The Elizabeth Taylor of Retail
Jotham Sederstrom Dec. 1, 2009, 8:06 a.m.
Faith Hope Consolo had already made herself crystal clear by the time she finally strode into the lush, sofa-lined conference room on Madison Avenue. Like the lag between lightning and thunder, the so-called retail queen’s New Yawkese streaks through the halls of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s third-floor office seconds before her arrival.
“I hope we’re going to take a fresh view!” Ms. Consolo squeals, singsong-like, as she marches through a hallway decorated with a half-dozen or so painted retail scenes, all of them intended as paeans to the boldface broker’s myriad commercial deals. Cartier, Christian Louboutin and Longchamp are all accounted for and span from the front reception desk to the long narrow hallway and back.
“Where are you guuuyyyysss?!” she calls out, shattering the silence.
If there was ever doubt about her pivotal role at Douglas Elliman, a real estate firm bubbling over with big names and bigger egos—think Dolly Lenz and Jacky Teplitzky, to name two—Ms. Consolo was all but declaring her position at the top of the pile on a recent rain-swept Monday afternoon.
“You know what, Hollywood has their stars, but New York has real estate and everybody in real estate in New York thinks they’re a star,” said Ms. Consolo, confirming a fact that exactly nobody in the industry hadn’t already figured out. “Whether they are or they aren’t, this is our Hollywood.”
Depending on whom you ask, Ms. Consolo may, in fact, be the Elizabeth Taylor of the real estate set: brash but focused, prolific if a bit unhinged. That isn’t to say that her critics would necessarily agree with the depiction.
“She’s a queen in her own mind,” sniffed one real estate insider, who criticized Ms. Consolo’s legendary self-promotion, a skill that, like it or not, has led to reality TV and book offers as well as myriad on-air appearances.
But however divisive she may be, Ms. Consolo has managed to deliver year after year, pulling in upscale tenants like Versace, Salvatore Ferragamo, Yves Saint Laurent, Fendi and Bond No. 9, just to name a small fraction of her retail conquests. Since joining Douglas Elliman in 2005 as chairwoman of the firm’s retail leasing and sales division, she has carved out a reputation as the go-to for luxury stores and emerged as a sharp branding expert. Indeed, it was she who positioned Au Bon Pain as a designer establishment by placing the ubiquitous fast-food spot at the city’s best addresses. In all, she inked 48 deals for the company.
Last month she signed a coveted deal with Kimaya, an India-based haute couture clothier that will open its first U.S. store on Madison Avenue across from Longchamp, in a 4,500-square-foot space near 63rd Street formerly occupied by E. Braun and Joseph Martin. “From Mumbai to Madison,” the press release announced.
In all, Ms. Consolo claims to have inked 67 deals this year—or about six transactions a month—despite a crippling recession that may have hit the country’s retailers the hardest. That isn’t to say that it came easy.
“It was a hush,” said Ms. Consolo of the first-quarter paralysis that struck many of her clients. “I kept checking my phone to see if it was out of order. I drove our IT people crazy because I get an average of, like, 400 to 600 emails an hour, and I was getting 40.”
With the zeal of a young and hungry broker, the 30-year veteran canvassed the streets of New York, visiting longtime clients and potential new tenants on a daily basis. Meanwhile, she took to the sky, flying into Europe and Asia to scour new leasing possibilities. By the third quarter, the work paid off.
“I think we’ve really had to reinvent ourselves,” said Ms. Consolo. “I know that at the beginning of this year, I took the rule book and I threw it out.”
MS. CONSOLO WAS BORN in Ohio’s historic Shaker Heights district. After her father died when she was 2, Ms. Consolo moved to the East Coast with her mother, splitting her time between homes in Westport, Conn., and Greenwich Village. She became an orphan at the age of 12, when her mother died.
“Let’s not start crying now,” said Ms. Consolo, reassuringly. “I’m O.K.”
As a student at Parsons and New York University, Ms. Consolo embarked on a career in fashion, first by founding a national modeling company called Super Girls, which she sold to Max Factor. With a degree in art history, she later created an interior design company on the West Coast that she cashed in on by selling her book of clients to an architecture firm.
A divorce lured her back to New York, where she met her first real estate boss at a party, who convinced her to try her hand at his now-defunct firm, Garrick-Aug Associates, where she eventually inked deals with Godiva, the famed Belgian chocolatier. It was the first of what would become a long career of ritzy retail transactions.
(Before either question is broached, Ms. Consolo warned, “You’re not asking two things: You’re not asking how many times I’ve been married, and you’re not asking my age.”)
The Upper East Side resident fell in with Douglas Elliman in 2005 after meeting the firm’s CEO, Dottie Herman, at an anniversary party for Rubenstein Associates, the public-relations firm. It was then and there she decided to leave behind Garrick-Aug Associates.
“When Garrick was sold, I knew that the new owner was taking it in a different direction,” recalled Ms. Consolo. “I was being wooed by several companies, but then I met Dottie, and I thought it was a wonderful match made in heaven.”
So what’s next for the retail queen? For starters, she’s hoping for a new flurry of transaction activity to start off the New Year. But beyond that, she said calmly, it’s anybody’s guess.
“Every year I keep saying to myself it’s a new year, but it’s been a good run,” Ms. Consolo said. “You can tell your readers that I’m not going anywhere.”
After a ponderous pause and characteristic self-awareness, Ms. Consolo reconsidered her answer—then added an extra layer of moxie.
“Are your readers going to like to hear that? That I’m not going anywhere?” asked Ms. Consolo, before finally answering her own question. “Who knows? I don’t. But who really cares?”