The concept of renting special-event apparel, such as bridal gowns and tuxedos, is nothing new. But renting the latest outfit you saw in Vogue for a tenth of the listed price -- including chandelier earrings and jewel-encrusted clutch -- all delivered to your home, is.
RenttheRunway.com, a website started in 2009 by Harvard Business School Graduates Jenny Fleiss, 27, and Jenn Hyman, 30, applies the Netflix model to high-end designer frocks.
Fleiss said her business partner thought of the idea when her sister agonized over purchasing an expensive new dress for an upcoming event, only to be frustrated by its short life span, which rarely exceeds more than two wears.
Rent the Runway gives fashion-forward yet budget-conscious women the chance to wear coveted pieces for the modern-day Cinderella experience.
We caught up with Fleiss and asked her a few questions about the company and her fashion inspirations.
Q: Why Rent the Runway?
A: With the economy the way it is, what better way to give women who are just starting their careers, a large number of (whom) spend all their disposable income on their wardrobe, an opportunity to wear fabulous designer dresses at a fraction of the cost? Also, Facebook kills outfits, right? Once you put up a photo of yourself in that dress, that's it. Everyone has seen you in it and you can't wear it again.
Q: How would you convince the client who may be reluctant to rent?
A: We offer a risk-free way to try out that white sequined statement dress by Herve Leger that you've been unsure about and may be something that you may not necessarily buy. If you're worried about the fit, we send you two sizes. We really try to understand what may be holding back our clients from trying the service and address those needs. Also, we have a staff of 10 stylists that give recommendations based on body type or what to wear according to event. Whether it's a black-tie or spring wedding, they can help you decide what's appropriate for the occasion.
Q: Any plans to expand your inventory beyond dresses, jewelry and clutches?
A: Yes, we just launched our bridesmaids selection. It's definitely nicer than any other bridesmaid dresses out there. You can order a few styles in different sizes and colors and see which is the best.
Q: What should people splurge on versus saving on?
A: Splurge on basics. Things that you'll use again and again, like a pair of Christian Louboutins or a little black dress -- something that you can get a lot of wear from.
Someone can be more adventurous and want to rent a hot pink dress that's a statement piece but will most likely want to buy a black one of the same style. It's about renting the statement pieces.
Q: If you had five seconds to grab some beauty essentials before jamming out the door, what items would those be?
A: I usually carry heels with me, especially if it's something I can't wear around the city. Double-sided tape, deodorant sponges, extra pair of stockings and a lipstick.
(E-mail comments to Cindy Ha at cha(at)sfchronicle.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)