Founded by Philadelphia-born Doug Abraham, BESS’ clientele encompasses some of the fashion scene’s biggest rock stars. Their cult-like following includes Marc Jacobs, Hedi Slimane, Olivier Theyskens, Carine Roitfeld, Erin Wasson, Mary-Kate Olsen, Lou Doillon and Alice Dellal, all of whom flock to the black boxed retail space, which was once the Pop-Shop of late artist Keith Haring.
Entering the store will cause either immediate intimidation or total ease. Dark tie-dyed dresses embellished with shiny silver chains hang delicately among a sea of studded combat boots, moccasins and converse sneakers that cover the black floors. Fringe laden leather jackets and thin tees printed with tarot card images hang from the racks, miniscule fringed jean shorts spill out from a display rack and Abraham’s dangerously cool bracelets and rings—made in the likeness of claws and skulls—shine like dark cocktail rings from the corner display case. All-black is de rigueur here, a fact Abraham shrewdly credits to the romantic history of New York City: “Part of the reason why people come here is to re-invent themselves in black clothes.”
With this season’s romantic gothic vibe coinciding with winter’s cold, BESS has become a beacon of hope for many lovelies with a dark aesthetic. While some might see a paradox in buying expensive clothing that looks, well, like it’s not, Abraham dismisses the notion that his work caters solely to the rich and elite. Designers deliver signature worn out aesthetics that, according to Abraham, take time and money to create. “The current interest in ‘Rock-N-Grunge’ seems to reflect the growing awareness for and sophistication of ‘texture’ and ‘aging’ in fashion products,” he says. “One of the things most commented upon at BESS is the ‘aging’ of our studs—or people looking for the T-shirts with the nicest holes, the gnarliest boots etc.”
Opened in November 2006, BESS is an extension of 39-year-old Abraham and his business partner, Elizabeth (Bess for short). Aptly named after his “lady,” the clothing is a reflection of Bess’s teen style of thriftwear and angst ridden attitude. With a Fine Arts Graduate degree, Abraham started out creating jewelry for Anna Sui, Alexander McQueen and Dior before founding BESS as a jewelry store. “BESS was opened because as a brand it is a necessity for us to be self-defining and have direct and immediate access to humans,” Abraham stated. “We did not open this store specifically to be a clothing or apparel store. We responded to the ways our customer spent their filthy lucre and provided them with the things they didn’t know they were dreaming of.”
Shop address: 292 Lafayette Street, New York, NY