Once, glittering palaces of commerce lit up these 19th-century streets. Then the shops moved up to Union Square and the hookers took over, beckoning johns through the portals of the former department stores. Light manufacturing replaced the whores, turning the area into a ghost town after dark. Robert Moses wanted to plow through Washington Square and build a four-lane expressway down West Broadway; it was not to be. Artists colonized the old buildings instead, ushering in a few small shops and food co-ops. What began as a trickle of boutiques became a deluge. It seemed like mass-market mall stores were all the future held, until, in a stunning reversal, international capital decided these cast-iron temples should be returned to their original purpose, selling luxury goods to the pilgrims who flock here from all over the world.
This week, a brief assessment of Soho's arrivistes, and a guide to replicating their merchandise without leaving the neighborhood.
Philosophy Di Alberta Ferretti
Attention bulimic daughters of the international leisure classes! Alberta Ferretti has opened at 452 West Broadway, complete with shimmery glass floor, fancy recessed lighting, and racks full of tiny fuzzy mohair sweaters, narrow Protestant coats, and other apparel brandishing the tough-love approach: ragged edges twinned with embroidery, a smattering of beads on a rough wool surface. The prices, around $600 for a coat, $400 for a sweater, may be haughty (and remember this is Ferretti'ssecondary line) but, lucky for you, replicas are available all over town.
How to fake it: It won't even cost you a MetroCard swipe to haul yourself over to UrbanOutfitters at 628 Broadway, where a similar sophisticated-grunge- meets-Portobello Road aesthetic prevails. Shaggy coats area more reasonable (though hardlybargain-basement) $240; a cardigan printed with sheaves of grass and decorated with a jeweled dragonfly is $54.
This new shop, at 128 Wooster Street, is notable for its strange, semitransparent windows, and they are indeed spectacular. Inside, the stock consists entirely of the Pleats Please Issey Miyake system, a group of crystal-pleated separates in interesting prints or solid colors. In their favor, these items are completely packable, great for travel, and instantly recognizable to other chic aficionados of Pleats Please. On the downside, they're made of polyester, which is also instantly recognizable (and not so thrilling at around $335 for skirts, $235 for tops), and they can be deeply unattractive as they caress your lumpy body with their tiny folds.
How to fake it: Go down (one block) to the lot on the corner of Woosterand Spring streets, where the outside flea market does a brisk business in pleated, packable, pull-on skirts. Very much in the Issey mood is a black and silver ribbed skirt for $30; a velvet pull-on skirt, not pleated but nevertheless evocative of Miyake, is $39.
Stuart, who has just opened a flagship at 100 Greene Street, manages to hit a lot of high notes by knocking off A-list designers: there's plenty of fall '98's powder blue and ubiquitous gray, done up in all the latest conventions: the new shrug sweater, the new ankle-length pleated skirt, etc. Still, at $313 for a knee-length Marc Jacobean skirt or $450 for a Ferretti-ish coat, maybe you'd rather just add the rest and go for the real thing?
How to fake it: Two words:Club Monaco.
A miraculous team of elves has managed to copy the trends of the season with such wit and charm that they actually succeed in making the originals seem a little tired. At their two newSoho stores (121 Prince Street and 520 Broadway) an ecru boat neck sweater with 3/4 Audrey Hepburn sleeves is $69; a knit slip dress with a ruffled edge is $99; a gray coat (surprisingly nonhairy) is $259; and a fakePrada nylon coat is $159. There's even a flannel messenger bag for a ridiculous $25. When Club Monaco knocked off Marc Jacobs's pleated skirt last spring, they completely ran out of fabric and had to close the waiting list.
How to fake it: Don't bother. The Gap is only a little cheaper.
Betting that visiting Eurotrashy yupsters and Japanese tourists will offset its corporate losses in the Asian financial crisis, Louis Vuitton, a brand that never quite recovered the status it had in this country 30 years ago, has opened at 116 Greene Street at the site of the old Buffalo Chips cowboy boots store. Maybe it's the sinister guards stationed every few feet, but, despite Gladys Knight blasting over the p.a. system, this place does not exactly exude warmth. Downstairs, in addition to the requisite $800 Vuitton bags, there is Marc Jacobs's new line of Vuitton clothes, which are for the most part exquisite and probably as close as you can get to couture while still buying off the rack. It's intellectually satisfying to look at them--where else are you going to see a hand-stitched silk army jacket with a Mao collar?--until you notice that the price for a twinset (short-sleeved sweater, matching cardigan) of anemic green merino wool (not even cashmere! merino wool!) is $1120.
How to fake it: Well, for the bag, you know you can go to Canal Street. If you're not distracted by all the ersatz Guccis (bamboo handles), Pradas (latest models, metal handles), Versaces, Fendis, and Burberry satchels, there's a fake Vuitton backpack in the Damier check pattern--newer than the standard LV print--for $22. Sure, it's vinyl, but then so's the original. For the sweaters, try Old Navy.
The new Old Navy, recently opened at 503511 Broadway, has been greeted with the slavish adulation that attended its arrival on Sixth Avenue (in the heart of the former Ladies' Shopping Mile, another resuscitated neighborhood). A plain cardigan, if not merino then surely its equal, 100 percent lambswool, in a pleasant if predictable baby blue, is $28, and they even throw in an extra button. Unfortunately, once you move beyond the sweater table, the fashion quotient descends precipitously. Still, the mood is very Felicity, if that's your sartorial cup of Sleepy Time tea, and there's nary a pleated skirt in the house, which is either criminal or refreshing, depending on how much shopping you've done this year. If the stock in no way lives up to Carrie Donovan's weekly gushfest in the Times,at least the prices are above reproach.
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