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Extreme Brand Loyalty

For some New Yorkers, buying a specific designer’s clothes isn’t just a fashion statement, it’s a way of life.

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From left, Gelman, in her bedroom; her handbag collection, which includes 34 Chanels; in the new season's belted trench with red quilted handbag. (Photographs by Leeta Harding)

Corey Gelman
Obsession: Chanel
Extravagance: 85 suits

If it weren’t on the 34th floor of a residential building off Third Avenue in the Sixties, it would be easy to mistake Corey Gelman’s apartment for a designer showroom—Chanel’s on 57th Street, to be specific. Of eight closets in the apartment, the most spectacular is an enormous walk-in, right off her bedroom, that features several glass-panel displays housing her collection of some 34 Chanel bags (11 of them quilted, in every size imaginable), 9 Hermès Birkins, and 2 Kellys. “I always wanted a closet where you could just go in and it’s like a store,” she says. “I’m a little OCD,” she adds. “I’ll buy three Chanels a season, but I’ll only wear one. Then the next season, I’ll buy another three and I’ll only wear one.”

In the walk-in closet, a floating wooden island contains drawers that are filled to the brim with Chanel sunglasses from different seasons. A shoe closet in the hall has 60 pairs of Chanels. What was once a bedroom has been turned into a fitting room with mirror-paneled closets that contain her coats, skirts, and dresses and her collection of 85 Chanel suits, most bought for between $2,500 and $4,500.

Gelman, 35, began buying Chanel in 1993. While working a $10,000 summer job at Citicorp, she walked into the Chanel boutique on 57th Street and found two overcoats she just had to have. “I remember thinking, This is so expensive, I’m going to have to work all summer for these two jackets.”

So she did. Two years later, she was making more money as an investment banker than anyone she’d grown up with, working in a testosterone-charged environment that she frequently found intimidating. “There were very few women then,” she recalls. “I was hit on constantly.” Chanel suits became her armor: “The men all wore Armani suits and Hermès ties. They didn’t quite understand what a Chanel suit meant, but I did. I felt very powerful going into meetings. I felt strong.”

Within a year, she had become one of the store’s biggest customers. In 1998, the onerous hours of her job prompted her to consider a life change. Fittingly, she found it on a shopping excursion, when her long-haired Chihuahua, Bear—clad in a leather-and-fur jacket his mistress designed—caught the eye of InStyle fashion director Cynthia Weber Cleary, who asked to see more. Today, Gelman owns and runs Chic Doggie by Corey, a dog-accessory business, but she still shops on 57th Street. She pairs the old suit jackets she wore as an investment banker with jeans and heels, makes weekly visits to her saleswoman, goes to trunk shows three times a year, and receives a once-a-week house call from the tailor who began serving her at 23 and has since left Chanel for Versace.

She doesn’t own the Chanel surfboard, but she does have a Chanel tennis outfit. “My boyfriend totally made fun of me for buying this. I said, ‘Do you want me to play or not?’ ” He’s currently warning her not to buy the skis.

Other Chanel merchandise she owns: two Chanel sun visors, a Chanel baseball jacket, a bathrobe, more than twenty cashmere sweaters, and two dozen winter coats, the most recent of which is a belted trench for 2004 that she preordered two months before it hit store shelves.

Needless to say, she can speak of her favorite brand with the kind of reverence that puts even the most fevered fashion publicists to shame: “The beauty of Chanel is that it never goes out of style,” she says solemnly. “It’s elegant, sophisticated, crisp, clean. I can’t tell you how many pairs of other designer shoes I’ve given away after one season. But you can never go wrong in Chanel.”


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