Legitimate Business

High fashion replaces lowlifes on Mulberry Street

Sweet Jesus, what is happening to Mulberry Street?

John Gotti is on lockdown in a federal prison, so he don't come around much no more. Jackie Nose, Joe Butch, Handsome Jack, and Gotti's other cronies seem to have permanently hit the mattresses. At the Andrea Doria social club, the front of the venerable institution has been partitioned into a cigar store (but, thankfully, the shop isrun by a convicted felon). Even Umberto's Clam House, where Joey Gallo got clipped, has been relocated to a side street.

In this crazy climate, it should come as no surprise that the new boss of the Ravenite Social Club is none other than Amy Chan.

Of course, you don't have to be a former Ravenite regular to wonder: Who the fuck is Amy Chan? Is the mob so desperate they are now inducting women (and not even Italian ones at that!)?

In fact, Chan, owner of an eponymous clothing boutique, is the new tenant in the ground-floor commercial space at 247 Mulberry Street. The five-story building was seized by federal marshals last year as part of a forfeiture action connected to Gotti's 1992 racketeering conviction. The wiseguys were evicted, and the property, which also has 18 apartments, was sold for $1.03 million to Eric Hadar. The developer also owns the Studio 54 building, so could the Plato's Retreat property be far behind?

Before a recent gut renovation, the Ravenite's exterior featured a brick facade, two tiny windows, and a storm door. Inside, wiseguys found a wooden bar, several tables and chairs, and some framed photographs. The low drop-ceiling made it seem like you were entering a shoe box. For all its lore, the Ravenite had the feel of a Massapequa rec room. But who has time for spatial concerns when you're busy fixing the price of concrete or deciding whether some snitch should be garroted? Really, do Mafia clubhouses have to be designed by Rem Koolhaas? Though, actually, that might not be a bad Wallpaper* project.

Where the Ravenite was dark and foreboding, Chan's new space is bright and inviting, the essence of a trendy Nolita boutique. A wall of windows now faces the street and the 1000-square-foot shop's smooth white walls are illuminated by small halogen fixtures. On Saturday morning, the Divasoundtrack provided the store's aural ambience.

And while the prior tenants tended toward Brioni suits, Members Only zipper jackets, and the pre-Prada black tie­black shirt combination, Chan is fabulously fashionable. On Saturday, she came to work in a military-style fur hat, fake fur vest, lingerie top, leather skirt, sarong, and boots with a stiletto heel. In a space where life-and-death decisions were often transmitted with a nod and a shrug, it should be noted that Chan was also wearing a shrug— the black acrylic variety.

Chan, who has signed a 10-year lease for the Mulberry Street space, declined to discuss her rent. But whatever she is paying, it is far more than Gotti was charged by Gambino soldier Joseph "Joe the Cat" Laforte, who owned 247 Mulberry Street prior to last year's seizure. Asked about her knowledge of Gotti and the Ravenite's history, Chan said, "I knew about Sammy the Chin." Which is to say that she has spent more time tracking fashion trends than Mafia machinations.

For her part, Chan seems unconcerned about the storefront's pedigree, joking at one point that she might introduce a "Gotti collection." In fact, one piece in her handbag collection already might fit that bill— it is a plastic, leopard-skin purse in the shape of a handgun.

Neighborhood reaction to her arrival, Chan said, has been uniformly positive. One man came into the store last week and asked her, "Do you know what this space used to be?" When she said yes, the visitor then helpfully began to point out where such items as the Ravenite's card table used to be positioned.

Born in Hong Kong, Chan is a Fashion Institute of Technology graduate who has previously worked as a shoe designer for Candies and at Esprit, where she served as design director. Four years ago, Chan launched her own design business, which has grown to include her handbags, skirts, jackets, and assorted accessories. Calling herself a "virgin retailer," Chan said that she will continue to run a wholesale business from her Garment Center headquarters, an operation that counts Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Fred Segal, and Henri Bendel among its customers.

Chan points to a personal business equation that states "harmony + progress + happiness = 8." In the Chinese culture, Chan said, the number 8— the product of two perfect circles— represents good fortune. In a strange coincidence, Gotti's old Ravenite slogan was something like "larceny + perfidy + hubris = 80 years."

While Ravenite habitués' wives (and girlfriends)— many of whom still love Lycra— may not appreciate Chan's luxe designs, they should still stop by the shop on New Year's Eve for a demonstration of the new Velvet Goldmine makeup line. Sure, that glam '70s look is hot, but the decade holds other charms as well. Those were the pre-RICO days, when Uncle Neil ran the Ravenite and Mulberry Street seemed like the center of the world.

 
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