Lifestyle

By Invitation Only

Book review: The founders of the Gilt Groupe earned their fortunes selling luxury goods on the Internet, but their joint memoir suffers from a distinct lack of quality control.

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(Photo: Natalie Castellino)

By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop
(Portfolio)
Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilks Wilson

The founders of the Gilt Groupe earned their fortunes selling luxury goods on the Internet, but their joint memoir suffers from a distinct lack of quality control. The writing swings awkwardly between first and third person, sometimes in the same sentence. (“Alexis knew that whatever happened, we’d be in it together.”) And the writers’ egos occasionally come across as elephantine in size. In the introduction, they describe the book as a “forthright and at times self-effacing account of our early days at the centre of a fast-growing, wildly influential New York start-up.” (As the second half of that sentence may indicate, this work is, in fact, rarely self-effacing). If you overlook the preening, Maybank and Wilks Wilson do offer worthwhile insights into modern retail. They justify their early focus on luxury goods by noting numerous high-end brands successfully expanded into the mass market by grabbing “customers hungry for a piece of the brands’ cachet.” It’s far harder for a mid-market label to make the leap to luxury. So while retailer Lord & Taylor lost millions when it traded mainstream labels for upscale brands, companies from Dolce & Gabana to Facebook succeeded by opening their exclusive club to the masses.