Sam Cook, owner of House of Tres Jolie describes the HOTJ Woman: “Whether she’s the fashionista of her group or still in search of her signature style, she knows what she’s after. She’s a bold mix of edge and class. She has the ability to take the ordinary world around her to an extraordinary level.”
Row A Seat 1: When did you fall in love with fashion?
Sam Cook of House of Tres Jolie: I believe I was around 5 or 6 years old; I admired the way my mother dressed. She’s very glamorous. I remember I would sit and watch how she would pick out her outfits, put things together and, even though I didn’t know why she would pair certain colors or patterns together, I knew I loved it! I wanted to do it.
So, when she would dress my sister and I alike – as most mothers with daughters like to do, I would fight against it because even back then I had my own idea of how I wanted to look: like no one else! And, that hasn’t changed.
Row A Seat 1: Tell us the story behind the name: House of Tres Jolie.
Sam Cook: Tres Jolie is French for “Very Pretty.” When I decided to put together my first fashion show someone told me that naming the show was part of the experience. Because I’m all about standing out, I figured the name had to do the same. We spent weeks wrecking our brains; searching for the perfect words to capture what we were doing. Then, one day we started thumbing through a French dictionary, and almost instantly I saw the phrase “tres jolie,” and I knew that was the name. It was the perfect representation of how I wanted women to feel when they saw the clothes we were presenting. We did several fashion shows under that moniker and when it came time to open the boutique, it was a no-brainer.
How did I want women to feel when they walked through the door? Like they were coming home; entering into a place where everything they considered to be classy, pretty, like them, was housed under one roof. Thus, House of Tres Jolie was birthed.
Row A Seat 1: Describe the House of Tres Jolie consumer.
Sam Cook: She is the confident, everyday woman that has an eye for the opulence of high fashion, but knows she doesn’t have to break the bank to get it. Whether she’s the fashionista of her group or still in search of her signature style, she knows what she’s after. She’s a bold mix of edge and class. She has the ability to take the ordinary world around her to an extraordinary level.
Row A Seat 1: “Fashion isn’t only about what you wear, it’s about freedom in self and being unapologetically you,” – How has this very quote allowed you to unique in buying and selling your pieces to the HOTJ woman?
Sam Cook: This mindset has allowed me to look beyond the clothes and see the person. Any woman can rock a sexy black dress and a pair of Louboutin’s, but would it speak to who she is on the inside?
I used to only purchase items I thought were hot; things I knew would fly off the rack. Then, I realized I was doing a disservice to so many women out there that didn’t only want what was hot, but they wanted something unique for themselves. Something that, even if ten women were wearing in the same room, they would stand out because it speaks to their personality, their lifestyle, as if it were custom-made for them.
I’ve put a lot of time in learning my customers and becoming acquainted with their individual styles, and because of that I’m now comfortable with purchasing those fashion-forward pieces I know a select group of women would wear. That’s the brand. That’s HOTJ. It’s not about getting that one shirt that everyone in the world just has to have; I’m constantly asking myself, “what kind of statement is Shawn trying to make at her company picnic?” Or, “what would make Hali look fierce on that first date?”
I have been blessed to have customers that understand my brand and trust me enough to know I do this for them. I care about their expression of self. That’s why, when I have pieces that some might consider more mainstream, many are okay with buying it because they know they’ll make that item extra special, and not the other way around. I truly enjoy being able to tell a customer, “I have a piece that was made just for you.”
Row A Seat 1: Brick-and-Mortar vs Pop-up Shops…
Sam Cook: In some ways, I have an affinity for both. Pop-up shops remind me of what I miss about having a brick-and-mortar: the face-to-face interactions, the on-the-spot styling and feedback, watching someone’s whole countenance change as she finds the perfect item.
The advantage of a pop-up shop is that it affords me the opportunity to travel throughout the city, get a feel for what people are into on the different sides of town and ultimately, learning more about fashion that way. It’s also a very fast paced environment of, once I’m out I’m out. It’s always interesting to see what I’ll have from one shop to the next. That’s why I called this latest round of pop-ups, “Catch Me If You Can,” because I never knew which items I’d be carrying over to the next location.
Then there’s the brick-and-mortar, which is great because of it’s stability, and actually seeing the consumer’s face when she’s trying on the perfect item, and establishing an ongoing relationship with the customer. They come back. They know I’ll be there next week and the week after that and so on…Which means they can stop in at any time to pick up a last minute item or just to get advise on their look. Not to say I don’t have customers who do that now; I’m always reachable via phone or social media. But, in an actual building, I get to spend time with them and really invest into helping them develop their style. It’s also much easier to catch those sale items.
Besides, you can’t really decorate a pop-up shop as much as you can a brick-and-mortar; and I love decorating. I think I’d have to go with brick-and-mortar.
Row A Seat 1: How has House of Tres Jolie contributed to the thread of Chicago fashion?
Sam Cook: I like to think that House of Tres Jolie has brought some sense of class and pretty back to the thread of Chicago fashion. There was a time when women in Chicago believed that your shoes had to match both your handbag and your belt. Then there was that time period (still currently) when women decided that the new look was skin.
HOTJ chooses to go against the grain. We have tried to incorporate not only a sense of style, but a sense of self-worth while being stylish and classy altogether.
There has been times when I would run into customers in different areas of the city and they just so happen to be wearing HOTJ and I would comment on the way they’d put their pieces together, “I thought to myself, what would Sam do?”
Due to the feedback that I’ve received throughout the existence of HOTJ, I do believe that there is a place for us in this fashion forward city that we live in and the brand continues to enhance the lives; and style of women across the City of Chicago.
Row A Seat 1: From your personal perspective, name 5 things a future entrepreneur should know before starting a business.
Sam Cook: 1.) Follow your dreams! Don’t be afraid to walk in YOUR purpose and know that, if this is what’s meant for you, it’s going to work out despite any apparent obstacles.
2.) Figure out what you want to do and be certain about it.
3.) Learn your craft! Just because you love something doesn’t always mean you know all there is to know about it. Take the time. Know all the ins and outs. A part of this means obtaining as much knowledge and understanding from someone that’s succeeding (read that word, again) in your area and is willing to help you grow. Never be afraid to ask for help. A closed mouth don’t get fed!
4.) Create a dynamic team. These people should not only be rooting for you (let your mama do that!), but they should have the same drive, insight and business sense that will help take you all to the next level.
5.) Failure isn’t really failure; It’s a step toward getting it right. There’s always going to be something new to learn, something you don’t understand, fresh opposition – We call these growing pains. The beauty of these things? They can’t stop you unless you let them. So Don’t! Take those things, make them your footstool and step up.
BONUS : Believe in something bigger than yourself! This is the most important one. I’m a firm believer in Jesus Christ and I know I wouldn’t have any measure of success if I weren’t doing what He told me to do. You cannot obtain your dreams if you’re not chasing the Master’s plan. So, have faith and know it will come to pass.