FASHION: Posh and Poised 

One look at Coplon’s during its summer sale and you’d guess not. Amid racks of discounted Blumiere, Michael Kors, Vivienne Tam and Ungaro, a customer asks a sales associate if there are more Prada bags on order. “No,” the woman replies. And in an instant it’s perfectly clear. That Prada is passe in Richmond means we’re in business — the unmatched business of true fashionistas, that is.

In the newly spiffy Cary Court shop and park, a Carytown loyalist relates a story about being in Pink with his girlfriend when some buyers from one of the new department stores came in. They talked pedantically among themselves about the merchandise — that it’s no competition to them at all.

Perhaps it says something about Richmond if it’s not.

“Our customers are smart,” says Deborah Boschen, co-owner of Pink. “We’re not going to buckle.”

What she means is simple. If you want a one-of-a-kind item that you won’t see everywhere else, you’ll shop for it where you already trust you can get it. And that’s what Richmond’s boutiques afford that can’t be replicated elsewhere. It’s something of a duping factor — not unlike the concept of “lifestyle centers” that try to be Main Street in suburbia — tugging shoppers in the opposite direction. And as Boschen and fellow Pink co-owner Libby Sykes point out, “once it settles down” the hype over the fashion invasion will return to business as usual — only better.

It does this by making hometown singular retailers like Pink stay on their toes. “We’re thinking about every single piece coming in,” Boschen says. At first there may be the same or slightly fewer numbers of them. For example, for the first three months the malls are open, Pink strategically has set its inventory at a “flat” rate compared to last year, instead of growing it at the start of a new season.

The emphasis will be on “young emerging designers,” Boschen says, that aren’t flagged as sure bets with bigger retailers who expect a big payoff from pret-a-porter stock. And in addition to going to the seasonal market in New York, the owners plan to hit the couture buyer scene in Los Angeles and Atlanta, too. “We’ve been on the phone talking to [designers like] Rebecca Taylor and vendors and reps,” asking them if they’ll be going into the new malls, she says. And for the most part, the answer has been, no.

At least one store, Franco’s Fine Clothiers, is deciding to join — not worry about beating — the mall rush. The fashion store is using Short Pump Town Center to expand.

Other local boutiques aren’t batting an eye. “We buy for our customer,” says Leslie Rising, owner of Levy’s. And Rising has the experience few retailers can boast. Rising grew up in the family-owned business. The Levy’s in Charlottesville has been open for nearly 80 years. That two mega-shopping complexes are coming to Richmond at once is what’s remarkable, she points out. But apart from that she says it’s business as usual. “We have great customers and we buy great clothes. And there are people who just like shopping in smaller stores,” she insists. For example, when the McArthur Center opened near the Levy’s boutique in Virginia Beach, she says it had an indiscernible impact on her business.

It’s exactly what the owners of Pink — which is about to celebrate its 20th year in Richmond — like to hear. Already they know what Richmond wants — and what Richmond buys. “I’m really impressed with the style of Richmond. The people here have tastes that have been ignored or underestimated,” she says about why there’s been a dearth, until now, of designers in its stores. It’s why they’re in business. And, perhaps, why they can answer without blinking the question Boshcen says we all ask when it comes to trends: “Who is going to wear that?” S

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