A love of travel is one thing, but turning it into a business is another ballgame.
Before launching her successful business, Miss Sophia Eze worked in private banking and later converted her good looks to international opportunities on the fashion runway and also Italian radio. We talk to Miss Sophia of Bespoke Lifestyle Concierge to unravel the visions behind her smile.
Miss Sophia, your resume is intriguing; you obtained a degree in Economics & Business Finance at Brunel University in London, after which you worked at Merrill Lynch Asset Management and then Schroders Private Bank. Tell us about the journey that led to where you are today.
After university, I worked in Asset Management because I was attracted to the dynamic, competitive and exclusive nature of the business. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist so I was very much ‘at home’, providing an exceptionally high standard of service to clients, for whom I managed their investment portfolios.
After six and a half years working in the industry, I felt the need for change; not just a change to another related sector, but something completely different that challenged me on all levels; something that gave me passion and drive to get up on a wet Monday morning and go out there to make a living for myself.
You see, though I enjoyed the work I was doing, I found that as time went by, the actual day-to-day job of going to meetings, negotiating investment agreements etc. became quite routine. I realised the parts of my job I enjoyed the most were the
client meetings (private clients are interesting high net worth individuals who come from all walks of life), the frequent foreign travel, staying in nice hotels in different cities, dining out and shopping in small, high-end local boutiques. When this part of my job changed as Schroders merged with another bank, that was my cue to leave and find something else that challenged all my senses.
At what point did you decide to drop the pen and venture
to the open road?
Leaving Private Banking and switching to modelling wasn’t a decision that took place overnight. It was a gradual mental shift that saw me question my daily 9am to 5pm existence. It’s said that life-changing events take place in a relatively short space of time. Well this was definitely true for me!!
After leaving Schroders in 2002, I spent two years travelling alone around Europe. This reawakened my sense of adventure and helped me rediscover the things I felt passionately about; dancing tango (I’ve performed on stage in Seville), eating in tiny foreign local restaurants (I have an insatiable appetite for gourmet food), and in Italy despite speaking absolutely no Italian, journeying to different parts of the country, observing people and how they interact, especially how they dress and coordinate colours, and generally appreciating their warm nature and love of all things “fatte bene” (well made) be it food, clothes, shoes & handbags, furniture, cars, architecture, you name it!!
How did you end up on the Fashion Runway?
During the time I travelled, my teenage dream of becoming a fashion model became part of my mission in life, much to the disbelief of all who knew me. I started modelling professionally in 2004 at the grand old age of 33 years!! Reinventing myself and starting from scratch was by no means an easy task, especially when as a model, you’re effectively self employed, and having an agency doesn’t necessarily guarantee you work. Thankfully, my good genes, youthful appearance and skill at mixing with people of differing ages and backgrounds meant I had a successful ten-year international career.
I look back on this ten-year period as field research for my current career, as I made valuable and long-standing contacts globally that in part, laid the foundation for some of the services Bespoke Lifestyle Concierge offers today.
And you were also the official voice for Virgin Radio in Milan;
how did that happen?
Landing a job at Virgin Radio was a mere fluke. I love music, and I found RMC2 (Radio Monte Carlo II) was the only station that played music I absolutely loved; lounge music without adverts. Five months after I arrived in Milan as a model, as I was running for a casting one day, I saw their offices in Via Turati. I immediately decided to go in and try to meet the DJs that played at the station. I wanted to ask them in person, to make me a compilation CD. I walked up to the reception desk and in the most convincing voice, told the security guard I was there to see Marco Fullone and DJ Dado Funky Poetz. Naturally, the security officer told me they were not expecting me, so I made a fuss saying I’d just stepped off a plane to come and meet them. Can you believe how crazy I was!!
Luckily for me, at that moment, a man who I later realised was the owner of RMC2 and soon to be launched Virgin Radio, stepped out of his private lift and in fluent English asked me what the problem was. Seeing the security officer’s change in attitude, I figured he was someone important, so confessed the real reason
I was there. The following week, I was invited to meet with the top bosses at Gruppo Finelco, and was offered a job as Speaker for Virgin Radio. The station went live on air in July 2007.
What I loved most about the job was working in an environment with musically artistic people who were not at all interested in high fashion. In my case, it was opposite attitudes attract. Moreover, during my nine year tenure at the station, I had numerous compilation CDs made for me . . . obviously!!
Your Personal Shopping and Lifestyle Concierge company is based
in three locations; who do your services cater to today?
Who are your clients?
Bespoke Lifestyle Concierge is based in Milan, London and Monte Carlo. The first two cities are where I’ve spent the majority of my life and so I have in-depth knowledge of, whilst Monte Carlo is where I frequently travel to when buying high-end jewellery and limited edition small luxury items.
Given we offer a wide range of services, this is reflected in the diverse nature
and cultural background of our typical client - families on holiday, individuals on
business trips, some corporate clients and buyers attending Fashion Week
or Trade Fairs like Milan Furniture Fair (Salone Del Mobile) and the bi-annual
Footwear & Leather Goods Exhibitions (MICAM & MIPEL). One thing’s for sure,
they’re not all
super-rich . . . affluent maybe, fussy usually. And the age range is just as broad.
My youngest client to date was an 11 year old whose mother booked our Junior Personal Shopping Service as a birthday treat for her daughter, together with her best friend. I was told both girls were on their best behaviour the whole week, prior to their half-day shopping trip. With some of our very mature foreign clients where language can sometimes be a problem, we often provide an interpreter as and when needed.
What fashion doors could you open for us as a VIP guest
in Milan or London?
Our VIP Personal Shopping Service involves making sure clients receive the very best luxury shopping experience money can buy - access to shops VIP private lounges, ensuring items clients want to buy (sometimes ordered in from other countries) are there on their arrival, in their sizes, colours etc.
For some of our top clients who like complete privacy and freedom away from other shoppers, I arrange store openings outside normal shopping hours. This service obviously requires a certain level of spending power!!
Occasionally I’ll use my contacts within the Fashion Industry to secure access to major shows during Milan Fashion Week. Likewise, for clients using our VIP Prestige Service, a private consultation with a designer can always be arranged.
Something that’s also frequently in demand by some clients is shopping in Palazzo Ralph Lauren’s Private Members Club in Milan. I won’t say too much about it, just that with a wonderful private chef, chauffeur service and beautiful terrace dining; VIP shopping doesn’t get any better than this!!
Every business has its share of challenges. What obstacles or challenges have you had to overcome in the 15 years of running and building Bespoke Lifestyle Concierge to the stage it is now?
When I started out many years ago, the terms Personal Shopper and Lifestyle Concierge were not in common usage and so advertising the service was very difficult. Those who were more informed, had a vague idea of image consultants with their colour swatches, but that was it!! In those days, I had to rely solely on personal recommendations. Likewise convincing shops to send clothes or accessories to a hotel room so a client could choose and buy things immediately, was almost impossible!!
Thankfully things have changed since then, so much so that our Gift-Buying Service, where we reserve and buy items on behalf of a client then arrange courier delivery, is greatly appreciated by shops who often compete with the internet. One big plus for our VIP Personal Shopping Service is that having good relationships with designer stores, means a simple phone call often reserves those hard to find or limited edition items, that never make it online!!
What do your VIP Personal Grooming Services offer?
Our Privileged Personal Grooming Service offered in Milan and London takes care of all things relating to your appearance, and is used by both ladies and gentlemen. It’s a type of service that’s been around for a long time, but has only been available to the elite in the Entertainment and Fashion Industry. Having worked as an international fashion model for ten years, I’ve built up long-standing contacts with highly experienced photographers, hair-stylists and make-up artists, all of whom have made their careers working either in television or for fashion magazines around the world.
Our clients have exclusive access to this privileged service, provided in the comfort and privacy of their hotel suite or residence. We often arrange bookings to coincide with an attendance at a special event, important dinner or business conference.
For our male clients, we arrange convenient appointments on their behalf, from our shortlist of long established traditional barbers. We also book with a handful of young and highly skilled master barbers. These appointments are often private rituals where clients can sit back, relax and unwind, whilst enjoying a modern beard trim or traditional wet shave with hot towels.
What other business activities are you involved in?
In recent years, as the focus on people’s image has increased, there’s been more demand for our Fashion & Corporate Photo Shoots. Younger client’s view this as ‘The Ultimate Selfie’, while others see this as the perfect traditional family portrait photograph, as it’s taken by photographers, make-up artists and hair-stylists who create the images you see in fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, L’Officiel Hommes, to name just a few.
Tell us about your Bespoke Tailoring Service.
In my opinion, nothing presents a man better as an ‘Alpha Male’, than a well-fitting bespoke tailored suit. Without doubt, it improves his silhouette and plays down ‘weaker areas’. It’s a luxury that’s the pinnacle of individual style, class and masculine refinement, and a clear statement of accomplishment and authority.
As part of our Bespoke Tailoring Service available in Milan and London, we arrange private consultations, fittings and suit delivery with some of the world’s finest master tailors, renowned for their exceptional craftsmanship and expertise. The service caters to differing budgets, with the prime goal being that of matching a master tailor’s ‘style & personality’ with that of our client’s. The result is nearly always, a match made in sartorial heaven.
What do you think are the biggest travel challenges for people today, and how does your concierge service aim to solve them?
With the advances in technology, the world has become a much smaller place. Consequently people travel more and have higher travel & holiday expectations. They want to spend less money, time and effort in finding and booking their trips. The internet and travel agencies generally address aspects of a client’s trip that involve getting there.
Our Concierge Service on the other hand, focuses on that part of the journey that occurs once they’ve arrived. I’d say this is the main component of any holiday or business trip, as it involves delivering and surpassing expectations. That’s the challenge we face.
We’re able to meet this challenge as we have skilled people on the ground with expert local knowledge, and we concentrate on just three cities where we have International Personal Assistants: Milan, London and Monte Carlo. Our itineraries are put together based on local knowledge and are by nature, more up to date and more authentic, so we can avoid unpleasant surprises that can sometimes ruin a holiday.
We often work in conjunction with hotels and travel agencies, so clients with pre-booked itineraries experience a streamlined service when arriving at their destination, be that at the airport where we arrange chauffeured transport to take them to their hotel or later during their stay, when we meet them in person. A quote I made up and often tell clients when proposing our Lifestyle Concierge Service is;
“A holiday experience is remembered, long after its cost is forgotten”.
In future we may expand our service to other cities, but for now, we’re happy with our lot.
For readers looking to come to Italy and immerse in cuisine,
where would you recommend they go?
Our Gourmet Food Shopping Tour isn’t just about shopping for exquisite food, it’s also about enjoying fine cuisine in sumptuous surroundings. Boeucc restaurant in Milan is one such example. Our food connoisseurs have a passion and love for authentic, traditional Italian cooking and our tours include lunch in elegant Michelin star restaurants, modern chic bistros and traditional family-run osterias. During seasonal Food & Wine events and festivals, we offer tailor-made couples & small group tours, which include wine tastings and truffle hunting.
What is the most extravagant request you received from
a client to date?
One particular request that always comes to mind was that of an Italian client who had a passion for Latin music. His request wasn’t the most extravagant financially, but in terms of logistics, it required a lot.
The client, the father of the bride, wanted to surprise his daughter during her
wedding day reception with a live band from Cuba - ‘Buena Vista Social Club’
I had to secretly organise dance classes with the guests and the band for their choreographed performance on the big day. Half the ‘dancers’ were in their late 50’s and the Cuban band spoke very little Italian. The eleven days leading up to the wedding were hectic, but the final dance performance was a blast!!
What is the membership fee for your Concierge Service?
I really don’t believe in charging a membership fee to use a Lifestyle Management or Concierge Company’s service. In my opinion, doing so is tantamount to asking clients to pay for a full-time personal assistant, who many probably use as infrequently as they do their gym membership. I think this inhibits a great number of potential clients from using the service.
Bespoke Lifestyle Concierge Ltd has a No Membership Fee policy. Instead our fee structure is a combination of fixed rates and/or commission, which gives clients maximum flexibility when customising our services to their needs.
Our VIP Personal Shopping, Gourmet Food Shopping Tour, Fashion & Corporate Photo Shoots and VIP Personal Grooming (Private Hair & Make-Up) are charged on a half-day, full-day or hourly fixed fee rate.
On the other hand our Bespoke Tailoring Service, Luxury Hotel Suite Bookings and VIP Prestige Services which include Haute Couture Private Consultations and concierge arranged itineraries, are charged on a commission basis that’s negotiable and reflective of the scale or complexity of a request.
What would you say are the top 5 most important skills set when starting up a successful business like yours?
I’d say having a clear vision of what your business is and identifying who your
clients are, is the absolute first thing you need to have in mind when starting out.
I’d equate this to having a vivid dream of what you want to do. With time, client demands help you fine-tune this vision, and branch out into other related areas.
Other skills that are absolutely necessary in running a successful Personal Shopping & Concierge business are passion, self-belief and tenacity, in that order. Passion is the fuel that drives your business, self-belief is the compass (especially when it seems like you’re moving against the current trend) and finally tenacity; lots of it!! This last attribute is effectively the tyres that keep the wheels of your business turning, especially during difficult periods.
I’d also add - the ability to accept your mistakes and willingness to make adjustments is part & parcel of running a business; a bit like taking your car to a mechanic and having it serviced accordingly.
Where do you go on holiday and what do you look for when travelling?
I’ve promised myself that this year, time permitting, I’ll visit either Cuba, Ecuador, Argentina, Jamaica or somewhere in East Asia. I love travelling to places where I can immerse myself in another culture and holiday for me means, a hotter climate!!
What city do you call home now?
Milan is my base and has been for almost 12 years, so I consider it to be home, though I travel to London and Monaco a lot.