A tiny sterling-silver-framed note on Katerina Cambron's desk says, " Whoever said money can't buy happiness does not know you! Love always, Linda."
That's Linda Sheng of Taipei, a 32-year-old executive in her family's pharmaceutical distribution company who dropped an estimated $60,000 in Cambron's office in an afternoon of shopping last week. That is but a fraction of the millions of dollars worth of merchandise that Cambron, a 40ish personal shopper at Neiman Marcus Union Square, sells in a year.
Spending three hours watching Cambron in action is exhausting. She clocks miles on her high-heel, chocolate brown suedeYves Saint Laurent pumps, racing back and forth between the selling floor and her office. Pins, furs and swatch charts fly as she masterfully coordinates visits among Sheng, an alterations woman, a fur manager and a shoe salesman. Her phone rings repeatedly. She barely stops to eat.


This is the first day of Sheng's shopping spree. She'll return to see Cambron four more times before her 10-day visit ends. Although Sheng is an important customer, Cambron is juggling clients in two dressing rooms at once, which is not unusual.
When Sheng arrives at noon, Cambron has a rolling rack filled with designer fashions selected in the fabrics, shades and shapes Sheng likes. While Cambron helps a trial lawyer in the next fitting room, Sheng peruses the rack. Jamila Sherman, Cambron's assistant, leaves to get a heated cranberry juice for Sheng.
"I don't think of Kat as a personal shopper, I think of her as a personal stylist," says Sheng, who faxed Cambron two weeks in advance to say she was coming to San Francisco. This is one of four trips a year she makes to shop with Cambron, who has been at Neiman Marcus for 13 years.
Cambron and Sheng have been working together since Sheng got married three years ago. At that time, she ordered five gowns for her wedding (in Taipei, brides change clothes throughout the wedding day). Among the gowns was one by Thierry Mugler.
"I'm short and I'm short-waisted, and he makes things for very tall women. But with Katerina, nothing is impossible," Sheng says. Cambron simply had her alterations woman work her magic et voila, the gown fit. Suddenly Dolce and Gabbana and other designer garb that Sheng once considered off limits became accessible. Sheng realized she could fit into just about anything with enough alterations. The women have been friends ever since.
"She can dress you from head to toe from 5,000 miles away, and she remembers everything she's ever sold you," says Sheng. "She'll send things sight unseen, have them pre-altered. She'll send the matching shoes, matching handbags. I don't have to do a thing."
Cambron, who looks like a Donatella Versace double, rushes back into the room, her long blond tresses hugging the shoulders of her mink-trimmed yellow Dior jacket. It came with a skirt, but she wears it as a short coat-dress. Diamonds and gold glitter from her fingers, wrist, neck and ears. Throughout the afternoon, Cambron disappears and reappears with more merchandise.
The saleswoman is legendary for going the extra mile for her clients. On more than one occasion, when Sheng didn't have the right shoes to wear with an outfit, she's called Cambron -- at home -- for help. Cambron, who can remember the colors of clothes she sells without keeping records, goes to Anthony's, a shoe-repair service on Geary, and has satin shoes dyed and shipped to Sheng.
"She's very creative," says Sheng, who works mostly with men and dresses conservatively. Once, when she resisted a Moschino skirt with a high slit, Cambron had fabric inserted behind the slit, turning it into a pleat instead. At one point in her career Cambron, who was born and raised in Crete and came to the United States on a college scholarship, worked as a designer at her own company in Los Angeles. She often suggests changes such as an invisible zipper in place of hooks on a jacket, weights added to a hem of a blazer to make it hang better, or shoulder pads -- sometimes two on one shoulder and one on the other, if a client needs it.
"I'm leaving the 27th," says Sheng. "Am I going to catch any trunk shows? Did I miss Richard Tyler?" Yes, she missed Tyler's trunk show, but Cambron ordered goodies for her anyway. Sheng is pleased.
Sheng, who does not like last-minute shopping, buys fashion magazines at the beginning of each season, tears out photos of things she likes and sends them to Cambron to find.
Cambron suggests gray flannel pants with a Gianfranco Ferre gray cashmere sweater trimmed in gold and silver sequins. Sheng wants a skirt. Cambron disappears and reappears holding a gold sequin gown that a friend of Sheng's has bought. (Friendly competition helps get the shopping juices flowing.) Then she pairs the Ferre gray sweater with a long gold sequin skirt. Sheng wants it in silver, though there's no silver skirt in sight. Cambron can get one.
"How did you know I need a pair of beige shoes?" Sheng asks, glancing at Manolo Blahniks that Cambron has pulled in advance.
Sheng discovers a black Tyler suit with a shawl-collar jacket she had custom-ordered on a previous trip. She loves the look.
"I have to show Kat," she says, leaving the room and returning a second later with her stylist. "I look so skinny," Sheng says.
"You are skinny. A size 4 is skinny in my book," Cambron says, adding that she'd like the skirt a little shorter. With her French-manicured nails flicking swiftly over her black cell phone, Cambron calls the fitter. Hisako Takamoto appears almost immediately, greets Sheng, asks about her mother, then drops to the floor and pins up the hem.
"My mother is so sorry that she didn't buy that sable coat," Sheng tells Cambron, referring to an earlier shopping trip to Neiman's.
"That's OK, I have one in hand," Cambron says. On cue, Neiman's fur salon manager, Ramon Longoria, appears with a full-length sable.
"How much are you giving it to her for?" Sheng says. No one answers. (Full-length Russian sables at Neiman Marcus generally cost $90,000 to $150,000.) Sheng says her husband, Mark Quin, whom she sees mostly on weekends because he works forMorgan Stanley and lives in Hong Kong, keeps borrowing the sable coat she bought on her last visit to drape over himself while he watches football games.
"Tell him we can make him a sable blanket and he can leave your coat alone," Cambron says. (By late last week, Sheng was still negotiating for the fur.)
Sheng wants a Cartier Pasha watch in white gold with diamonds that she found in Taipei. No problem, Cambron has already ordered the $30,000 watch from Neiman's in San Diego because the San Francisco store didn't have it.
This is a woman who knows what makes her clients tick.


What makes a great salesperson? Katerina Cambron, one of Neiman Marcus' finest, does more than simply sell high fashion.
She'll help with accessories, underpinnings and alterations, order in lunch, suggest a hair salon, send thank-you notes, alert customers to sales. And unlike free-lance personal shoppers, she doesn't charge for her time. Yet working on commission alone, she pulls in a six-figure salary. Some clients spend more than half a million dollars with her a year.
"She makes it really easy to spend money," Arlene Sullivan of Pacific Heights said. "Let's face it, I'm going to shop somewhere, I'm going to spend money. This way I feel like I'm getting the most for it."
While giving fashion direction, Cambron massages people's styles -- and egos.
"She gently guides me," Sullivan said. "I'm not old -- I'm 55 -- but I think I was dressing in a style that was a little bit too conservative and too tailored. You get a different sense of yourself in some of these clothes."
Cambron is thoughtful.
"She remembers my birthday, and cleverly, she remembers my husband's birthday," Sullivan said, adding that he pays the bills.
Some shop with Cambron because it's efficient.
"She saves me enormous time, and I wind up with better clothes than I would normally find for myself," San Francisco trial lawyer Joel Zeldin said. He appreciates Cambron's understanding of what is appropriate.
"She'll sometimes push me to the edge of what I'm comfortable with, but she's sensitive to my particular needs, which are sometimes darker colors or a more conservative cut because that's what you wear in court," Zeldin said.
"She's always very open to helping you in any way that she can," Lorraine Sousa of Saratoga said. When Sousa's daughter was getting married, Sousa wanted an extra-special dress, so Cambron took her to see San Francisco designer Michael Casey. She returned with her numerous times to select the fabric and attend her fittings.
Said Sousa, "I wasn't charged for any of this time. . . . She's a great friend. She's come down to my house for dinner. I'm going to her house for dinner."