Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7. Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U. S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off. While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City. Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool. ” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved. ”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases. Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
When I visited Tip Top Shoes in the summer of 2015, the store was celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary. Danny Wasserman proudly showed me the most recent edition of Footwear News, which was essentially dedicated to Tip Top. There were messages from countless sponsors in the shoe world, congratulating the Wasserman family for their longevity. Sitting down with Danny and his children, Lester and Margot, who are in charge of West NYC and Tip Top Kids respectively was an absolute pleasure. Having grown up just a block away, Lester and Margot were immersed in the business even as toddlers. In high school, both began working at the store with their dad. Lester was immediately drawn into the world of shoes, learning as much as he could with the ultimate goal of opening his own sneaker shop, West NYC, a few doors down. Lester explained to me that Tip Top already sold sporty designer men's shoes, but that he expanded this concept into a trendier store in 2007. Margot, on the other hand, knew that she wanted to work in retail, but began her career with Ralph Lauren. She stayed there through the dot-com revolution and then returned to work for her father. Included in the copy of Footwear News was a picture of how the store looked decades ago. Display cases took up the first few feet on either side of the door. Danny's grandfather originally opened the store after coming to the United States from Israel. He chose to buy the little shoe shop, which had been uptown in Riverdale, from an elderly German couple. The family then moved the store to 72nd Street. "Things were very different, " Danny explained to me. "People were less affluent, there were fewer options, and every shoe in the store was in the window. " He told me that at one point there were two black shoes and two brown shoes for men, and that was what customers had to choose from. Expanding on the neighborhood's history, Danny said that the street was frequented by pimps. "We had white boots with fur at the time that we couldn't keep in stock. "Later, the store was expanded both forward (eliminating the window displays) and back. Today, Tip Top continues to have a loyal following, many from the next generation of shoppers. Having walked so many streets in Manhattan, Tip Top has been a wonderful reminder to me that the old world concept of customer service, with a warm staff who have been working with the Wassermans for years, still exists. This thinking was solidified when I asked the family why they never considered expanding to another location. The response from Danny simply stated that they never wanted to spread themselves too thin. "The reason for our success is because we're all here. "It was really touching to see how strong the glue is that holds the Wasserman family together. I was not surprised when I learned that Lester, Margot and their parents live in the same building, a block over on 72nd Street - but on different floors. Yes, Tip Top has been an incredible success story in the world of mom and pop stores, but not everyone has had the great fortune of such a beautiful family relationship. When I expressed this sentiment to Danny, he replied, "Everyone says how fortunate I am to have my kids, and they're right. " He then went on to say with a warm smile, "I mean, my son chooses to work with me six days a week. " Lester shook his head in agreement and responded, "And I am lucky to have the best possible teacher to educate me. "
"A shoe is not an accessory, but a necessity, " Vanessa Noel declared as I sat with the woman who has been a top shoe designer since the 1980s. I went on to learn that making a shoe requires equal parts design and engineering, because the success of a shoe depends on balance and form. As Vanessa explained, anyone can decorate a shoe, but to actually form a piece of footwear to fit a woman's feet is a truly difficult task. Vanessa is very conscious of comfort – "I can't stand when I see women who are unable to walk because of their shoes, " she told me. "It is a sign that their shoes are not well made. " Vanessa, who claims to often walk around the city in six inch heels, makes shoes that will not cause women to need to call a cab after two blocks. She is very proud of the fact that just the other day she "put a congresswoman back in high heels. " Vanessa describes her shoes as "comfy, sexy, elegant, and beautiful. " She designs the entire line herself, and has everything handmade in Italy. She loves discovering and playing with exotic materials. I was able to get a glimpse of her stretch alligator skin that she created herself, and which has become her trademark. It had twenty-four carat gold embedded in the high-quality Louisiana skin, allowing the brilliant shine and color to permeate through the entire material. Vanessa continued to walk me through her workshop as she shared a prototype of translucent alligator, which was streaked neon pink. While gazing at her treasure trove of shoes, she told me about an extraordinary order that she once produced: over-the-knee flat stretch orange python boots. Although customer service is a key element of Vanessa's business model, she is not solely concerned with the needs of her clients; Vanessa also tries to look out for the people producing her shoes. When she became aware that some of the ancient Italian tannery families were developing cancer because of the chromium used in their processing techniques, she commenced researching better methods. She then discussed her interest in being chemical-free more generally - and that passion drove her to open the ecologically friendly Hotel Green in Nantucket. Vanessa's most recent addition to the shop is a new line of handbags. She had been making them for herself for years, but was encouraged to design some for her customers after being spotted with one on a fashion runway. They come in a wide variety of bright, fun colors and are made with high-quality Italian leather, similar to her shoes. At this moment, while sitting and chatting, in strolled Emma, Vanessa's mother, the delightful inspiration behind some of the bags. I watched as Emma headed straight for these new additions and joked about taking one, before being told that the design was actually called the "Emma bag. " Smiling, her daughter said, "you are welcome to take one. " After looking very pleased, Emma turned to me and began sharing stories from her daughter's childhood, as Vanessa looked on with an amused grimace. Although difficult to believe, Emma said that Vanessa was "a monster" as a child, who once, at the age of four, with her little bit of cash, convinced a Greek herder to allow her to ride his donkey halfway up the mountain. I continued to be fascinated as Emma described their visit to the Emilio Pucci palace with her sister and Emma, and had dresses made for all three of them. Vanessa’s latest creative endeavor is the Noel Shoe Museum, which will be the first of its kind in the United States. It will display shoes from around the world, spanning several centuries, with an aim of showcasing their creativity and the history of their design and manufacturing. Nevertheless, Vanessa’s greatest mission remains to repair women’s relationships with luxury footwear. In her words, “I try to make glamorous shoes that essentially become an extension of a woman’s leg. ”
Walking into Shop Untitled, which features exquisite clothing, chunky crystal necklaces, fierce leather boots, and gloves galore, is like walking into a fashion wonderland. Along the walls there are long black coats with leather spines, a full body piece that looks like something a ninja might wear, and effortlessly hip hooded shirts. “We don’t buy safe things, ” Kevin Kelly said to me, “They end up on the sales rack. We do risky things. They’ll sell the first day. ”Manhattan Sideways had the chance to sit down and talk with Kevin and Gapu Suri who have been partners in the shop since 1983. Kevin informed us that the store was originally located across the street until 2009, when it moved to its current location. After relocating, people thought they were the new kids on the block. “New Yorkers don’t turn around, ” Kevin jokingly said, but then explained that he and Gapu chose to stay in the neighborhood because of their loyal clientele. Young women who shopped here years ago are now mothers who bring their daughters to browse in this haven of chic clothes. As we perused the wares, we learned that Shop Untitled is a place that changes with the times, keeping up to date on all the newest trends - because it has always been for young people. Its racks are filled with the lines of up-and-coming designers. Gapu and Kevin do not carry the same things as other boutiques: they mostly feature smaller designers who prefer to be in a finely curated shop. They are proud that a number of the designers that they represent choose to work exclusively with Shop Untitled. “Customers like being surprised that they’ve never heard of someone, ” Kevin said, adding that it makes them feel unique in a sea of familiar brands. Talking with Kevin and Gapu was a wonderful experience. They have strong convictions and take great pride in being a launching pad for new designers. “We love what we do – we wake up and love doing it, ” Gapu exclaimed with a big smile on his face. Together, they run the store like a well-oiled machine. Gapu, who moved from India to go the Fashion Institute of Technology, said that he travels to Paris about four times a year to do the buying for the store. He does “tons and tons of research” to seek out new and fashion-forward designers. Kevin has not had any formal training in design, but definitely, as he says, has a “flair for it. ” Decked out in cool, architectural clothing, their aesthetic is evident. The Manhattan Sideways team gave Kevin the impossible task of picking just three designers to highlight. He landed on two edgy, eco-conscious artists: Barbara I Gongini, who makes sure her fabrics and pieces are sustainably attained, and Demobaza with an “end of the world, beginning of the next world” vibe. To round it out, Kevin mentioned the House of Malakai, a company that makes very special face masks that caught the eye of Madonna herself. Rihanna even flew Malakai to New York for the Met ball. Gapu and Kevin have a lot of interaction with the music, film, TV, and theater crowd. Recently, a designer had work featured in The Hunger Games movies after a buyer for the film came by the store. The two men place a heavy emphasis on seeking out new talent. Gapu told us that he is always on the hunt for designers that are “raw and fresh. ” These talented men and women enter into a strong legacy: Shop Untitled carried John Galliano’s and Alexander McQueen’s work straight out of school. In ending our conversation, Gapu announced emphatically that the clothing and accessories that Shop Untitled carries must have “a soul behind the creation. ”
Though he has only been in the business since 2000, Phil LaDuca has made himself a Broadway institution with his revolutionary shoes. Having been a dancer himself for over twenty years, Phil was acutely aware of the complaints and discomforts that plagued his fellow hoofers when it came to footwear. The biggest issue, he had noticed, was that most dance shoes were not flexible. It was, therefore, difficult for dancers to point their toes and create a long, sought-after line with their leg. Tired of suffering and seeing others enduring similar frustration, LaDuca got to work designing a better shoe. He came up with the idea to make the shank of his shoes out of elastic gussets that gave them the necessary flexibility for a perfect point. He then found artisan cobblers in Italy who brought his vision to life in supple leather, and opened up his shop in 2001. The long list of clients at LaDuca includes entire casts on Broadway, the Rockettes, royalty and pop stars. The day we were there, the staff was getting Katy Perry's set of shoes ready for her world tour. Phil LaDuca's fame and craftsmanship surpasses all creative and international boundaries producing custom shoes for dancers and non-dancers alike. More importantly, he has created shoes that have raised the status quo for character shoes and that have provided thousands of dancers with more comfortable and reliable footwear.
This cleverly coined thrift store and vintage clothing boutique is named for its owner, Kate Goldwater, and sells women’s apparel, accessories, and jewelry. Kate pays careful attention to every item the shop sells, only bringing in what she “would wear or see someone wearing and think, ‘I like her style. '” She goes on adventures to stock the shop up to three times a week, sometimes road tripping as far as Wisconsin and Virginia to find the best products. She also has suppliers in Los Angeles and Brooklyn. Kate got involved in fashion by making her own clothing when she was young. She eventually turned the hobby into a business, but when she realized the repetitive labor that came with the occupation, she decided to take on consignment instead. While attending New York University, she experienced firsthand that even “cheap” vintage was not in the price range of college students. Now the owner of her own inexpensive “thriftique, ” Kate believes it is ”important that the clothes be affordable. ”When I asked about whether there was any plan for expansion on the horizon, Kate replied that she actually “did expand and did not like it. ” When she opened another location in Brooklyn, she struggled to be as hands-on as she had been with only one shop, and had difficulty stocking each of them to her satisfaction. Having closed the second store, her focus is devoted entirely to this East 7th Street location, which makes her quite happy.
In the 1980’s, St. Marks Place was where the Goths, Punks, and Rockers hung out. Search and Destroy is a relic of this eccentric past. With naked toy babies and skeletons piled up in the front display window, the store is intriguing at first sight. A step through the door reveals mutilated animals and dummies, a larger mound of plastic infants, and loads of second hand clothing – studded leather, flannel, band t-shirts, boots, tutus and decorated gas masks. Not in a buying mood? Wading through the masses of clothing and checking out the funky clientele will be a memorable experience.
Smiling, a lovely woman said "I just saw your window, and had to come in. " She was intrigued by the beautiful hat display at Susan van der Linde's current location on 67th Street. She walked around, flirting with a few different styles before finding her way out, promising to return. "It is fantastic to be on the ground level, " Susan said delightedly. She went on to tell me that she worked as a seamstress on the second floor in the Lombardy Hotel and formally opened her label on the fourth floor of a building on 57th Street in 1995. Relocated to 67th in 2014, her small boutique is certainly a standout with its well-crafted styles and warm personal service. The interior of the shop boasts a clean, museum-like light system, a neutral backdrop, and attractive shelving, allowing the focus to be on the colorful and textured fashions. From her wide-brimmed hat made of horsehair and straw, with a luscious navy silk bow, to her round-crowned chapeau of organically draped brown sinamay, each of Susan's creations is innovative with stylish whim. Though known for hats, she also sells a classic loafer, which comes in many colors, and is fabricated in Italy with a comfortable vibram sole. In 2012, bags and clothes were added to the collection. I could not help but run my fingers over a vibrant orange handbag made of water buffalo leather. Sewing clothing since the age of ten and receiving formal training at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Susan first became "infected with the passion of making hats" when she apprenticed under the esteemed Milliner Don Marshall in Paris. "He taught me that hats have to look like human hands never touched them, " Susan explained. "No stitches should show. And to never underestimate what I learn from a client, to always adapt. " When the beehive style became popular during the 1960s and hat wearing phased out, Don Marshall was one to make intricate fascinators and veiled caplets, adjusting to his clientele. When Susan meets a client, she is always looking for clues. In contrast to autopilot salesmen, who fit customers to their hats, Susan fits her hats to her customers, a luxury achieved by being a small business with the designer on premise, sewing away downstairs. "If someone likes a style they see here, but she wants it in acid green, I can do that. " A person going on a safari will need a wrap-around, so the hat does not blow off. "I love seeing my client's lifestyle, " Susan clarified when discussing her trunk shows, "it tells me what she needs. " And Susan most certainly complies.
Trash and Vaudeville is actually two stores – Vaudeville, full of colorful, ornamented clothing pieces, is a more kitsch environment, while Trash “is one of the seminal punk and goth stores of NYC. ” Founded in 1975 by Ray Goodman, Trash and Vaudeville began adorning Rockers, Mods, Punks, Goths, and Rockabillies – “everyday working class heroes who just wanted to walk and dress on the wild side. ” Today, the store continues to cater to a similar audience, dressing rock stars, such as Lady Gaga, counter culturists, as well as the average New Yorker and tourist. Besides the bright colors, feather boas, and rubber dresses, the store’s character is derived from the people working here – most notably, Jimmy Webb. He is the epitome of rock n’ roll and an era gone by - wearing tight pants that hug his body, a leather studded vest, metal bracelets that coil up his arm, and a shag haircut that shields his eyes. Jimmy's tough appearance is marked with the gentlest of souls. He tells us that he loves Iggy Pop, that he wants to be a “little piece of a great big thing happening, ” but most importantly that he loves this store. In fact he is completely devoted to it. As he bops from left to right, Jimmy cannot help but charm every visitor... and he treats each of them with the utmost kindness, whether it be a star who walks in, a music lover, or someone who is simply exploring - like us. While the store is aesthetically memorable, Jimmy makes it much more noteworthy. A few years after our interview with Jimmy, Trash and Vaudeville moved from its longstanding home on St Marks to a location on 7th Street. However, the spirit, punk vibe, and killer style (not to mention Jimmy! ) followed the store. We have left up our photographs of the St. Marks store as an homage to the location that started it all. Can't get enough? See more of our interview with Jimmy here.