Atelier New York's Retail Religion

With its dark interior, unassuming location on Crosby Street and hard-to-find avant-garde wares, Atelier New York was initially regarded as an alien, highbrow boutique when it first opened. More than six years later, the specialty boutique has outgrown its old location and become somewhat of a fashion temple for creative types with goth-like, casual-luxe and conceptual menswear sartorial predilections. Last Thursday, throngs of revelers feted Atelier New York’s relocation celebration at its new outpost on Hudson Street.

The scene was more than just your run-of-the-mill store opening. An unprecedented number of the boutique’s passionate customers braved cold winds and a torrential downpour, descending upon the new Richard Serra, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Joseph Beoys outfitted store like a band of tribal followers. Revelers arrived in the uniform style that Atelier New York has passionately peddled since its inception: a brooding regalia from designers such as Carol Christian Poell, Number (N)ine, Undercover, Ann Demeulemeester and Miharayasuhiro. The typically individualistic artists, designers, writers, intellectuals and Downtown scenesters showed their stylistic solidarity in the form of drapey layers, long silhouettes, languid volumes, distressed fabrics, black-and-white chromatic pairings, skinny jeans and purposely distressed high-end iterations of combat boots. Such an intense allegiance to a boutique’s aesthetic is unprecedented in America, and perhaps, even the world over.

“I was really anxious the week before the party. Of course, I knew some people would show because I know them personally, or because they have a very strong connection with the store. But I didn’t know just how many would show and I was absolutely shocked when so many people came out to support us,” says Karlo Steel, the store’s proprietor along with Constantin von Haeften. “It was an incredibly reaffirming moment. It felt wonderful.”

But what is it about the store that has garnered such a following? Downtown DJ Mike Nouveau, for one, was eager to tell us: “Atelier’s buys are much more directional and better edited than other stockists. They truly know what their customers like, because they are like us—they wear the clothes too.” This rep-what-you-live approach is a refreshing break from the typical New York retail experience, as Nouveau further notes: “I’ve walked into Barneys and had a sales associate wearing all Dolce & Gabbana try to explain the Rick Owens aesthetic to me.”

Eugene Rabkin, a fashion journalist for Haaretz and the owner of www.stylezeitgeist.com, echoes this accolade of the store’s sincerity: “For everyone who works here, it’s not just a job, but a part of their life. There is a deep aesthetic and emotional connection between their job and their personalities. This cultural connection is important for me, because I don’t buy fashion merely to look good, I respect the designers I follow (such as Ann Demeulemeester and Yohji Yamamoto), because I also have a cultural connection with them. As human beings we all look to be understood and connected, and Atelier provides that for me the way no other store does. This is why I have been Atelier’s customer since day one.”

Specialty boutiques around the world tout a distinct style to lure customers, but few survive even a few seasons. Atelier New York began as a salon where like-minded individuals could meet and impressively has become a sartorial place of worship with a religious following that also includes celebrity converts such as Jude Law and Lenny Kravitz. Amen to that.

—Robert Cordero




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