Imagine walking into a boutique, drinking a glass of champagne and enjoying a full styling session tailored to your needs. It sounds like an experience you’d only find in Paris, but it’s actually part of a full spectrum of services found at A Line Boutique, a luxury concept store with locations in Cherry Creek North, Greenwood Village and Castle Rock. A Line focuses on European-inspired services, including styling by text message and travel packing assistance, to provide a tailored shopping experience. The brand collection is unlike any other boutique in Denver, so this is a true destination for fashion lovers.
Owner Karmen Berentsen’s entrepreneurship began with the creation of her own tech company, GB Synergy, at age 26. After selling the company, she began to focus on the fashion industry with Castle Rock co-owner, Melissa Rufenacht, and buying director, Morgan Dougherty. The three women have collectively succeeded in bringing the personalized care found in stores overseas to their boutiques, which carry an array of brands including Rag & Bone, Chloé, Golden Goose and L’Agence. We sat down with Berentsen and Dougherty and convinced them to share the secrets of A Line’s success.
303 Magazine: How did you transition from tech to fashion?
Karmen Berentsen: One of the ways I found confidence was in well-cut and well-fabricated pieces. I have always known the power of clothes. It is armor and that secret weapon of reinventing yourself. I truly resonate with being a conductor of a symphony. For women, we are the easy button. I call us professional or personal stylists with inventory.
303: What sets your boutique apart from other Denver stores in terms of customer service and the brands you carry?
Morgan Dougherty: We have a phenomenal buying team and we are really utilizing our strengths and building a team that supports that end result and experience. As we go into the market we have a very proactive and detailed strategy. We are curating for our customer, so we’re not going out just looking for the best trends. That’s what really sets us apart from a product perspective, as we have a big team that curates the buy.
303: What is a typical day for you and your team?
KB: The girls are professional stylists and they walk in every day thinking about their clients. When we’re [at buying appointments] in Paris we FaceTime or text clients and buy specifically for them — it’s so personal. It turns out a lot of women wanted what I wanted in shopping similar to that designer or men’s suit experience and not just at a designer level.
303: You recently opened a boutique in Castle Rock. Describe how you were able to grow your boutique from having one location in a strip mall to having multiple stores in various prime locations.
KB: We are meeting an unmet need with the service that we provide. The reality is with the global world, if you know what you want, you can get it online. The uniqueness and value is the service, experience and end result. There are really polished and intelligent people who live in Castle Pines, Castle Rock and Franktown that have chosen a lifestyle of a 180-degree view of the mountains and not hearing the noise of Cherry Creek. It has been really well received, so it’s fun to be their answer.
303: What brought on your decision to open a boutique in Castle Rock rather than other potential locations?
KB: I love empowering women on all fronts from feeling relevant and seen with clothing to building [and developing] team members. Melissa Rufenacht, the co-owner of the Castle Rock location, was a great client of A Line and has always dreamed of owning a boutique. She’s connected in Castle Pines as she’s lived there forever, so it was a no-brainer. That’s what I’m really looking for as I grow to partner and to also empower other women to achieve that dream of being an owner of a boutique.
303: Do you see any distinct differences in your customer base in the various boutique locations you have?
MD: We are true to our buy and our customer even though we know she’s different ages and has different tastes. We are sensitive to different trends and what people are buying and where they’re going. We don’t do different buys by each location, it is all the same product.
KB: We really do one buy and it is an A Line-curated style. We have our own brand and our own collection that we put together and that is at all A Line stores.
303: What changes have you seen in the Denver fashion industry over the past few years as a boutique owner?
KB: All of a sudden there’s a brand awareness that we haven’t had and a brand appreciation too.
MD: And a desire for that luxury experience, so it is the element of the brand recognition and the appreciation for the service, community and professional styling we offer.
303: Who does the buying, and how often do you travel to markets to find new products? Which market locations do you go to?
MD: We have a team of five and we travel to Los Angeles, Paris and New York three to four times a year. We are also constantly going to see current vendors and of course always looking for new brands. We’re in the showroom and having conversations with the designer and talking about how Denver’s growing. They are also taking the time to get to know who the Denver customer is and what she’s wanting. There’s so much value in those personal connections and conversations.
KB: We do ninety percent of our buying in showrooms, so it’s fun to [see their] fit models, collections and sketches. We’re getting to the point with the vendors that we are giving them feedback and that can lead to exclusives now. We have gotten reclassed as not just a little specialty store and I think it’s such a compliment.
MD: We do the strategy and it’s very laid out beforehand. There’s a lot of intelligence and data analysis that has gone on for months.
303: Where do you draw your inspiration for not only your products but your store services and experience?
KB: Our first love is the women, not the product. I don’t geek out over brands, I geek out over cool women and making them feel seen, invincible and powerful. You have to be sensitive and respectful of where your store is as well as what their lifestyle is.
MD: We want to create a place that is warm and approachable, but cool. With the community here, we meet so many amazing women who come into the store.
303: How would you describe the differences between the shopping experiences in Europe and the United States, especially Denver? How are you bridging this gap?
KB: In some ways, we are replicating and mirroring the European shopping experience. They welcome you to a boutique [in the same way] they welcome you to their house by offering you a glass of champagne or an espresso and we do the same thing. [Europe has] that very organic, natural cultural depth and diversity that we just don’t have because of the physical landscape.
MD: It is a faster evolution in art, culture and fashion. There’s this element of education, inspiration and influence that takes a little longer to come to Denver. Product-wise we’re providing that but also absolutely with that experience. We’re enamored with creating this community of cool women [and] connecting people.
KB: We have finally put together what we’re calling our mantra and it really is how we’re different. [The mantra reads,] “You are beautiful. You are unique and we’re your biggest fan. Here, you are at home in the comfort of good friends. Explore the world and imagine. Experience serious style with laid-back love. Try on the new you. Coax out the shy one, give her confidence, head-to-toe. Move from invisible to invincible.”
303: Can you outline your gratis services available to customers who shop in your stores?
KB: Our “10 Reasons Why I Shop At A Line Boutique” includes complimentary tailoring, wardrobe and closet edits, home and office deliveries, text message styling, travel packing assistance, one-on-one appointments with a personal stylist, a kid, dog and husband friendly atmosphere, champagne while you shop, elevated style without the work and transformation from invisible to invincible.
303: What items are your top trend picks for Spring and Summer?
KB: I’m really excited to have our Chloé shoes as I’ve always had Chloé in my closet and to have it now in the store is really exciting. I also love poppy yellow for spring.
MD: We are continuing to grow our name as being denim experts and I love denim because you can do anything. As far as texture, sequins and shine.
303: What is your advice to any readers interested in starting their own business in the fashion industry in Denver?
KB: A lot of people used to have a very romanticized view of being a boutique owner. The reality is that it’s a business so if you don’t enjoy business, then don’t open a store. I really am a businesswoman first and the clothes are just a tool to accomplish a business objective. As a businesswoman and entrepreneur, you’re identifying something that people want that you can provide. I’ve written a memoir that will be published in the fall called Learning to Fly. I empower women through clothing, by being a business owner or investor and now through a book.
All photography by Heather Fairchild.