Luxury gifting site Gift Me Chic is on the rise, after a year of championing through the pandemic. Now, the brand is expanding its portfolio as the exclusive retailer for renowned French restaurant Maison de la Truffle. As one of the brains behind Kilian Paris, founder Elisabeth Jones-Hennessy knows a thing or two about luxury gifting and what makes it special. The Daily caught up with her to learn more about her latest endeavor.
What inspired you to launch Gift Me Chic?
Gift Me Chic has been a brainchild of mine for awhile. For about 10 years of my career, I was a buyer. I was at Saks Fifth Avenue for six years, and Bergdorf’s for four years. And then for Bergdorf’s, I was the CEO of North America for Kilian Perfumes, so I went from retail to wholesale. When Kilian was acquired by Estée Lauder, it was the moment to get back to retail, something I’ve always loved. I knew that brick and mortar was difficult in these times; this was actually last year, pre-COVID. I knew that online was the direction I needed to go in, and when I really looked at the space, the one opportunity that I saw was elevated gifting. When I’m looking for a gift, I go to one of the big department stores and sort through thousands of products. Or, I go to a local mom-and-pop shop in my neighborhood. I really felt like something was missing, in terms of beautiful products that are sourced from all over the world—curated, special, exclusive—and that was really my inspiration. I’ve had the opportunity to travel, and I’m always finding stuff. As a retailer, I’m always on the hunt. I said to myself, “Okay, now it’s time to bring all of your great finds to one spot, and hopefully let other people enjoy them as much as I’ve enjoyed them.”
What was the process like when creating your platform and a brand identity?
I did a soft launch just before the holidays of 2019. I’m trying to get all of my years straightened out [Laughs], 2020’s such a blur! For me, that was when I really said, “Okay, I know I can do this.” But it started very, very small. I had 10 brands on board, which I was really excited about. I said, “Okay, let me just get this up and running for 2019, start building some holiday business and awareness.” Then throughout 2020, I really took the opportunity to build it out and look at, what did I want to do, and how big can I make this, and where do I think it can go. With COVID, it kind of hit me that we can’t leave our homes. We have to shop online. This is a moment where we really want to think about the people in our lives, and how can we reach them when we can’t physically reach them? This idea of gift-giving and thoughtfulness really took on a bigger meaning. It was always there pre-COVID, but then during COVID it just felt like something that needed to happen. Throughout the course of the year, I worked and put it all together and I relaunched it in November of 2020. I currently have over 30 brands. I have quite a few more in the pipeline, everywhere from gourmet foods and books, lingerie, and accessories.
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Maison de la Truffle is now exclusively sold at Gift Me Chic. How did this partnership come to be?
It’s something that has begun in my travels looking for products and brands, and things that only exist in their own countries. Wherever I go in the world, the first things I want to do are try the food, and look for the local shops. I was living between New York and Paris for quite a few years, and Paris is very—I don’t want to say there’s not a lot of change, but you have your tried-and-true classic restaurants. I think the number one and number two restaurants that are especially hot and happening and always delicious, always consistent, are Caviar Kaspia and Maison de la Truffle, during Fashion Week in particular. You always knew that when you go to Caviar Kaspia during Fashion Week, it was going to be a scene. Everyone and anyone was there, it’s impossible to get a reservation. You could be sitting at one table next to Bella Hadid, and at another table next to Valentino. It’s fun! It’s exciting! Because how often in life do you have an opportunity to sit in a restaurant next to some of these people? I mean, they have a back room that they often rent out for private events and Rihanna did an event one night. The owner JS Ramon Mac-Crohon and he’s the owner of both Caviar Kaspia, Maison de la Truffle, and quite a few other restaurants around Paris. He and his wife were introduced to me many years ago, and we just clicked right away. We had all of these interesting parallel moments in life, where we thought, “Well, we could have met, we know people in common.” We’re about the same age, and we played the name game and knew people in common. The fun part is that we could always get a reservation [Laughs]. Especially in the moments when it’s packed with celebrities, you’re like, “Well, who am I? I’m never going to get in.” For both of those restaurants, neither of their products are anywhere outside of Paris. When you walk into both, you enter into the shop. You have everything from truffle pasta, truffle potato chips, truffle oils, and salt, and really on and on and on. I said to Ramon, “Look, you know”—he knows I’ve been a retailer for most of my career, and I was getting ready to launch Gift Me Chic—I said, “Well, this is exactly what I’m looking for, are products like this that no one in the world can get outside of your restaurant, super special. What can we do?” That’s how it was born. When we first launched back in 2019, we had a beautiful—we still have one. It’s a very beautiful gift set that has a gorgeous book, a truffle shaver, preserved truffle and truffle oil. Now, when I relaunched and really took things to the next level, I had the opportunity to broaden the assortment. I have the pasta, and truffle oil with both white truffles and black truffles, truffle pearls, and different salts. It’s been doing really well on the site. I’ve had emails from customers saying, “We’re so excited to buy this from you, because you can’t find it anywhere else.”
All of Maison de la Truffle’s products are iconic, but are there any that especially stand out to you or are your favorites?
I’d say that the oils are my favorite, just because they’re so versatile. There’s so many different things that you can do when you’re cooking with them, or adding them to a salad, hot, cold. They’ve been the best seller, typically, because I think that’s what people are most comfortable with. And the salts as well, I will say. For New Year’s Eve, I was with a friend, and as a gift I brought the pasta, and the oils, and the salts, and the whole range. And they cooked it. It’s hard to pick a favorite.
What are some of your favorite memories with Maison de la Truffe, or at Caviar Kaspia?
Oh, wow! Back in 2016, we rented out the back room for our pre-wedding dinner. And it seats about 40 people. I had a lot of people—it was actually specifically for out-of-town guests, people that flew in from wherever. It was so special, and so meaningful, to have all of our closest friends from around the world there on the night before the wedding. That was a beautiful memory. When [Kilian] was sold to Estée Lauder, we also did a dinner for 40 people, Paris-based friends. It was just a moment of real celebration, when the brand launched in 2007, we really built it, we worked together and really built it to a place that we were proud of. As much as it’s fun to sit in the main room, and have all these celebrities and fashion people around you, I think that when you take the back room, if you have the opportunity to do that, and you’re really surrounded there for a special occasion, it’s the most meaningful.
Are there any specific occasions that Maison de la Truffle would make the perfect gift for?
Anyone in your life who’s a foodie, and appreciates gourmet food. Truffles are very specific. I gave my friend Jonathan the gift box. He loves truffle, and it smells good. I mean, if I walk into my office and it smells like truffle, it’s amazing. But his partner, his husband Jeffrey, really hates truffles [Laughs]. And because it’s so fragrant, you really either love it or hate it. So, Jonathan had to put it in a part of their apartment where Jeffrey wouldn’t be tortured by the scent. I think it’s important if you’re going to give it as a gift to know if the person likes truffle first. Because it is such a special gift, that you don’t want it to go to waste. It’s really for a foodie, or person that appreciates gourmet food, and also someone that’s a Francophile. We haven’t been traveling from COVID, unfortunately, and some people don’t even have the opportunity to travel. To receive gifts that are really from abroad, and they can’t be bought anywhere else I think it’s really special.
Over 50% of Gift Me Chic’s brands are female-founded. Were you aiming to stock mostly female-founded brands on the site when you started?
It is very important to me. I definitely did not say, “Okay, this site is specifically for female brands, female founders.” I have to believe in the products, I have to love the products personally. I’m not just going to put something on the site to put it on the site. There are so many great brands out there that are—whether they’re owned by a woman, or a man, or a couple, whatever it is, I would never want to eliminate a brand just for who founded them. But since it’s Women’s History Month, and as a female entrepreneur, I very much believe in supporting other female entrepreneurs and other female-founded brands, females in general, how far we’ve come in history. I’m very proud to highlight my female founders, and bring them into the forefront of all of the things that they’re doing, and how they’re breaking glass ceilings, and just really being self-sufficient and doing what they need to do to take their brands to the next level. It’s a really nice opportunity to celebrate all of our accomplishments as women this month.
What is your process for choosing products or brands to feature on Gift Me Chic?
I do have an intuition for things that I know people will be excited about. If I’m excited about them, I very much have always been into design, and style. for example. There’s this aesthetic piece that I’m first drawn to. But aesthetic isn’t everything. There’s quality, and there’s quantity, and how are the things I’m finding going to be useful? Will people love it? Will people enjoy them? What are the costs? It’s really important to have a range of price points, depending on what kind of gift you’re looking for. Maybe you want to just bring something small, because you’re going to someone’s house for a small dinner party during COVID, or just the two of you for dinner. Or you want to get your significant other something really over-the-top. I think it’s important to have all of that, and really a range of different categories so a customer doesn’t just come to the site and say, “Oh, she has books and one other thing.” It’s really about offering an assortment so people can have the same sort of discovery that I do when I find the product.
What matters most when choosing a gift for someone else—or for yourself?
For somebody else, it’s really about trying to know that person as best you can. And I know it’s difficult sometimes if you have to buy something for someone you don’t know, and then you have to be a little more generic in your choices. But if you do know the person, I think it’s really important to be thoughtful. Think about, who is that person? What is their lifestyle? What is their fashion or fashion choices? Are they working from home, or outside the home? Do they have children? All of those things that, you know about your friends—or you try to know, at least. And then budget: what is your budget, what’s appropriate. That’s a big part. And then for you, it’s just fun. What am I in the mood for? We’re in March, and it’s cold, and I want a candle to warm up my home. What’s going to make you feel good? The world is going through a difficult time. Feel good moments are really important.