Five independent boutiques shaping the Las Vegas look
Thu, Feb 28, 2013 (midnight)
Photo: Christopher DeVargas
Somewhere between the tube dresses and terrible suits, Vegas has style.
Not runway on the Strip—realness in the neighborhoods. On the front line are one-of-a-kind boutiques, where archival treasures are lovingly curated and totally fresh designs are dreamed. From the new sophistication of street to the playfulness of throwback couture, the clothes are as distinctive and cool as the individuals bringing them to our closets. They take risks. They wear their moods. They promote lifestyle. These independents make our fashion culture a hell of a lot more interesting. Here’s to bigger things growing from that spark.
Founder: Sarah Nisperos
Neighborhood: Downtown (515 E. Fremont St., 685-7741)
“I believe in the aesthetic language. It’s this language that we don’t really hone in on and no one really teaches, and it’s actually the most powerful language in the world,” Sarah Nisperos says. “You could be the loudest person in the room without saying one word.”
We sip our beers and run our fingers over the racks, talking about the stories they tell in denim and luxe jersey, tiny sequins and silk. They’re the bones of her business, though Coterie feels more like magical day care for grown-up Downtowners. They’re working on laptops, slurping noodles and waving at bewildered first-timers who don’t quite know what to make of this stop on the official neighborhood tour. The only sign, an upside-down banner that reads “Checks Cashed,” sits above hours negated by the caveat: “or until the party ends.”
Sarah encourages the double take. She doesn’t just want to sell great clothes; she wants to challenge archetypes and help people find themselves in the mirror. Launched last year with support from Downtown Project, Coterie is East Fremont’s retail island. Each rack has a personality, showcasing labels like LNA, Lauren Moshi, DEPT and Viereck and mixing the best flavors of LA, NYC and Europe into a tasty, distinctively Vegas cocktail.
“This is not Fred Segal, where you just go find the trendiest and the edgiest and the weirdest. This is live-work-play; these are real people. I want to build this new aesthetic of what Las Vegas is,” says Sarah, who left the high-fashion world to create a space where clothes aren’t “better” than people, so shopping can be play and catharsis. Coterie’s viewpoint is accordingly fresh, from a Princess Leia tee by Junk Food for $29 to a Twenty8Twelve dress that wears like an oil painting and costs more than $400. “I have a whole bunch of different personalities in my head all the time. One’s louder than the other every day,” Sarah says, “so I dress for my moods.”
The first time I saw her she was in a cocktail dress dripping black sequins, riveted leather gloves and a top hat over wild purple braids. Today she looks like she came from the beach. As we gab about lipstick’s triumphant return and what it means to be human, Charles Ressler unweaves her last few braids. It’s like a sleepover. Ressler is a dear friend, fellow Downtown advocate (with First Friday Foundation) and Coterie’s official Director of Magic (aka marketing). He says the shop is a platform for local artists, from secret screenings of documentary films to exhibitions of photographs and music. Discounts have been tied to fundraising for good causes and will be given for skill shares, whether you’re good at board games or jumping rope. Coworking is in full swing.
“She’s really catalyzing this major, major community. It was just bars and just food, and now all of a sudden there’s this all-encompassing hangout,” Ressler says of the shop’s impact on Fremont. “I believe that this is one of the fundamental keys to the shift in culture for Downtown and for Las Vegas in general, this kind of mentality and this magical little world.”
Sarah’s brother Hannibal, Coterie’s operations guru, marvels at his “gypsy” sister. He approaches business like a mathematician; she approaches it like a tropical storm. “We call it the Red Pill Project, like Matrix,” he says of the boutique. “There are no rules.”
Sarah asks who I want to be. I answer, and she hands me a Michelle Jonas maxi dress I never would have tried. I feel awesome in it. “I know you,” she says. She sees possibility in the people who wander into Coterie and the city they express. I can’t see exactly what she sees, but I know it’s beautiful. –Erin Ryan
Spring looks you’re excited about: The ’90s are back in with a VENGEANCE!!! … Think rocker tees paired with flowy dresses. … Men should think Magnum, P.I. meets Kurt Cobain.
Tired trends: Colored lip gloss. … For men, it’s the “too-big-for-you” button-down paired with ill-fitting jeans.
Vegas style? Tourists: Go whore or go home! Locals: Desert chic.
Co-founder: Valerie Julian
Neighborhood: UNLV (4139 S. Maryland Parkway, 796-4139)
The juicy pink of a Warhol print on the wall echoes an ’80s-era Lanvin trench with the boxy shape that dominated fall’s runways. Across the shop hangs a Wrangler oxford covered in flames that inspired an entire Margiela collection. And Valerie Julian mentions an archival Fila jacket bought by Kanye West that was reincarnated the very next season.
“Fruition is like a future fashion mood board,” Julian says, “focusing on an unprecedented brand mix of original silhouettes that serve as inspirational building blocks to today’s avant-garde culture ambassadors, from Jeremy Scott to Balmain.”
Fruition’s “concept retail platform” was created by Valerie’s brother Chris and his partner Samantha Alonso (who are currently working on fashion projects in Miami and New York). For nearly eight years the inventory has defied category, swinging from a vintage quilted denim jacket by Marc Jacobs to a cutting-edge pullover with metallic floral appliqué by Phillip Lim. Valerie has been part of the phenomenon since Day 1, building relationships with collectors and savvy shoppers around the globe, including fashion daredevils like Katy Perry and M.I.A.
They’re after bold references and contrasts, like Valerie’s “sportswear-chic” pairing of a Nike sports bra and delicate Chanel earrings. Fruition’s first collection—a collaboration with American Apparel—has the same way of “bringing different worlds together and making it more contemporary,” with rich ethnic patterns adorning everyday pieces like hoodies and sweats. More ripples of that perspective are evident in community partnerships Fruition has forged with Commonwealth and 1 OAK to bring fashion into nightlife, not to mention the surprising attainability of the covetable clothes (try a Ralph Lauren blazer for $86). The Lanvin trench is $1,000, but Valerie points out that it’s a work of art you won’t see anyone else wearing, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Communities in Schools of Nevada.
She says it’s not just about building style vocabulary; Fruition is building relationships. “We want to inspire and influence individuals into living a lifestyle that’s more proactive, that’s making them better physically, mentally, spiritually.” –Erin Ryan
Spring lines/looks you’re excited about: Fruition Collection, Katie Eary, Nike’s Made in Italy, Christopher Shannon, Marques’ Almeida, Shaun Samson ... eye-catching, avant-garde design silhouettes that inspire individuality.
Music playing in the shop: From Jay-Z to N.E.R.D. to The Killers.
Tired trends: Negative thoughts, the bane of innovation. Limited mind-sets that form impenetrable barriers, dream killers.
Founders: Evan Boyd (Neva) and Richard Sung (Crooked)
Neighborhood: Chinatown (3999 Spring Mountain Road, 252-5212)
A man never forgets his first pair of shell-top Adidas or limited-edition Air Jordans—or the agony of trading them for sh*tty loafers at a club. “The door people didn’t know anything about fashion. Even if I was wearing Dior jeans that were $600 or Jordans that were hard to find, they would rather I wear a Banana Republic shirt with Gap jeans,” Crooked says. “Bootcut jeans,” Neva adds, chuckling.
Both DJs and diehard New Yorkers, they hit Vegas in the mid-2000s to work some of the hottest nightspots on the Strip. Rather than surrender to dress codes that stripped their identity and a retail landscape they saw as a cultural void, they pooled their creativity and cash to open KNYEW (Keeping New York Every Where).
- KNYEW BLOCK PARTY
- March 1, 5-11 p.m., 3999 Spring Mountain Road.
- Expect food by Fukuburger and Sin City Cupcakes and music by DJs Franzen, Five and Melo D. Raffle prizes include two fixed-gear bikes and exclusive artwork by locals Brian De Leon and Heist 33. KNYEW will also give away apparel by top brands and release the spring collection by local brand Hippoe Esthetics and its own Split K and Script collections.
Over five years the store has elevated its game in step with streetwear itself, the sharp urban aesthetic mixing more and more with high fashion. KNYEW carries top labels, from HUF and The Hundreds to Crooks & Castles, but the focus has shifted to signature capsule collections—snapbacks embellished with faux crocodile and brocade; beanies that riff on foundational couture; tailored “Split K” baseball tees for spring. New releases are dropping twice a month, with video and Instagram campaigns to get the KNYEWtrons salivating. “I don’t want to sound conceited, but right now I feel like it’s all about KNYEW,” Neva says. “It’s time for us to promote our stuff.”
Block parties are planned to launch capsules and celebrate collaborations with local brands like Hippoe Esthetics and artists like Brian De Leon and Heist 33. “We want to push the culture of Vegas and that there are artists here and talented people here,” says Crooked, adding that KNYEW exclusively taps local talent for its line. Neva posts a free mixtape download to the blog every Monday to support local DJs. It’s love for what they call “LV City”—the one outside of the Strip, where real people are making the real Vegas look and feel relevant. –Erin Ryan
Vegas style? Keep your shoes on, ladies …
Music playing in the shop: Anything not being played in the clubs.
Who you’d like to dress: A Tribe Called Quest and Bart Simpson.
Founders: Ardi Najmabadi and Vanessa Chamberlin Houssels
Neighborhood: Summerlin (At Tivoli Village, 597-9500)
Vasari’s flowing fabrics and bright palettes are as chic as anything you’ll find on the Strip. What sets the Tivoli Village shop apart is Ardi Najmabadi.
Having grown up in Europe—he cut his teeth as a fabric designer in Germany—Najmabadi is something of a style oracle. After guessing my exact sizes and measurements—shoes included—with a quick once-over, he returns moments later with an armful of items far outside my black-and-white, straight-cut comfort zone: red shoulder-baring silks, tight sandblasted denim, a kelly-green cocktail dress. I emerge from the dressing room feeling chic and confident; instead of hiding behind my usual “safe” choices. I look my age.
“You had a big punk-rocker phase when you were younger, didn’t you?” Najmabadi asks in another eerily prescient moment. “Lots of leather jackets, piercings?”
Pairing outfits is Najmabadi’s self-confessed forte, and he uses pieces from high-end lines like Hudson, J Brand and Bailey 44 to bring out aspects of customers’ personalities as much as their physical features.
“I start by reading the person. It’s not something I can explain; it’s instinct,” says Najmabadi, who opened a men’s store at the Forum Shops in 1992, then moved to Boca Park in 2002 and added women to the mix, before bringing Vasari’s “luxury lifestyle” blend to Summerlin in 2011. “My looks are all about comfort and trust, so that you can be yourself in the outfit. My greatest joy is to put someone in an outfit they love, to see them discover new sides of themselves in it.
“People joke that shopping is therapy, but in that sense, it’s very true.” –Andrea Domanick
Spring looks you’re excited about: Tuxedo jeans, bright colors, silk pajama pants.
Vegas style? Vegas style is LA style with a twist. It’s light and layered, but a little sexier than LA. Women in Vegas are in better shape, so they can show a little more skin.
Element you spend the most on: A great top is what makes an outfit. You can buy expensive jeans, but if you don’t have the right top, it ruins the outfit.
Founders: Courtney and Kinsey Peters
Neighborhood: Arts District (220 E. Charleston Blvd., 776-7766)
Among the odd offices along Charleston Boulevard in the Arts District, a pop of candy color breaks the gray. Beneath blue and pink awnings, it’s a confection of a shop where 1950s party dresses mingle with crisp letterman jackets and disco-ready jumpsuits hang near faded band tees. The year-old Electric Lemonade is a vintage lover’s blissed out hallucination, a well-stocked fashion history lesson curated by a pair of stylish sisters who make old-school look fresh and oh-so-chic.
Courtney and Kinsey Peters were introduced to thrift by their grandfather in grade school, and today they talk about dream pieces and tough-to-find eras the way some people talk about sports teams and star players. Kinsey tends toward collegiate clothing and mod mini-dresses; Courtney calls her style “schizophrenic” with a weakness for American classics.
“We nerd out on it so much,” she says, smiling.
The racks of Electric Lemonade show off the sisters’ keen eye and more than 10 years of building contacts in the industry. Most of the clothing comes from estate sales out of state, and a network of buyers scouts for the women when they can’t make the trips themselves. Prices range from $5 to $150, and echoing the girls’ closets, nearly everything is vintage, with handmade jewelry and accessories—how about a gold necklace with a cast of an actual dental record?—the only exceptions.
When I ask Kinsey if she wears anything new, she has to stop and think. “Undergarments,” she finally answers. “And shoes.”
Vintage can be a tough sell in Vegas, but the sisters say they’ve built a loyal clientele in their first year on the block. Unlike most of the mass-produced stuff on big-shop shelves, the clothes at Electric Lemonade have been built to last. As Courtney points out, “They’ve stood the test of time.” –Sarah Feldberg
Hot jewelry lines in the shop: Gather, Cold Picnic, Snash
Who you’d like to dress: Florence Welch. She came in here. She loved everything in here. –Kinsey
Buying philosophy: We look for a lot of stuff that’s avant-garde, anything that’s extreme but wearable. You don’t feel like you’re wearing a costume. –Kinsey