love to work out, and my workouts vary from Pilates to Yoga to Muay Thai.
For more information, call 858.551.0214 or visit Laura Gambucci Boutique in La Jolla
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Photos by Jesse Arroyo