Laura Vinroot Poole
Laura Vinroot Poole, founder of Capitol, Poole Shop, and Tabor, has built beautiful meccas for Southerners seeking beautifully designed and colorful(!) pieces to wear. In an age when shopping for high-end designer clothing can feel cold and intimidating, Poole has made it just the opposite. Her stores carry high fashion from Gucci, Celine, and Giambattista Valli and are comfortable, warm, and inviting. Much of this is attributable to Vinroot Poole’s impeccable attention to detail; she takes extreme care in examining everything from the lighting fixtures to the shelving design. More importantly, the stores reflect her point of view on the world and that of the clients she’s serving. Fiercely defensive of the South and the Southern way of life, Vinroot Poole has tailored the looks of Parisian runways to the Capitol clientele she is so devoted to.
Recently, we had the wonderful privilege of chatting with Vinroot Poole about her career, fashion, and how she’s achieved 20 years of success with Capitol in Charlotte.
The city of Charlotte has grown so much in the past 20 years. As someone who grew up here, describe what women’s fashion and the retail experience was like then and how you think the Charlotte woman has evolved (or stayed the same) since then.
Charlotte is a hub for so many companies: NASCAR, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo [to name a few]. The executives of these companies and their wives are attending events with world leaders in Davos or Paris, yet historically it was challenging for them to shop here. People had to travel to Charleston, Atlanta, or New York to shop!
Charlotte has only continued to evolve since we opened 21 years ago, and we work diligently to grow with our city and our clients. I’m very proud of Charlotte and defensive of the South — I want the women from Charlotte to be beautifully dressed as they go out into the world.
You talk a lot about the Charlotte client and how they embrace really getting dressed up. What does that mean in comparison to a client that lives in, say, Los Angeles or NYC?
I think Southerners have a different understanding of generosity. The whole “turning out” for events is not about you, it’s about the hostess, and the sentiment that it is polite to dress as the hostess would want you to dress. I think this is unique to Charlotte, and the greater South, versus other parts of the country.
What did you envision yourself becoming when you were a child?
I always told my mother that I wanted to have the job of Letitia Baldridge. She was an etiquette expert and social secretary for Jacqueline Kennedy.
In a weird way, that is a big part of my job now. Retail will train you pretty quickly how to handle yourself gracefully in difficult and unexpected situations. We also have developed an internship program that we started because the young women who applied to work here seemed so unprepared to handle simple things like writing a proper thank-you note or a professional email. Mentoring these young women to be prepared for their professional lives is a rewarding part of what we do behind the scenes.
Looking back at what you’ve achieved over the last couple of decades, what advice would you give yourself starting out that you know now?
Tonne Goodman was here recently and shared an idea I loved so much. She said to “trust mistakes.” I thought that was so insightful; I make mistakes all day, every day. It was helpful to be reminded that mistakes can lead you closer to the right answers.
In terms of challenges, you’ve mentioned that the 2008 crisis was a very difficult period, particularly given that Charlotte is so tied to the financial services industry. What specific things helped you navigate that?
The crisis was catastrophic and almost the end of our business. But, it was also the best thing that ever happened to me. I had been very successful for the first ten years of my business, but I don’t know that I could pinpoint exactly why. The recession helped us to focus on three things we knew no one could compete with – our customer service, our edit, and our physical space and those are the things that we have successfully focused on since 2008.
I make mistakes all day, every day. It was helpful to be reminded that mistakes can lead you closer to the right answers.
How have you seen retail change and evolve since you first opened Capitol? Are there things that clients desire from the experience that are different from when you started?
Online shopping has really become a force since I first opened Capitol. And while we love to release our exclusive capsule collections through our digital storefront, I’m still committed to creating an even more exceptional brick-and-mortar experience. I want to work with a lovely sales associate, try things on in-person, or meet a designer I love – I think our clients feel the same way.
What is the most challenging part of your day to day job?
Managing people and motivating young women to believe that they can be career-driven and family-oriented at the same time. I don’t know that Southern girls are raised to believe that and it has been a real calling for me to change that mindset.
Your store is so beautifully colorful, high-end, but also approachable all at the same time. How did you design it to make it feel so inviting but also feel so special?
My husband [who is an architect] designs all of our spaces. I think Perry and I really gave the same attention to the store that we would to our home. We did that by pulling pieces from our own personal collection (furniture, tables, chairs) and by paying attention to the details.
Do you have a favorite part of the physical store that you particularly adore? Why is it your favorite spot?
In Charlotte, we have a vertical garden by Patrick Blanc. We were the first to privately commission him as most of his work is in museums. There are 100 different varieties of plants and different blooms every single day…I could stare at it for hours and still find new things.
How and why did you decide to open in Brentwood? What drew you to that location, specifically? What does the Brentwood client want from their shopping experience that contrasts from the Charlotte woman? How are you getting to know the Brentwood woman?
There are two things that drew me to Brentwood. First, I’ve been shipping to women in Los Angeles my whole career. My second largest client base is in Los Angeles – it has more in common with Charlotte than you would think. Both cities have natural vibrancy and beauty, and the women have the personality to match. Capitol women are not afraid of color and prints, and I think LA women have a very feminine style, which is similar to the South.
Secondly, I have been shopping at the Brentwood Country Mart for 20 years; I think it’s the best shopping center in America. It has the original post office and the barber shop from when it opened in the 1940s. The owner of the Mart, Jim Rosenfield, came to Charlotte to visit our stores and we truly connected on how much we believe in the value of beautiful and personal retail experiences.
How would you describe your own personal style?
Arrested Development! I have a lot of things from my childhood and boarding school experience that I adore, like Swedish clogs and men’s banker-striped shirts. Those are everyday staples for me. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, evening is unabashedly feminine and over the top!
What items are you loving for summer?
I love Irene Neuwirth’s turquoise candy beaded necklaces, and beautiful liberty print ruffled tops and dresses by Horror Vacui, an emerging young German designer. I also love our exclusive Mi Golondrina flutter sleeve maxi dress and plan to wear it all summer:)
What drew you to create an exclusive collection Mi Golondrina, and why do you think the brand resonates with the Capitol clientele?
I think that Cristina’s respect of craftsmanship and craftsmen/craftswomen has always resonated with me, and of course, the look of the pieces - the embroidery and the colors are exceptional! Most importantly, I think my clients have always loved special things from far away that come with a story and are exquisitely made, and Mi Golondrina is all of those things.
Describe the schedule of your typical day.
I wake up early and get my daughter, Fifi, to school. Then I’ll walk or do yoga and head into the office. Because my travel schedule is so intense, when I’m in Charlotte I try to be home when she’s home.
I love to cook. Every Saturday, I go to the farmer’s market right when it opens so I have the first look at whatever was freshly picked that week. I feel the creative remnants of my degree in art have been nurtured through cooking…I love the satisfaction of completing a beautiful and (hopefully) delicious project in an hour.
Complete the following sentence: My ideal Friday night is spent…
Doing nothing! I am so busy during the week that I love to spend Friday night at home.
How did you balance having a career as a successful entrepreneur and also raising a family? Any advice for women who are trying to manage that today?
Balance is a myth. You just do the best you can every day.