Where is She?
The day did not start auspiciously. First, I was congested with a summer cold and then I overslept. My partner/photographer thought he was being kind by letting me sleep in. So, he was not prepared for the snarling that occurred when I saw the time. After waiting six months for this particular day, on which I dreamed of scoring my Yohji, possibly some Watanabe and if lucky some Comme des Garcons at up to 85% off, I had no patience. He did not get the magnitude of what it meant to really cool, intellectual fashion icons (admittedly accidental ones) not to be at the front of the line for the IF Basement Sale. I throw on an easy, cotton Y’s dress, grab some sandals, put on my sunglasses (thankfully these are an essential part of my accidental icon look) off I go. Through some fast walking we got there 45 minutes before opening and are fifth on line, not too bad…he’s forgiven.
IF You Are Curious…
IF Boutique was founded in 1978 by three siblings: Jeanette Bird, Johnny Farah and Soha Farah and is probably one of, if not the, oldest store still operating in Soho. Situating the boutique on the corner of Greene Street and Grand in the 70’s was a bold but practical gamble as the area south of Houston was not yet developed and considered to be one of the grittiest (but cheapest) places in Manhattan. The story is told that Andy Warhol was appalled but impressed by the audacity of the move and gave IF free advertising on the back page of Interview Magazine for a full year. IF’s current creative director, Phillip Brennan (part of IF since 1981) said in a 2012 interview that this was the only advertising or promotion the store has ever engaged in. Everything is word of mouth and you have to be on the mailing list to find out about sales.
Johnny Farah is a Lebanese accessories designer and was part of the New York Design Scene of the late 70’s. A 2013 interview with Farah in Mist Magazine (see source below) suggests that Farah conceived of IF as a way of choosing and showcasing the most cutting edge fashion to compliment and go with the bags and belts he was designing (you can still find them there). The boutique, thanks to the smart eye(s) and impeccable curation of sisters Jeanette Bird and Soha Farah, garnered the reputation of being the first in the New York to sell designers such as Yohji Yamamoto, Thierry Mugler, Maison Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten and Danish designer Ivan Grundhal.
The aesthetic of the store has been described as “discreet luxury”, “low key luxury”, “dressed down luxury”, terms associated with the Japanese and Belgian designers the store carries and who first promoted the idea that women could be intensely feminine without being revealing, garments that can be thrown on without a care in the world and without concessions to what is in vogue today or was in style yesterday and that are cherished and worn for years. (in future posts more about what this means to the designers and to me).
Twice a year in February and August, IF has what is known as, “The Basement Sale” You can find all of the above designers and more for up to 85% off. Rumor has it that some folks actually fly in from other cities for it.
About an hour before the opening, a line begins and slowly men and women dressed almost exclusively in black and white form a long, curving line around the block. It is a fashion show of the bold, avant garde and adventurous. This year there were flashes of neon.
When the doors open there is a bee line to the stairs, boots (as everyone is wearing them this summer) clomping loudly on the gorgeous wood floors and down the steel steps. The temperature raises the further down you get. The basement today feels like a crowded subway car. I approach the task methodically; piece by piece, rack by rack, until I find what I am looking for and grab my seven permitted pieces. The dressing room is packed but I press in because in my arms are a CDG sweater, Y’s embroidered pants and jacket, Ann Demeulemeester black and white vest, Peachboo Krejberg long leather vest and Junya Watanabee top. There is hardly room to change and getting to the mirror is an impossible task. Despite this, I determine the Y’s suit is worth suffering for. I try it and then approach the table to pay.
The closer I get the more narrow my vision, the harder to breathe and when I finally get there I am about to faint. I ask the woman if I can sit on the stool behind her and put my head down. In the blink of an eye the gallant Phillip (who at the February sale helped me figure out how to wear a complicated Yamamoto wrap) is pushing a glass of very cold water into my hand and a lovely woman is coaching me to breathe. After the water and a moment or two, I perk up and perched on the high stool, legs crossed, chat with customers until I reach a state of full recovery. At some point rather frenzied women approach me and ask if I work there. Concerned I might take offense (In reality I think it would be really fun to work at IF), the two women on either side of me say, “You know that’s a huge compliment, right?
Given how fabulous Phillip and his staff always look, how much they know about fashion, the intellectual and artistic sensibility of the “sisters”, I take it as one; as well as a nod to my accidental status. And so at the end of the day it happens again; even in the midst of passing out, people seem to accidentally think I am a fashion icon.