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Raphael Wagner

When it comes to careers in retail, Raphael Wagner has had quite a colorful one: the Brazil native started out working as a visual coordinator for high-end department stores, helping put merchandise together in attractive ways. Then, for several years, he worked the cosmetics counters spritzing and selling luxury fragrances. All of it helped prepare him for—and led him right to—his current gig: personal shopper extraordinaire at Bal Harbour’s Saks Fifth Avenue Club. For the last three years, he’s been a by-appointment-only shopper, helping South Florida’s fabulous set put themselves together, working from a private room at Saks where music and champagne are part of the retail experience. With so much experience navigating the ins and outs of luxury stores, he’s perfect to offer expert tips on exactly how to buy—and give—the right gift.


Go for gifts that will endure through time, that someone will want to keep forever, advises Wagner. “Stick to classic silhouettes and shapes because they’ll never go out of style. And, if you can afford it, stick to classic brands like Chanel, Prada or Gucci, even if it’s just a wallet or a key chain. There is no one who won’t love them, so you can’t go wrong with these.”


“If you’re buying a fragrance for someone,” Wagner says, “ask for a small sample vial of it at the counter. Include it with your gift. The recipient can open it, try it and make sure he or she likes it without having to open the actual fragrance. If they don’t like it, they can return it. If they do, they have a little extra to keep for themselves. It’s just a thoughtful touch.”


“I love fashion, but it’s just too tricky to buy clothes for someone,” Wagner says. “What if it’s too big or too small? If you really want something fashionable, go for an accessory—a scarf, gloves or a purse. Those are safe but still stylish.”


“There are some items that, even if you can afford them, you just rarely go out and buy for yourself. Like scented candles or expensive soaps or personalized stationary. They make great gifts because of that. Everyone loves them and you did your recipient the favor of buying them.”


“One of the best gifts I’ve ever received,” Wagner said, “was a private brunch for two in the middle of the Grand Canyon. It was special and different and I’ll never forget it.” Of course, an experience doesn’t have to be that extravagant to make a great gift, he says. “If it’s a foodie you’re giving to, think about hiring a chef to come to their house to cook for an evening. Or if it’s someone who’s got a lot on her plate, consider sending her to a spa and give her a Bridal Day. Even if she’s not a bride, what a great way to get pampered.”


“I just did this for a client who’s a good friend. She has everything you could think of and I was having trouble coming up with a birthday gift for her,” Wagner says. “So I thought about things we have in common, and music was one of them. I bought her an iPod, then sat down to fill it with the music I know she loves.” When your gift list includes people who can get anything for themselves, he advises, “a gift has to be personal more than anything else.”