Trash helped shape the contours of his life, contributing to the occurrence of significant events. For most, garbage isn’t considered a blessing. But the designer known as GGrippo has long understood a fundamental truth: Treasure can be unearthed in the junkiest of spots. “I’ve been a compulsive trash collector since I can remember,” he attests. “Growing up in Argentina, I learned about the importance of using and reusing.” More > >
By Francesca Moisin
Lexi Oliveri remembers playing dress-up with the stash of old clothes in her parents’ attic. “My dad grew up poor in Brooklyn, my mom in the Bronx, and they both mastered a mentality for conserving everything,” she says. Then Oliveri became a teenager, and that cornucopia of retro frocks, skirts, pants, and tops became embarrassing. “I hid the vast collection from my friends, because I thought it made my mom look like a pack rat.” Yet it was this very dedication to accumulation that enabled her to launch the 415-square-foot Grand Street shop, Antoinette Vintage, two years ago. Almost every piece she now sells was sourced from those familiar garment racks, which is why the uniquely curated boutique bears her mother’s name. One could say a passion for fashion preservation is encoded in Oliveri’s genes. One might call it destiny.
In the 1950s, Antoinette worked for Lilly Daché, the most celebrated milliner of her time, who famously designed hats for Marlene Dietrich, and turned the turban into a head-wrap coveted by women around the globe. Even after quitting Manhattan for New Jersey to raise Lexi and four older siblings, Antoinette still made special city trips to browse flea markets and five-and-dimes. “Fashion was my mother’s art, and I think she always hoped I’d one day find a way to display it,” muses Oliveri.
Weeks before she opened her doors, boyfriend JT Sroka and buddy Gavin Compton, owner of the Variety cafés on Graham and Driggs avenues, installed wide hardwood floorboards. Friends and neighbors painted walls and hung French damask paper near the dressing room. With one night to go, everyone worked until dawn, pricing merchandise and sprucing décor. “From the start, I wanted to be part of the community and not exist as a lone shop,” says the FIT grad. “Now I host pop-up animal adoption stands for BARC shelter, and sweep the stoop of the tattoo parlor next door!”
Good things happen inside, too, where shelves burst with shoes, jewelry, handbags, and apparel dating from 1900 to 1994, the cut-off for what Oliveri considers antique. She drools over a pair of camel-colored, linen gaucho pants ($70) once worn by Mom (“I wish I was tall enough to look good in them”) and a late-70s Joan Walters–inspired jumpsuit ($70) recently purchased by The Americans, an FX series about Cold War KGB spies. “It’s so fun when film and TV costume departments come calling,” says the 36-year-old entrepreneur. Garments will grace Keira Knightley in Can a Song Save Your Life?—due to hit theaters this spring—but the famous aren’t her only fans. Japanese and Australian tourists read about the space in special guides and consistently stop to stock up on vintage that’s too costly at home—like an early twentieth-century metal and rhinestone cameo, the oldest bauble in the boutique, passed to Antoinette from a family friend and priced fairly at $70. Apart from winter fur coats, in fact, every item is under $100. “My mom was an organized hoarder, and I no longer mind,” says Oliveri. “Without her, none of this would have been possible.”
119 Grand Street
By Francesca Moisin
Two friends grew up on the outskirts of L.A. in the late 1980s. One was a hairdresser. The other, inspired by her pro pal, aspired to be the same. But life is full of unexpected twists. “I moved to Queens in 1991 and began working at Giorgio’s salon,” says Tonia Bashan. “While my more experienced friend ended up changing career course entirely.”
Bashan’s relocation proved fortuitous for more than one reason. While simultaneously obtaining her hair license in Astoria, she crossed paths with another life-altering individual. “I met my husband in beauty school—the last place you’d expect to find a straight guy!” she says. “We liked each other right away.” Abraham, a longtime Greenpoint resident, introduced his future wife the neighborhood to which she instantly took a shine. “It was full of young people pursuing interesting projects, going out and having a good time,” Bashan explains. He was also the one to find the vacant space at 1021 Manhattan Avenue.
It had been a Polish meat market in the 1960s, with hangers and hooks and a locker in back for smoking kielbasa. In the ’80s, it morphed into a store selling West Indian provisions, before Tonia and Abraham took ownership in 1993 and transformed it to New York Image Salon. They installed eight Formica stations. “The look was very ’90s,” laughs Bashan. A second renovation expanded the space to its current 2,300 square feet, turning the ground level into an accessories (purses, perfume, leggings, leotards, hats) boutique and modernizing the mezzanine salon with granite floors and soaring ceilings. “Our exterior can be deceptive,” says Bashan. “New clients don’t expect to find this much going on when they step inside.”
Along with first-time customers, there are also scores of loyal regulars, who for two decades have enjoyed cuts, color, and special-occasion up-dos. “We’ll work on the tresses of a mom, her daughter, and now we’re even getting grandkids,” marvels Bashan. “Usually when people come to us, they stay.” This is due in part to the fair fares. Unlike other chop-shops, New York Image Salon doesn’t subscribe to gender pricing. Many women sport short mops, while some men prefer to grow long locks, so all consultations are based on hair length, thickness, and time needed to style. But greater credit goes to Tonia herself, whose favorite part of the job is being granted access to people’s lives, listening to the unique stories each one has to tell.
The neighborhood has changed since she arrived. Once rough around the edges, with little foot traffic on Manhattan Avenue, entrepreneurs have recently invested in restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Streets look nicer as a result of this gentrification, and the Bashan’s kids— 20-year-old son Shakil, 14-year-old daughter Fareema, and their younger sister, 6-year-old Khadija—have more entertainment options. But there is a downside. Business costs have gone up, and Tonia occasionally worries about getting priced out. Yet the more things change, the more they have a way of staying the same. “Suddenly I’m seeing the asymmetrical cuts and funky colors I started with in the late ’80s and ’90s,” Bashan muses. Some institutions are timeless.
New York Image Salon
1021 Manhattan Ave
FB: New York Image Salon
By Francesca Moisin
The one constant at B. Conte boutique in Williamsburg is that things are always changing. Friendly-priced merchandise flies off shelves, to be swapped with new pieces from famous labels and up-and-coming designers. Regular trunk shows introduce cocktail-sipping customers to an influx of fresh accessories, both antique and au courant. Even the 750-square-foot retail space pulls double duty as a gallery, with the work of local artists rotating on the walls. “What I like best about my store is how it’s in steady flux,” says owner Bernadette Conte.
Such modifications mimic the neighborhood itself, which Conte feels has evolved dramatically since she opened shop four years ago. The economy had tanked, dragging her eponymous clothing line down with it. Potential garment patrons weren’t spending, and the 50-year-old entrepreneur struggled to concoct a new business plan. That’s when husband James Sheppard, a furniture maker and longtime Brooklyn resident, stumbled upon the empty North 9th Street room—and Conte couldn’t resist. “I suddenly remembered this tucked-away dream of owning a boutique,” recalls the Yonkers native. Now the place is packed with urban bohemians and quirky young professionals, all with at least one quality in common: their fetish for eclectic fashion. “I go to trade shows, paw through Garment District showrooms, and scour vintage warehouses, because I’m always searching for unique items,” says Conte. “If you can find it easily elsewhere, I’m not so interested.”
Less subtle is the Eve Gravel “April” pencil dress ($220), a chocolate Mad Men-esque Lycra and cotton confection boasting bold mustard accents, like epaulettes. Can’t find the perfect frock? Conte, an FIT grad, also breathes new life into outdated duds by adding modern tweaks while preserving their vintage vibe.
Near the entrance, a glass case displays copper cuffs from the 1950s, all varnished with a special lacquer that ensures they’ll never tarnish. A gold ‘70s mock-Egyptian necklace screams for attention next to its shy sister, a Victorian strand. There are Damascene brooches, pewter Selen Design pieces, and striking adornments by Sky Phaebl. “We’re known for our extensive jewelry collection,” says Conte. “These treasures are like my babies—I feel a pang when each is sold, but I want them all to end up in happy homes.”
And, most blissfully, there are hats: petite cloches, cheeky cadet caps, velvet turbans, pillboxes with veils, and froufrou fascinators worn by Brits at weddings. The pomegranate “Head Lipstick” fedora ($225) from English milliner Julia Knox is made of fur felt, each feather hand-adhered to the brim with care.
“When would I put it on?” asks a dazzled browser. “You’d become the girl with the red hat, so you’d want to wear it everywhere!” says Knox.
Ditto for everything in this world of whimsy.
167 North 9th
Williamsburg, Brooklyn 11211
By Francesca Moisin
When Aelfie Oudghiri was 17 years old, she sat in a Turkish rug shop and negotiated with the dealer for six hours. She bartered so long her brother fell asleep, and the store closed while they haggled. “It just felt really natural and fun,” recalls Oudghiri, who’s half Turkish on her mother’s side. Bargain concluded, she parted with two prizes: a flat-woven tribal rug, or kilim, that now decorates her Bushwick showroom, and an admirer. “The owner sent me Christmas cards for years!” she says. “I think we connected because I’ve always loved talking to people, be they Upper East Side doyennes or old Middle Eastern dudes.”
This gift for gab serves Oudghiri well, along with her innate ability to sort through heaps of tapestries from around the world and pick the distinctive pieces best suited for a New York market. “I buy partly what I like, but also think in terms of what will most match an American couch,” she says. In business for only two years, the Columbia University grad has already established her reputation as an accomplished kilim dealer. Stacks of folded carpets made in Tunisia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Morocco, Mexico, the former Yugoslavia, or the Caucasus fill her spacious 12,000-square-foot Varick Avenue studio. “Everything’s from everywhere, because every place has weaving,” she explains. Some were acquired through travel, others bought at estate sales or from associate vendors, and 20 percent of inventory arrived via Valerie Sherif Justin, a 90-year-old former textiles legend who launched Oudghiri into the industry and still serves as a mentor. Clients love the extensive selection—and the costs. “Bushwick rent is very fair, and I’m a one-woman business without too many crazy expenses,” explains Oudghiri. “That means I can charge wholesale prices sans markup.”
Turkish kilims start at $150, while a stunning 1970s prayer mat is available for $350. The most expensive items currently in stock are a $5,000 tent divider from Mali, and a huge $5,500 mid-century Yugoslavian covering crafted with a special “eccentric tapestry weave” technique.
Those unsure of their stylistic preferences needn’t worry. The 26-year-old dealer has an uncanny ability to match customers with their perfect rug-mate. Hobbies, careers, favorite boutiques, and iPod playlists are all revealing personality indicators. “If someone’s listening to Beach House or minimal electro music, I know they’ll want something muted, as opposed to a crazy sequined runner,” says Oudghiri. And because vintage isn’t universally admired, the Williamsburg resident has now come out with her own line of designs, called AELFIE. “The styles I’m creating have more general mass appeal, because I learned not everyone wants an antique carpet once used to cover camels.”
Inspiration comes from references as obscure as Josef Albers’ painting Homage to the Square, which Oudghiri saw at MoMA and used as the muse for her own ochre-and-amber-toned floor throw. “If business continues to grow well, I hope to one day expand into pillows, then bedding and drapes, then desks, and eventually even furniture,” says Oudghiri. “Each rug tells its own complicated story, and I feel mine is just beginning.”
41 Varick Ave #401
631-603-5574 (By appointment only)
By Francesca Moisin
Great Young Designers Flock to Brooklyn
What they lack in experience they make up for with raw talent and determination. The owners of Ferris (ferrisnewyork.com), Williamsburg’s funky new clothing shop, may be young, but A.J. Livingston, 20; Taylor Conlin, 21; and Taylor Spong, 22, are reinventing men’s fashion while most of their peers are still in college. Their cozy 600-foot space— previously a pet store before they gutted it, painted over a giant cat mural, and filled it with furniture built by Spong— boasts an eclectic mix of vintage garments and trademark Ferris apparel.
San Diego native Livingston designs most of the signature pieces, like “The Borough of Life” fleece ($50) bearing the motto “Made for Destruction,” or the beloved “Underdog” T-shirt ($37), featuring a prancing pup logo. Apart from providing a livelihood, handcrafted T-shirts brought Conlin and Livingston together (Spong and Livingston have been pals since high school), and they’re partially responsible for why the business exists today. “I was at a Parsons party last October when I noticed this guy wearing a sick shirt that I could tell he’d made,” says Conlin of Livingston. “We started talking and realized we both had clothing backgrounds.”
Much of their experience was garnered through apprenticeships. Conlin, a Massachusetts transplant, learned to sew and fit clients while interning in the Harvard Square shop of a family friend. “Cambridge has a long history of classic tweeds and preppy designs, so I familiarized myself with those styles,” he says. Livingston also worked retail back in California, and although Spong came to the business with no former apparel knowledge, all three read constantly about fashion while also taking parttime college courses. “We’re willing to try anything,” says Livingston. “Most of what we know about our craft, we learned because we had to.”
Their youthful energy is palpable—and contagious. Banks provided loans, Livingston’s dad, a former pro surfer, sold old boards on Craig’s List, and Conlin’s parents agreed to funnel his college fund into a new reserve, flushing the boys with enough cash to open shop in July. Since then, positive word of mouth has spread, in part because of their revolutionary custom service. Find a beloved old item in the back of your closet that’s horribly out of style yet impossible to part with, and the two Taylors—Conlin and Spong—will swap the lining, rework the collar, or in some way strip the garment to make it au courant again. “The process takes one to four weeks and, within reason, there’s no revamping we won’t do,” says Spong. Other vintage pieces sourced from secret spots around New York and Massachusetts are deconstructed and reassembled according to the artists’ own specifications. The “Hi Flyers” shirt ($165), for example, was Frankensteined from four different materials, including an original 1950s baseball jersey. It took over 12 hours to create.
This circular process of preserving the old and giving the new an antique patina lies at the core of Ferris’ philosophy. “Fashion can keep going around, unbroken, just like a Ferris wheel,” says Livingston. The name is also a tribute to Ferris Bueller, the ultimate free spirit. “We love that character’s youthful energy,” says Conlin. “He’s the embodiment of making each day count.”
243 Berry Street
Brooklyn, NY 11249
By Francesca Moisin
Like many great success stories, this was born of necessity. Mary Meyer didn’t always want to design clothes. As a student at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, she studied printmaking, weaving, dyeing, welding, and woodworking before graduating with a degree in painting. It was only after school that fate and need collided to alter Meyer’s future. “I was broke and couldn’t afford to buy the things I wanted, so I started making them,” says the 34-year old Williamsburg resident. “People would ask where I’d found my top, and upon learning I’d made it, they’d want one too.”
A small factory soon sprouted in her living room, and Meyer began to create custom dresses and shirts for friends. The Northern California native founded her company, Mary Meyer Clothing (marymeyerclothing.com), in 2005 before migrating East one year later. These days, with the exception of a few pieces fabricated at a midtown Manhattan workshop, all MMC designs are handmade in a factory near Coney Island, printed in Greenpoint, and dyed and processed in Bushwick. “It’s important to support my community,” says Meyer. “Because production is local, I can also monitor working conditions to maintain healthy environments and ensure garments are sewn correctly.”
Such dedication to detail has paid off. Along with her own 56 Bogart Street shop in Bushwick, major retailers including Urban Outfitters, Bona Drag, and International Playground now carry Meyer’s attire. The typical client—female, 22 to 35 years old, attending school or working as a young professional—buys a MMC garment because it boasts the perfect blend of sexiness and casual ease. “She loves cute clothes, but she also likes to be comfortable,” explains Meyer.
Case in point: the gray silk Cher Dress ($253), named in honor of Cher Horowitz, Alicia Silverstone’s character in the 1995 film Clueless. The baby-doll cut and big front buttons flatter any shape, while the low neck and three-quarter sleeves add a splash of sass. The 90s—that infamous era of plaid mini-skirts, high-waisted jeans, belly tops, flannel, and grunge—have long inspired Meyer. “I’m a kid of the 90s,” she says. “I grew up on Venice Beach listening to Jane’s Addiction and loving River Phoenix, so I guess it’s in my blood.” Her favorite item in her own closet is still a pair of matte green Doc Martens from the early part of the decade.
In addition to vintage fashion trends, almost anything can spark the artist’s active imagination. “Markings in cement, a beach, African textiles, Japanese dye techniques, bridges, rock and roll—whenever I see a cool shape or color, I get an idea,” says Meyer. These impressions are often transformed into paintings or custom prints, which are then transferred to a top or accessory, such as the distinctive two-tone cotton Slash Scarf ($97).
“The skills I learned in college are still a big part of what I do today, so in a way I’ve come full circle,” muses Meyer—and she’s nowhere near done yet. The New Year will see an expansion from two to four seasonal collections, and fellow retro fiends will rave over Friends Vintage, a line launched with colleague Emma Kadar Penner. “It’s amazing how much you can get done in one week in New York!” says Meyer.
By Francesca Moisin
If classic Lipton-and-lemon isn’t your cup of tea, maybe it’s time to try kombucha, an effervescent tea-based beverage that bubbles with the satisfying fizz of soda, yet is purported to actually be good for you. Though many are still unfamiliar with the concoction, Williamsburg-based brewer Brett Casper has lately created a local stir with his Kombucha Party™ (kombuchapartynyc.com) libations, all of which are made via a simple—albeit time-intensive—process.
“I first brew fair-trade tea in five-gallon glass jars that look like honey pots,” says Casper. Next, he adds organic sugar and what’s called a starter, or a small portion of already fermented tea. Biology soon takes over. Left unrefrigerated for anywhere from seven days to four weeks, each concoction forms a colony of friendly yeast and bacteria, similar to the kind found in probiotic foods. Such “living” products (like yogurt and miso) are reportedly good for the gut, because they stimulate natural digestive juices and prevent indigestion. “If I get bloated after a heavy meal, I’ll drink kombucha and instantly feel better,” says Casper. “It’s also a great hangover cure!” Others claim it boosts immunity and can even help fight cancer, though all health benefits have yet to be scientifically proven.
Still, devotees continue to down the brew, some simply because they dig the taste. Get past the initial slightly sulfuric aroma that comes from fermentation, and you’ll find that each batch boasts its own distinct palette of flavors, depending on ingredients. Jasmine Pearl, made of green tea leaves and the silvery down-covered buds of jasmine flowers, teases with the tantalizing—and somewhat incongruous—essence of Concord grapes. Mint Chocolate Cookie, a combination of green tea, mint, and fermented cacao beans, can satisfy most sweet tooths, while Ginger Bomb, brewed from fiery ginger root and an aged Chinese tealeaf called pu-erh, will kick you awake on a sleepy summer morning. Choose from 13 different seasonal flavors, each $10 for a 750-mililiter Champagne-style bottle sealed with a punt. Casper reuses his bottles, which are always glass because the acids in kombucha would react badly with metal and plastic containers, leaching harmful by-products into the living brew and altering its taste.
And when it comes to tea—the second most consumed beverage in the world, after water—Casper doesn’t mess around. A lifelong health nut who used to trade lunchroom cookies for carrots, his devotion deepened while living in Tokyo for eight years, where he studied the principles of ancient tea ceremonies. Later, inspired by the teahouses he’d visited while traveling through Hong Kong, Casper opened the eco-friendly Pure Luck Tea Bar on Metropolitan Avenue, selling his bubbly beverage to a diverse clientele, until the café closed in May.
Kombucha Party™ brews are now available for home delivery, or at local eateries like Awakening in Greenpoint and Atlas Café in Williamsburg. Casper also hopes to open a new teashop next spring—and that’s only the beginning. “I’d love to brand my kombucha and see it in restaurants and bars,” says the New Jersey native. “You can go high-end and serve it as a wine substitute with dinner, or stock vending machines with small bottles instead of soda. There’s practically no limit to what one might do with tea.”