Designs For Living

Fashion starts early for precocious lasses. Since money is frequently no object, creativity is a must. Status-y black satin slides from Jimmy Choo are worn with vintage petticoats and cashmere summer weight halter tops. Cindy Sherman walks through the shop during the weekend and buys a raffia embroidered straw handbag with a wooden handle. Will the handbag appear in one of Sherman's famous self-portraits?

A former stylist for Coach examines a pair of horse-y printed cigarette leg jeans by Lilly Pulitzer on the sale rack. They've been consigned to At Haven's House by a famous fashion designer.

Clothing is bought by designers, stylists and the beautiful faces you see in the social columns of New York, W and Interview. Sometimes a garment is then consigned to the store by the person who originally purchased it.

Groups of elegant blondes descend on the mint-condition psychedelic print Pucci originals, holding the bright Italian printed dresses and tunics up to their razor-thin bodies— conferring with one another— before one of their chic flock buys a colorful print tunic marked at $400.

"Baby Jane Holzer called about the Hermes bags. Could you call her back? She said you knew her number," Aura Dimon, sales girl number one, reports perfunctorily, as Penzner and her sister, Penny, bustle into the perfumed airy white room laden with parcels. We're talking about two new Hermes Kelly bags, marked at $3000-plus, on consignment from Susan's A-list clientele. On an old iron hook hangs a jewel-encrusted fuschia Indian cotton skirt, spoken for by Jimmy Buffett's daughter, Savannah.

"When I was in college everyone had a lot more individuality, but today things happen too fast," says Susan, a Roslyn native in her early 50s. "One of the reasons people come in here is that they're sick of seeing the same things on everyone. They're looking for items that are no longer available en masse. Someone from the design staff at Banana Republic came in and bought a sweater that they ended up featuring. People say I have a good eye. I only buy what I like. My aunt was a buyer for Hattie Carnegie; I think it's in the family. I only like very old lacy things on very young girls like Jemima. I don't like the '40s. I like the '50s."

"I love the '60s. I need some help with the 1970s, all these young girls who work with me help me with the '70s."

One of the "girls" who has helped Susan understand the '70s is salesgirl No. 1, Aura Dimon, known throughout the rave scene as Aura Z— also known for her massive 60-inch-bottom fat pants. Susan still calls her by her given name: Amy. While Dimon was attending Southampton High School, working part-time in At Haven's House, she brought in a pair of wide-bottom pants she had created. Dimon had been selling them to fellow rave scenesters. Penzner was impressed with her talent and introduced her to Beau Baker, who signed her to a design deal for his manufacturing company. Suddenly her raver gear, bearing the Aura Z label, appeared in Bloomingdale's Lexington Avenue windows and Brown's Focus Store in London. Dimon was featured in Women's Wear Dailyand appeared on a John Stossel ABC-TV special on teens.

"I get inspiration from kids on the street, from magazines and vintage," says Dimon. "I look to the 13- and 14-year-olds— the kids who go to the raves. I work pretty close to the actual season, unlike larger companies that sell a line six months before customers will be wearing them. There's a hard-core group of big-pants-wearing ravers, so I'll continue to make the 60-inch pants. I'll also be doing bottoms in iridescent denim and dazzle nylon."

Susan Penzner, on the other hand, has a lot more than fashion on her mind. She juggles her appointments effortlessly, spending the week in Manhattan, the weekends in Sag Harbor— just like the ladies who frequent her store. She keeps in touch with the shop during the week by cell phone, as she jaunts about Manhattan, showing spaces to her Manhattan real estate clients, such as Isaac Mizrahi, at Susan Penzner Real Estate.

"It's all about recycling," says Penzner. "I recycle buildings— mainly lofts— in the city. Then I recycle clothes out here."

Susan and Penny have been combining real estate and vintage fashion since the '70s, when Penny lived upstate. She'd go to estate sales in the grand old mansions of the railroad barons, load up her suitcases with beautiful old clothes and bring them to Manhattan, where she and Susan would host wine and cheese parties for their friends. "I heard that Norma Kamali liked cocktail hats, so I contacted her," Penny says.

It was much easier in those days, when designers were not secreted away behind layers of publicists and assorted other handlers.

"I'm editing the vintage collections for stylists and designers who no longer draw," Susan says. "They just pick."

Sid's Pants: How to Become a Man of the Cloth

Joe Fristachi, in his early 60s, a partner in the Sid's Pants at Roosevelt Field and developer of the private label bottoms for the clothing chain, had owned his own tailor shop in his native Italy by the time he was 19. He arrived in the U.S. in 1954 and walked the streets of Brooklyn until he saw a shop with suiting fabrics in the window. He walked in and offered to work for free for a few hours. Fristachi remembers being so sure of his tailoring skills that he knew a permanent position would be his.

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