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In 1793, during the most harrowing winter of the French revolution, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Womenand foremother of modern feminism, tripped on a wet patch while crossing the Place de la Revolution and realized to her horror that she had slipped on blood. Two hundred six years later, you may likewise find yourself waylaid by a sanguine cobblestone on your way to Jeffrey, a just-opened store in Manhattan's meatpacking district, but this time you'll be searching for a pair of stilettos, not a social revolution, and the blood will be pooled outside the Plymouth Beef Corporation.
In an audacious move informed by youthful optimism, a love of retailing, and the heady confidence that unbridled national prosperity can bring, Jeffrey Kalinsky has opened the eponymous Jeffrey in a neighborhood that until around 18 months ago was famous chiefly for Florent, Jackie 60, Dizzy Izzy's New York Bagels, and trannie hookers. Now the arrival of patisseries, art galleries, and restaurants with names like Markt has paved the way for a boutique geared to the tiny, frothy, well-heeled customer willing to toddle two long blocks from the A train, or, more likely, take a taxi to 14th Street and Tenth Avenue.
"It's a lifelong dream! So much more than I could hope. . . . I have been supported by 100 million soldiers. . . . I had the vision but people read my mind!" rhapsodizes a bleary-eyed Kalinsky the day after his store's grand opening, on his 37th birthday, a week ago Monday. The dream is 12,000 square feet of ivory walls and exposed pipes and track lights and beige area rugs over cement blocks in a former Moishe's Moving Company warehouse that Kalinsky was able to rent last January for around $23 a square foot. (Prices for similar properties on Madison Avenue range from $350 to $600 a square foot.)
Jeffrey has a sunshiny L.A. kind of ambiance, with music supplied by David Knapp, a veteran of the Limelight-Roxy circuit who has a DJ booth in the back of the store. There's a friendly, refreshingly multicultural staff and a pebble-filled fountain and an apothecary that sells astrological candles and an expansive 40-seat shoe department, shoes being a specialty of Kalinsky's, who used to be a footwear buyer for Barneys before heading south to open an upscale shop crammed with European clothes that was a surprise hit in Atlanta's Phipps Plaza mall.
Jeffrey is filled with the stupendously expensive fashions of fall '99, a strange universe of alternately severe and deliberately ratty garments. You can't hold Kalinsky responsible for these designs; he's just selling the latest stuff: a snug man's Gucci jacket of a mysterious white furry substance that turns out to be goat for $3990; a thick black Alexander McQueen cardigan with a zip front and a trim fit that has the granny-made look so popular this season for $715; a $575 man's lavender cashmere sweater by John Bartlett with a deliberately torn crew neck, like something a preppie murderer would wear. A copper-colored beaded evening bag by Larisa Barrera that looks like it could have been around at the turn of the last century is tiny and pretty and $870; Prada T-strap schoolgirl shoes of lilac patent leather have square toes, low heels, and a $340 ticket. Unreconstructed versions of Andre Courreges's 1960s designs sticky pink vinyl miniskirts for $285 and matching battle jackets at $425 are joined by a white linen bubble dress from that same venerated house that is composed of curved panels and is not embarrassed to sport a $4150 price tag.
But then again, a $4150 dress might just sell in this fin de siècle market. After all, boutiques and fancy little restaurants turned a moribund Little Italy into NoLita overnight; a multiplex is slated to relieve the vast emptiness of Dumbo; a deadly chic Comme des Garçons has found a new home on West 22nd Street and Eleventh Avenue; Soho went from a neighborhood of quaint shops to one choked with J. Crews and Pottery Barns in less than a decade; and there's an informal contest as to which street is trendier, Ludlow or Orchard.
Plus you have to admit, decorated reticules and astrological votives and limos to the Hudson are a lot of fun. But has Kalinsky thought about what will happen if the economic bubble bursts? "My family has been retailers for 75 years," he says with conviction. "Fair and square. That's how I was raised. This is not a hot new thing. People will always need honest places to shop."
Well, sure they will, but if Wall Street stumbles and real estate tumbles, how many of them are going to want goatskin blazers?
Sequins of events: Jeffrey comes to 14th Street.
Photos by Michael Sofronski