It’s always exciting when a new, independently owned business opens in Asheville. Especially when it involves jewelry, or rustically cool boots, or luxe dresses, or crisp new denim. Three boutiques, between them featuring all of these, are changing the landscape of local style.
Rugged but refined
Secondhand store Goodwill has been the winner, year after year, in Xpress’ Best of WNC men’s clothing category. Probably because it’s cheap, and possibly because a men’s boutique hasn’t found a long-term toehold among downtown Asheville shops.
But that’s about to change when men’s clothier Old North holds its grand opening on March 8. And would-be customers are ready. Nigel Esser (a store emplyee) and Wren Kelley (an owner, with her husband Jack Roche) keep having to clean nose prints from curious passersby from the Lexington Avenue boutique’s windows.
“I think it’s something that might be needed around town,” says Kelley. “There are a lot of nice stores around town for the ladies. I have to wonder where the guys shop.”
“It’s slim pickins,” says Esser, who points out that while some downtown boutiques do carry menswear, it’s relegated to a small section amid a sea of women’s apparel. “I feel that our aesthetic really caters to the Asheville man, from the young bearded guy who likes to wear flannel, to the man hanging out at the Biltmore drinking wine.”
“What we want to do is not too dressy,” says Kelley. “A little bit more rugged, but still refined. What we want to provide is something that’s durable, stylish and will last you a long time.” The store is already stocked with plaids and dark-wash denims. And, while the price point is significantly higher than those Goodwill finds, Old North’s aesthetic is based in sustainability as much as in fashion.
The boutique — which Esser, Kelley and Roche, have outfitted with a paint-splattered concrete floor, handmade racks, exposed brick walls and framed historic photos of Asheville — has been selected as the Carolina-area flagship for cool-yet-enduring Redwing boots. And they also carry Raleigh jeans manufactured (as the name suggests) just down the road in the state capital.
The company’s selvedge and raw denim has a 10- to 15-year life because “they’re thicker and the material hasn’t been put through a bleaching process,” says Kelley.
“The process that they use on jeans when they bleach them creates a superfund,” says Esser. “Our jeans support fair wages and are environmentally friendly.”
(But there is a bit of a learning curve to raw denim: Raleigh suggests wearing the jeans for three to six months without washing to break them in. And they cost up to $285.)
Old North is not related to Old North State, a now-shuttered boutique that carried outdoorsy apparel. And, while much of Old North’s clothing would be at home around a campsite, it’s inspired more by classic Americana than by the great outdoors. “Looking back at my grandpa’s old wardrobe, I’d think, ‘He looks so cool in that picture!’” says Esser. “The basic motif is that we’re trying to create a haven where men can come in and be reminded of the quality of yesteryear.”
The boutique also carries Field Notes notebooks, Juniper Ridge soaps and ties and pocket squares from White Horse Trading Company. In the future, Esser, Kelley and Roche plan to grow their locally sourced product lines, and sell hand-crafted furnishings.
“We have a desire to bring back simplicity,” says Kelley. “Not fad, but things that are tried and true.”
Old North, 82 N. Lexington Ave., http://www.oldnorthclothing.com.
Vintage Moon Modern held its grand opening soiree at its Lexington Avenue location at the end of October. But the opening was really a reopening for owner Gigi Fasano. “At the end of January , I moved out in search of a new space,” she says. The building that houses her boutique was about to undergo renovations. “I figured I’d find a new space in a month or two, tops. But it didn’t happen that way.” As the search dragged on, Fasano kept up the Vintage Moon presence online. And, as the renovation to her old space came to a close, she approached landlord David Brown about the possibility of coming home.
“Energetically, it feels so much better in here,” she says of the new space. Which is also her old space. But Vintage Moon (the business) has had some renovations, too. Fasano moved away from menswear, added some home decor (like Art Nouveau lamps by local glassblower Victor Chiarizia), ramped up her accessories collection (including jewelry by Bonnie Currie of Arcane Memory and Crislyn Baughman of C.C. Soske Adornments) and added vintage-inspired modern apparel. Which is where the “modern” part of Vintage Moon Modern comes in.
Among the store’s contemporary offerings are umbrellas and rain boots with what Fasano calls “Victorian appeal.” (BBC drama Downton Abbey is certainly to credit or blame for the uptick in popularity of that era.) Fasano displays mixed media collages built around vintage tattoo photographs and Rococo mirrors on the wall. Bed springs hung in front of the windows and over the cash register provide artful, decorative displays. Chiarizia’s lamps fit nicely with the theme — their decorative shades recall Tiffany creations.
And then there are Fasano’s designs, recently sent down the runway at a fashion show and tea party held at Dobra Tea. That collection took much of its inspiration from Japanese motifs. Some pieces are all original, such as a modern take on a kimono. Another is an elegantly upcycled dress, centered around a gorgeous swatch of an antique kimono. “To find whole pieces from the turn-of-the-last-century through the 1930s is very difficult. I find them and they’re not sellable as a whole piece, so I use the good piece in my designs,” says Fasano. She adds hand-dyed silks, velvets and other plush fabrics.
“Now I’m moving into my spring and summer line, with is very lacey, ultra-romantic, very whimsical, playful and sweet,” says Fasano. “I’m going to use a lot of antique lace for that, old linen and embroidery.”
Vintage Moon Modern’s thoughtfully curated collection is born of an ideology. “I choose to think outside the box and make wearable art because the adornment of clothing should be more than just a daily function,” Fasano says. “It’s a way to express ourselves daily to the world and make an impression that best represents who we are inside, which is powerful. My designs are for the adventurous at heart and their admirers.”
This year, she’ll be traveling to the flea markets of Paris and the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, Turkey, to collect new treasures. But lucky local shoppers need travel no farther than Lexington Avenue to snap up those special finds.
Vintage Moon Modern, 82 N. Lexington Ave., #101. http://vintagemoonasheville.com.
Following the pull
Change is nothing new to Ship to Shore. In fact, it’s fitting that local designer R. Brooke Priddy chose that name for her design house/retail space/gallery/workshop: It has evolved with an oceanic fluidity over the course of its tenure in Asheville. But the most recent change is a big one. “My lease was over on Jan. 1,” says Priddy. So she left her Haywood Road shop and moved into the basement of the home on State Street that she owns with her husband, Ryan Conrad.
Conrad has studied architecture and Priddy’s father is a master carpenter; in a month’s time they had renovated the space into a light-dappled and prettily cosy studio and fitting room. It was finished a mere 24 hours before Priddy held her annual sale (“Now I can trade in my Carhartt onesie for heels again,” jokes the designer). That early February event was a grand opening, but also the final public showcase for Ship to Shore, which will now focus solely on custom work.
“I did seasonal lines for the first four years I was in business,” says Priddy. “I didn’t always do dresses. I did lingerie and swimsuits. But being here, so outside of [the fashion industry world], it felt unnecessary to be on that clock.”
She also points out that, with the launch of her manufactured line, she felt more like a bookkeeper and business manager than a designer. “I try my best to follow wherever the pull is taking me,” says Priddy. “I was being pulled toward custom work, and it’s so much more fun for me. I get to reinvent the wheel with every client.”
These days, she meets with women who want a dress for a special life event. Often it’s for a wedding, though currently Priddy is designing a gown to be worn to the opera in New York. Past projects have included dresses for a Grammy awards ceremony.
“Someone comes in and I hear their whole love story and we develop something original together,” says Priddy. “There’s where I get to use my talents and it’s exciting.”
Making sculpture is how Priddy describes the work. Which makes sense. There’s always been an element of structural and even performance art to Ship to Shore. The studio was originally housed in the since-closed Diggin’ Art boutique in West Asheville. Since ’04, Priddy has been a major part of countless local fashion shows, HATCH Asheville (bringing her mentor, Elisa Jimenez, to town), the Black Mountain College Museum’s Happening (where, last year, she unveiled “A Performative Installation”) and even hosted (in ’06) musician Josephine Foster in the Ship to Shore shop. Foster gave a concert while Priddy draped and stitched the musician into a gown.
It was family that brought Priddy from New York to Asheville in ’04. She shared her story with Xpress when we visited her Haywood Road storefront in 2008: “On New Years Eve, 2003, I found myself at Vincent's Ear for a SexPatriates show. They were playing a Stooges cover and the lead singer [Chris "Dirty Martini" Bower] was wearing a Speedo with a floor-length fur coat and chains of gold. I danced with 100 strangers and felt like I was at home for the first time in my life.”
And now she’s even more at home, in her new location and in her work. “What I do is sit, listen and visualize,” Priddy says of her process. “It makes me happy.”
Ship to Shore Clothier, 85 State St., http://shiptoshoreshop.com.
— Alli Marshall can be reached at email@example.com.