Today, Shareen Mitchell is a bicoastal business owner, a sought-after entrepreneur with fourteen employees and a celebrity following. But no one would have guessed it eleven years ago, when Shareen was, in her own words, “broke, in debt, and selling at a flea market. ” That flea market booth soon grew into a 7, 000 square foot vintage warehouse in LA, and within a few years, Shareen had expanded to New York City. In spite of her success, Shareen’s location on West 17th Street is one of the best-kept secrets in Manhattan. Hidden away on the second floor of an old walk-up, the only sign of its existence is a red dress hanging from the fire escape, and sometimes—like the day I visited—not even that. Fortunately, a friendly employee from the salon next door pointed me in the right direction, but if I had not been in the know, I would have missed Shareen entirely. This secret location may seem like a bad business decision, but it is actually one of the keys to Shareen’s success. Her stores have always fostered a sense of exclusivity, and Shareen told me that her warehouse, especially in the early days, was not only the hottest vintage store in LA, but also a gathering place for a society of hip young women. “It was a crazy, fun secret, ” she told me. “No one knew where they were getting their vintage. ”Because there are no dressing rooms at Shareen—women change out in the open—both store locations have the same “no boys allowed” policy. But the resemblance between Shareen’s two stores ends there. While the LA warehouse is constantly buzzing with youthful energy, the New York location has a quiet, sophisticated feel that caters to a slightly older crowd. The reason for the difference, Shareen explained, is that by 2009, many of her original customers at the LA warehouse were now young professionals living in New York City. “They told me there was nothing like Shareen in the city, ” she said, “so I decided to test the waters. ” She opened a shop in a train station parking lot on Long Island, above an auto shop. “People like Ivanka Trump would get off the train, ” she told me, laughing, “and walk into this auto shop with their dogs and babies and everything. ” But after a while, the trip to Long Island became exhausting, and Shareen decided to open a location in the city. “It was kind of a secret, ” she said. “I had no money for a sign, so I put the red dress out on the fire escape. ”Though she did not put much effort into the store’s exterior, Shareen transformed the inside. The former apartment is now an elegant retail space, filled with ornate mirrors and old-fashioned couches, and yet it still manages to feel warm and welcoming. One large room is devoted entirely to wedding dresses, while another two rooms are filled with vintage clothing of all kinds, from evening gowns to 1950s prom dresses. When I asked Shareen about the bridal section, she told me that the store is in the process of transitioning. “A lot of my clients are starting to get married, ” she told me, “but they don’t want to look like traditional brides. ” These young women, many of whom get married in unorthodox venues—upstate farms, Brooklyn lofts, and Manhattan rooftops—are looking for unique dresses that will express their personalities. Over the past few years, the demand for these “indie wedding dresses” has grown so much that Shareen predicts that the store may soon be entirely bridal. “A year ago, we were half bridal and half vintage, and now it’s more like seventy-thirty, ” Shareen told me. “We’re double-booked on the weekends with brides. ”The New York location may be transitioning into bridal wear, but Shareen insisted that the store will not abandon its vintage roots. Along with her bridal collection, which is all under $2, 000, many of the wedding dresses for sale in the store are reworked vintage. Shareen added that her collection is designed to flatter all kinds of body types, to celebrate women rather than inhibit them. She always tells her brides, “I want to see you looking beautiful, not you in a beautiful dress. ”
Pinpoint Bridal is a family business. As I entered the small, yet intimate boutique, I met Erol, the main designer's son, and Fatima, his cousin. "If you're going to be in any kind of business, a family business is the best kind, " Erol said, matter-of-factly. Erol, who has worked in his mother's business since 2009, calls himself the "general manager, " but clarified that his duties are many: "I take care of everything. "Remziye Perkin, Erol's mother, has an impressive resume. Originally from Turkey, she trained in design at the Fashion Institute of Technology before joining Vera Wang as one of her first seamstresses and tailors. After working with Vera for five years, she decided to utilize her knowledge of bridal couture by opening her own shop. Pinpoint Bridal was born in 1995. Pinpoint Bridal does alterations in-house. The business actually began solely as a tailor, but branched out over the years into custom gowns, mother-of-the-bride outfits, and even delightful flower girl dresses. (Though Pinpoint does not specialize in bridesmaids dresses, they do provide alterations. ) Though what makes Pinpoint Bridal special, Erol pointed out, is that they do custom gowns. Fatima and Erol told me that appointments usually last for an hour, and women are asked to visit three separate times before the wedding, so adjustments can be made up until the final fitting. During a first appointment, brides often bring in a drawing or cutting from a magazine depicting what they envision. I asked what design fads Fatima and Erol have noticed in their years working at the store and they replied that it varies depending on where people are from, since Pinpoint receives visitors from New York to Dubai and everywhere in between. Fatima mentioned that French and Irish customers often ask for pure white, whereas Italian brides lean towards ivory, but Fatima and Erol both agreed that "Off-white can never fail. " In 2015, Fatima continued, many women wanted V-back dresses inspired by Oscar de la Renta. Erol smiled as he remembered a dress commissioned that same year featuring feathered sleeves in the style of a dress Kim Kardashian wore. Whereas Pinpoint Bridal designs many traditional wedding dresses, they also receive requests for some more modern, atypical dresses. One woman, for example, said in her first appointment that her dream since she was eight years old was to wear a blue wedding gown. The two cousins agreed that more and more women are wearing dark grey, red, or powder blue down the aisle. When I mentioned the glamorous ballerina-style dress in their window, Fatima explained that this was a "second outfit" that a bride could wear during her reception. On the other end of the spectrum, however, many women are choosing to turn to family heirlooms. Pinpoint Bridal has been asked to alter many mothers' and grandmothers' dresses over the years. When I inquired about their passion for what they do, Fatima's immediate response was, "I love it, " and then Erol chimed in, "It's happy. " He told me that thirty to forty percent of Pinpoint's clients are referred from people who have had good experiences in their shop. "There's a lot of word of mouth, " he said. "We're proud of everything we do. "
Manhattan Sideways made one of the most wonderful discoveries, nestled amongst the brownstones on West 21st Street and almost unnoticeable to the typical passerby. “I’m the princess that lives behind the castle gate, ” Andra Gabrielle, the eponymous founder of the hidden clothing shop exclaimed as we stepped inside her secluded workspace. This introduction merely hinted at her passion for fashion, her one-of-a-kind exquisite pieces of clothing and, most importantly, what an extraordinary human being she is. As a self-taught woman, Andra credits her success to her ancestral knowledge, which allowed her to pick up the trade of printing through books and teachers that lent themselves to her cause along the way. Andra shared with us that she had done some research about her past and found that she had an aunt who lived in Chelsea in 1849. She was known for her needlework and beautiful christening gowns. This discovery sparked a fashion revelation for Andra. Today, she gives credit to her nineteenth century family member for passing on the skills of the trade. Inspiration constantly surrounds Andra, specifically in the forms of Japanese art and kimonos. During a visit to England's Victoria and Albert Museum, an exhibit kindled a deep reverence for Japanese culture within Andra. She continues to draw heavily from the power of Japanese symbolism. “The Japanese art swept away the Victorian era. That’s the emergence of modern image, ” Andra said. As a young child, Andra told us that she was quite shy. She would play under a rhododendron bush and dress her twig dolls in flowers. Many years later, she made her mark in the fashion industry while working for the lingerie department at Barney’s. "They didn’t have a women’s store before, so there was no standard that I had to fit into. " Her lingerie was featured in Vogue and in many movies. The walls of her quaint shop are lined with Andra’s creations, “I never stop making things - that’s my nature, " Andra admitted. While these pieces were not completed with a particular individual in mind, Andra cherishes the story that each one symbolizes. When one of the Manhattan team members inquired about purchasing an astoundingly beautiful top and scarf combination, Andra politely informed her that she was not yet ready to part with them. Other inspiration for her designs comes from working directly with her customers, as she believes that clothing should be created for the individual. “We already know who we are and what works on us. I can give five women the same shirt and they’ll all like it for five different reasons. ” Andra elaborated, “Colors change because we change. Everything about the garment says something. ” For example, pine needles on a kimono would represent an old, happily married person, because pine needles always fall in twos. Andra told us that she made a dress for a woman who was getting married to the love of her life, so Andra put her “love dedication” to the woman’s husband in the hemline of the wedding dress. “I am this anomaly. I want to make clothes with respect. It’s a privilege to be able to do this with my life, as I continue to meet people who can teach me. ”
Since 2006, I have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with this renowned bridal store. That year, as we began to plan for my daughter’s wedding, one of my dearest friends introduced us to the owners, Ronnie and Mara, and the incredible team behind this successful shop. After trying on only three dresses, my daughter found the gown of her dreams. It was a bit too quick for me, as I wanted to draw out the experience of shopping for wedding dresses with my little girl, but she was elated with her choice. Over the next several years, I have accompanied nieces, daughters of friends, and friends of my daughter to Kleinfeld. Watching their expression as they walk inside the front door is priceless every time. Each woman is made to feel like a princess as she tries on dresses and delicately parades into the main salon to gaze at herself in the multiple mirrors. Although there is never a day that Kleinfeld is not filled with shoppers, the atmosphere is always jubilant with brides-to-be getting the attention they deserve and, of course, leaving thrilled with their decision of saying “yes to the dress. ”