Per Lei and Stile by Per Lei

Candace Caprice, Founder and President
By Karen Giberson

Finding success in today’s complex retail environment can be challenging, but for Candice Caprice, founder and president of Per Lei and Stile by Per Lei, it still comes down to making the right connection — and, no, not the virtual kind. “Retail is not dead,” she told us. “People still want experiences and human connection.”

Banking on that belief, Caprice’s goal is to continue adding locations to her growing chain of fashion specialty stores. Located in Media, PA — just outside of Philadelphia — the Per Lei enterprise, which Caprice owns with her husband Bruce Middleman, currently consists of five stores with two additional locations set to open in March. Plans are to have 15 stores up and operating within the next few years; an objective that speaks directly to this unique retailer’s winning formula for success.

Caprice, who spent a year studying in Italy after graduating from Temple University in just three years, grew up in an entrepreneurial family. She fell in love with shopping and fashion while she was in Italy, and when she returned to the States, she followed that passion to a sales position at a newly opened boutique in Media.

As luck would have it, Middleton, who owned the prominent men’s store B. Gross on the same street, stopped in to welcome the new store and its staff to the neighborhood. The two became friendly and Middleton offered Caprice the opportunity to learn about the men’s business by working a few hours a week at B. Gross.


“Men’s was definitely not my jam,” Caprice said. “But women’s fashion retail was.” Caprice, who had a natural gift for styling had taken on clients and was quickly gaining a reputation as a go-to resource for wardrobe assistance. She was tapped to style national commercials and had developed a celebrity clientele. Inspired to build her own business, she approached Middleton in 2007 about renting a spot in his store to open her own boutique.

B. Gross had been in business for decades and was known as the local go-to spot to buy quality off-the-rack men’s suits. Middleton knew he needed to update his approach and assortments to keep up with the growing trend of casual dressing.

Caprice’s timing was perfect, but instead of renting her the space, Middleman partnered with her and later that year, they opened Per Lei —named after the Italian term “for her” — a contemporary women’s fashion boutique.

Caprice used her talent as a stylist to curate an assortment of the day’s leading contemporary brands and the store was a success right out of the gate. Her first bump in the road, however, hit when the market crashed in 2008 and business came to a screeching halt. “We would take in a receipt, open the box and then immediately sell it for half price, just to keep the cash flow positive,” she recalled. “We made it through, but it was a crash course lesson in inventory management.”

Per Lei had earned a reputation for having an assortment of trend-right pieces that were new and noteworthy. Importantly, it was the style advice and customer service that kept customers coming back. Caprice got to know her clientele and their personal style. She invited them to bring in their favorite wardrobe pieces and then worked with them to update their look by adding newer items from the store. Her greatest joy was watching her customers light up and gain confidence when they saw how good they looked in the mirror.

The team wanted to duplicate that success and opened a seasonal store in the seaside resort town of Avalon, NJ. The store was a success — but after the initial five-year lease was up they were forced to move and relocated to Sea Isle City, a town farther north. The new location gave them a larger space and a lower rent, but their existing customer base did not translate to the new location. After the second season, they made the difficult decision to buy out their lease, close the store, and focus their efforts on the Media location.

Caprice’s business as a personal stylist was still thriving and she often shopped in other stores to find styles and accessories to outfit her clients for special occasions. Often these trips would leave her frustrated and exhausted — the stores were disorganized and the assortments were overwhelming. The fast fashion stores had some very nice options, but there was never anyone on the sales floor to assist.

Inspired by what she saw as an opportunity, in 2017 Caprice decided to open a new store in Newtown Square, PA, which she named Elan. She used her keen eye to purchase items that would retail for less than $100 primarily, with a ceiling of $150 for something “very special.”“We put customer service at the top of our priority list, giving the customer a high-end boutique experience, without the high-end pricing,” she said.

After a few very successful months, Caprice received a call from a lawyer who told her that she would need to close the store immediately or risk a lawsuit. The name Elan already belonged to a fashion brand, and though her concept was very different, she decided that the court fight would not be worth the money or time. To stay in business, she immediately rebranded, losing her investment in collateral materials, including hangers, price tags, bags, and even the signage in front of the store.



Stuck for a new name, Caprice was persuaded by Middleman to relaunch as Stile by Per Lei (Stile means style in Italian). “It was awful when it happened, I was nine months pregnant and went into labor the day after the lawyer called,” she told us, “but in the end, it was meant to be.”

While the stores were shut down during the pandemic, Caprice leaned on her styling skills and began to offer her clothing online and in videos. Alleigh McGaffin, director of stores and buying, built a website for Stile by Per Lei and the clients that they had forged relationships with over the years reached out to shop directly. The combination of these efforts helped the stores stay afloat and survive.

Caprice and Middleman also found opportunities for growth during Covid. “We are risk takers and we knew we wanted to expand the Stile by Per Lei concept, so we took the downtime to hunt for new locations while leasing rates were favorable.” They found a location in the Glen Eagle shopping center in Glen Mills and another in Suburban Square in Ardmore, PA. The Stile by Per Lei concept was working so well, that in 2021 they decided to reorganize their flagship space in Media and introduce Stile by Per Lei into the space.

Stile by Per Lei has thrived by putting out a daily flow of new product, ranging from fun pieces to core wardrobe builders. Caprice started using ManagementOne, a data-based inventory planning tool to ensure her stock was turning on a regular basis. She described Stile by Per Lei as labor intensive. “McGaffin and I buy more often and closer to our need, we are in the market every month and always looking for new items,” she explained. "The added bonus of expanding is that we get to work with the designers to put together our own unique collections.”

The secret sauce for all their stores is exceptional customer service. Caprice’s philosophy is: “You are not making a sale, you are building a relationship. Maybe today is not their day, they might walk out without being anything, but if they leave feeling valued, they will come back. It’s important to be authentic and not pushy. We look at the long game.”

With Per Lei, which mainly sells known brands, it’s the service and advice that keeps the customers loyal.“You can shop anywhere, non-stop — if you are a price hunter, you can often find a slightly better price, even from a brand’s own website. Brands often use boutiques to build their reputations and gain knowledge. Then they open their own stores and become competition. It’s very important to work with carefully chosen brands that treat us like partners.”

As the stores expand, one of the early challenges has been finding like-minded associates. Caprice thinks of her team as stylists rather than sales people and encourages them to get to know the product. They try on clothes during downtime so they can understand the fit and be able to guide their customers to styles that will flatter them. Each quarter, Caprice arranges for offsite team-building workshops; she also kicks off each day with a group call with all the stores. She promotes retail work as a career to be proud of and even if it’s not an employee’s targeted career, she views it as an experience-building opportunity to be proud of. Employees use a styling app, One Shop Retail, to customize offers for their clients and text specific suggestions that will compliment items they already have in their wardrobes. “I want every shopper to feel like they have personalized experience,” Caprice said.

Next up, in March, Per Lei is moving to a larger free-standing store in Newtown Square. The store will carry Iro, Zadig & Voltaire, Frame, Mother, Deepa Gurnani, and Farm Rio, among other brands. A series of trunk shows are planned and Caprice is open to reviewing new footwear, accessory, jewelry, and bag brands.

Per Lei’s move will also allow the Media location to expand and they have their eye on new sites for Stile by Per Lei, mainly in the Philadelphia metro area. Caprice told us, “Our goal is to have 15 stores, but we feel like there could eventually be even more.”

Best-selling accessories at Stile by Per Lei include: gold hoops, huggies, whimsical slippers, and hats — particularly beanies — and cute bags. Per Lei accessories brands include: Deepa Gurnani, Lili Claspe, and Mignonne Gavigan, to name a few

If you think your brand would be a good fit for Per Lei or Stile by Per Lei, reach out to Ally at and mention Ac Magazine.