Fashion advice from famed designer - offered by Airbnb

LOS ANGELES • A few hours spent touring a musty labyrinth of vintage dresses and pants in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley might not seem like a vacation activity but it was heaven to a group of visitors on a scorching hot day just before Halloween.

Forget typical fare such as spotting names on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or Instagramming a double-double from fast-food favourite In-N-Out Burger.

These women had shelled out US$200 (S$270) for a fashion "experience" orchestrated by disruptive accommodation provider Airbnb.

They had four hours of face time with United States period drama Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant, who took them on a pilgrimage to storage-and-rental behemoth Western Costume Company.

She is among the royalty of behind-the-scenes show business in Hollywood.

The friendly, impeccably styled brunette with a Southern twang rose to prominence through her famously diligent designs for AMC's smash show which she has parlayed into a book deal, retail partnerships and more than 44,000 Twitter followers.

For the tour's 10 participants, spending a morning basking in Bryant's presence, touring where she works, learning her research methods and hearing candid commentary on what stars are really like was priceless. And it came with personalised styling advice, too. The tour included vouchers for items from Bryant's 1950s-inspired fashion collection at Unique Village, a nearby boutique.

She noted that although Mad Men ended production in 2014, it is not uncommon for fans of the show to seek her out to obsess over every single costume worn by every single actor in every single scene.

That insider route to a fashion industry stalwart is what Airbnb had in mind in November last year when it began offering what it calls "experiences" via its Trips programme.

These are niche adventures that allow home renters to avoid what Trips' vice-president Joe Zadeh called the "cookie-cutter" vacation experience. Instead, he noted, Airbnb customers get "an opportunity to connect with the people and places", from fashion to food. It now has more than 3,100 experiences across more than 40 cities, with solo travellers and millennials being the most enthusiastic patrons.

Recent Airbnb experiences in Los Angeles have included a ballroom-dance class with Kenny Ortega, the famed choreographer and director known for his work on some of Michael Jackson's videos, as well as a tour of the area's comedy scene with local stand-up authority Jake Kroeger.

Some experiences are more glamorous than others. A chance to go shoe-shopping with Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker in Manhattan sold out in hours.

Bryant said she will participate in another Airbnb experience in spring, when she launches her second collection at Unique Vintage. "Most people don't understand what it is to be a costume designer," she said.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2017, with the headline 'Fashion advice from famed designer - offered by Airbnb'. Print Edition | Subscribe