“Bohemian enraptured, tribal-styled, hippie-embellished,” reads the current issue of Elle magazine. And no, it’s not an article about Asheville. But it might as well be, because the season’s hottest trends reflect what this mountain town has known all along: Laid-back is where it’s at.
“What about those hipster cowgirl skirts and Victorian tops that the English designer Luella Bartley showed on the opening day of the spring 2002 collections?” enthused fashion writer Cathy Horyn in a September 2001 New York Times story. Western wear, flowers and lace, fringe, folkloric and white all figure prominently in the spring lines that sashayed down the runways six months ago.
Translating high-fashion idiom into local language yields a mellow, hippified freeing of the fabrics … along with the spirits.
“The look this year is very bohemian and Gypsy,” says Forrest Hogestad, owner of The Enchanted Forrest, a name-brand consignment boutique on Merrimon Avenue. Here, a Passport brocade vest with beads goes for $14, and a red-velvet vest by Banana Republic for $18. An apron-style slipover in a green tribal print, to be worn with a skirt or loose pants, costs $28.
“We’ve always had that carefree look in Asheville,” notes Hogestad.
Suddenly, everyone wants a piece of that post-Stevie Nicks pie. Big-name designers are turning out ruffles, fringe and vintage lace with reckless abandon. Louis Vuitton’s doing floral, D&G has crocheted lace, and Anna Sui is all about drapey, silk/viscose peasant blouses. “The model [wore] an antiqued hand-crocheted ribbon dress at the Betsey Johnson Spring 2002 fashion show,” announced The Rep Entertainment Guide, covering a New York show.
Flouncy skirts are back, in a variety of lengths. A prairie skirt with eyelet by Brown Eyed Girl sells for $200, while Miu Miu’s ultra-feminine, white cotton-and-lace skirt runs $750.
In Style magazine boasts a new appreciation for handcrafted items in their “‘Round the World in 80-Outfits” section, featuring tie-dyed blouses, Moroccan dresses, Mexican shawls and Alan Tung’s Tibetan trousers (with beads, sequins and Swarovski crystals) for $850.
Bloomingdales may be busy stocking ethnic-inspired attire, but Asheville is simply continuing its long-running love affair with unique items from around the globe.
“We’ve got it going on,” agrees Susan Turner, owner of The Open Door Boutique. The Haywood Street store is jammed with bohemian-inspired garb in a feast of colors, textures and designs. Turner stocks belly-dance accessories (eat your heart out, Saks Fifth Avenue) to satisfy a growing interest in Middle Eastern dance and dress. Labels like Karavan and Tom Tom pack the racks, and a seemingly endless array of velvets, silks, linens and printed cottons catch the eye at every turn. Fringed and beaded shawls in bright colors range from $39-$94, and feminine, ruffled floral dresses by Karavan cost $59-$76. Hats, bags, scarves and jewelry drip from counters and walls. Staffer Peruvio came out from behind the counter to model a Guatemalan jacket, multicolored hat and cowrie-shell-speckled shoulder bag.
The Honey Pot on Lexington Avenue, owned by Gabriel Guyton and her sister Maggie, stocks vintage, used, retro and modern. “We try for a good range of sizes,” reports Guyton. It takes an adventurous spirit, but a prowl through these funky racks produces such hip gems as a sheer, floral blouse ($6.95) and a variety of flowery dresses ($11-15).
Just up the street is Hip Replacements, owned by Rob Castillo and Terri Adams. While the selection of vintage and new clothing doesn’t necessarily change with the season, it definitely reflects Asheville’s back door into style. Dresses (many like the ones your grandmother wore when she was chic) range from $10-$30, shirts run $5-$18, and coats cost $12 and up.
Constance Boutique on Haywood Street, purveyor of modern clothing for women, offers something closer to what you might find in the magazines. “White’s really important this spring, and we’re getting a lot more in,” explains Sharon Powell, who works in the upscale shop. Displaying the latest trends, the occasional vintage item, and plenty of classics, Constance Boutique is the perfect playground for anyone looking for something in vogue. “Diane Von Furstenburg shirt dresses are back from the ’70s and going strong,” continues Powell, offering a tour of the store. Elegant dresses, scarves, silks and folkloric patterns drape the racks alongside airy peasant blouses.
Meanwhile, back at The Enchanted Forrest, Hogestad holds up a knee-length floral skirt. “These skirts are always popular because we have such a big dance community in Asheville,” she reveals.
“The old West meets grunge in an ensemble with fraying hem from Luella Bartley,” reports The Rep. Well, the Enchanted Forrest has a pair of tan cowboy boots for $20, ready to be paired with any fraying hem you care to sport.
And while bohemian chic may be big news in New York City, London and Milan, Asheville, it seems, is ahead of them all, for once.
A beaded wrap by Shiba, found at The Open Door, goes for $44, and macrame handbags with wooden handles, made near Asheville, cost $28 (a similar item by T-Bags runs $195 in New York).
At The Honey Pot, I found a white crocheted top for $6.95 (a multicolored crocheted tank by Rozae Nichols runs $240 in Philadelphia, and there’s no tattoo parlor in the back of the store). A gold-and-brown-lace dress with fringe by Studio costs $14.95 here — this month’s issue of In Style features similar dresses by D&G, priced at $410.
Hip Replacements displayed a multicolored, patchwork-suede coat for $48 and a vintage, butterfly-print dress for $18. Tessuto’s version of the butterfly dress, in peach-colored silk, costs $180 at Dervish, Houston.
In Constance Boutique, green-and-blue hibiscus-patterned pants by Liquid went for $103 (Vogue predicts “tropicalia” with “a haute-hippie reference” this season). A delicate, frothy white blouse by BCBG — more like the foam on a cappuccino than an item of clothing — costs $100 here; comparably airy shirts by Trina Trunk and Narciso Rodriguez start at $158.