Seriously feminine—and other spring attitudes

Milan, Paris and New York unveiled their spring fashions sometime last autumn, when most of us were busy unearthing our wool sweaters and thermal underwear. But just because we missed the runway fervor doesn’t mean we can’t catch spring-fashion fever in real time at some of Asheville’s newer downtown boutiques.

The color of chic

Pink is symbolic of gentle emotions, and is said to represent honor, love, friendship and general success. People seem to either love or hate this softly potent hue, but it never really goes out of style.

“We’re carrying lots of pinks, greens and grays,” says Jessica Brommer, co-owner of Minx. “Often spring can be bad because it’s a lot of washed-out pastels, but these colors are rich.

“The colors are definitely more feminine,” agrees Minx’s other half, Rebeccah Mark. “People are veering from black.”

Minx opened on Lexington Avenue last September, and since then, Brommer and Mark have been busily bringing several lines of contemporary fashion to the masses.

“We offer fun, pretty, sexy clothing in a wide range of prices accessible to a broad spectrum of people,” explains Brommer. “Most of our dresses are in the $50 to $80 price range, but look like they’d cost more.”

The shop is lighthearted, suitably funky and instantly comfortable: A large couch dominates the center of the room, and colorful offerings hang from racks or drape from shelves. A selection of magazines provides shoppers a means of inspiration, while unique jewelry and accessories catch the eye.

“Our major focus besides presentation is creating an atmosphere,” Brommer admits. “Customer service is a large part of that. We have an open, communicative, nonthreatening space with lots of interaction. You can come in and say, ‘I’m going to this event and I don’t know what to wear,’ and we’ll help you find it.”

So, what exactly are you likely to find?

“Spring is really exciting this year,” Brommer enthuses. “There are a lot of innovative and unusual things — gathered, ruched, layered … clothes are very feminine without being girly.

How feminine?

Seriously feminine,” declares Brommer.

Besides dresses, Minx carries tops starting around $20, skirts beginning at $28 and vegan faux-leather bags ranging from $16 to $69.

“We carry some established lines, but that’s not what [we’re] about,” insists Brommer. “We don’t carry J-Lo shirts; that’s just not us. Our taste isn’t trend-driven. We want to offer items people can wear for a couple of seasons.”

Graffiti prints, sexy sandals

Since Lava took over the space that Interplanet Janet occupied till last June, owner Laura Chandler and buyer/manager Molly Mello have been steadfastly stocking everything from leather-look rockabilly gear to trendy club-wear for both men and women.

“We have a diverse, eclectic range,” Mello says. “We try to accommodate a lot of different ages and preferences.”

To that end, the shop features everything from urban, cutting-edge shirts and skirts to classic tailored shirts for guys and sheer floral dresses for women.

Lava reflects the Lexington Avenue vibe — young and edgy. Clothing displays are mixed with attention-grabbing accessories. Most items start in the $20 range. Sunglasses, cosmetics and stickers can be picked up for less than $20, while dresses and pants run $60-$70.

And as for those more personal accessories …

“We’re getting in lots of women’s lingerie for spring,” Mello promises. (Lava already stocks several bra-and-panty sets in bright colors and graffiti prints.)

“We’ll also have some new, really cool shoes and sexy sandals,” she reveals.

After all, what’s spring without flirtatious toes?

Better by design

Patty Ortmann, owner of Patty’s in the Grove Arcade, is doing things a little differently — namely, her way. Though her shop’s been open less than six months, Ortmann’s spring line will feature mainly her own designs.

“I’ll have wraparound skirts and fun summer dresses,” she notes. “I’m big on fun fabric, such as nice silks and cottons — lightweight stuff.”

She’ll round out her offerings with knits and sweaters from other vendors.

“I carry a broad mix,” Ortmann asserts. “I have suitwear, trendy stuff and camisole-and-panty sets. My shoppers range from teens to women in their 60s. Often mothers and daughters come in here together.”

Patty’s exudes the aura of a bigger-city boutique. The newly created space is warm and vibrant, with deep-yellow walls and a fuchsia ceiling. An oversized ottoman in the center of the store supports a display of handbags and accessories, while clingy tops and dresses dangle from the racks.

“My clothing runs from junior to mature [sizes],” Ortmann notes. “I have a lot of separates, dresses and purses, and I plan to keep it all flowing.”

A bold paisley sundress runs $137, while a breezy wrap dress is $177.

Seven the easy way

Perhaps the best-kept secret for upscale clothing is Vivian’s Boutique on Walnut Street. The designer-wear featured in the small shop boasts high-fashion names like Betsey Johnson and Seven Jeans, and the line is always changing.

“We carry nicer dress clothes that people usually have to go to Atlanta to find,” explains boutique associate Kristen Dryden, noting that Seven jeans are a top seller, especially among people looking for just the right thing for heading out to the clubs.

Spring style abounds at Vivian’s, with dresses ranging from vivid patterns to sweet, slip-inspired styles starting at $69. Keep an eye on the store: Owner Vivian Gibson is about to bring her spring line back from Miami, and while the specifics are still top-secret, she promises an affordable collection of designer must-haves.

Belly up

“Pregnancy is such a beautiful time to be a woman,” says Danielle Claycomb, “so we wanted to be able to contribute this to the community.”

Claycomb is the co-owner — with Lauren Vereen and Jennifer Colclasure — of Belle (pronounced “belly”), a clothing shop catering to moms-to-be and kids 10 and under.

Belle began for the most pragmatic of reasons.

“One of [the shop’s] partners was pregnant and she couldn’t find anything to wear in Asheville but sweatpants,” Claycomb explains. So, Belle was formed in December, bringing the best of Big Apple and Italian style to Lexington Avenue.

Belle does not, however, carry your run-of-the-mill, also-works-as-a-tent maternity wear.

“We offer a lot of sleeker, formfitting outfits that exemplify pregnancy,” Claycomb explains. “We also carry soft, comfort clothes, bikinis and lingerie — really neat stuff.

The shop isn’t about hiding a bulging belly — it’s about embellishing the look of being pregnant through fashion.

“Our clothing is still sleek, as a complement to everything else that’s going on in fashion,” Claycomb points out. “We also carry items that can be worn after the pregnancy, depending on the size of the woman.”

In fact, you don’t even have to be pregnant to shop here. A sumptuous Cadeau silk-wrap dress in paisley print ($250) is perfect for any woman desiring a lavish spring outfit.

At Belle, soft, drapey fabrics (including yoga wear) prevail: Raw-silk nursing tops dyed with coffee and tea come from a local designer.

And then there’s the kids’ stuff: Corelloki outfits, made in India, come in Easter colors, and Belle also carries mother-daughter dress ensembles. Possibly the cutest kid outfit, though, is the pink-and-red sundress with ruffled shorts ($32).

Belle not only infuses motherhood with a dose of fashion, it also offers a relaxed shopping atmosphere and a resource center for all sorts of birthing information.

Where to find them

Belle, 58 N. Lexington Ave., 255-2655

Lava, 68 N. Lexington Ave., 258-5260

Minx, 65 N. Lexington Ave., 225-6580

Patty’s, Grove Arcade, 225-7600

Vivian’s Boutique, 8 E. Walnut St., 225-3939

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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