Meet seven designers, retailers and stylists who make D.C. look good

Behind the scenes

The people who give D.C. fashion its dramatic flair

Published on January 14, 2016

Photographed at Arena Stage

Many career-changing Washingtonians leave politics or journalism for lobbying or public relations; few leap into fashion. But the city’s burgeoning creative community is encouraging a new generation of sartorial entrepreneurs, many of them refugees from the law, the government and typical cubicle gigs. “I like that D.C. has a close-knit start-up community, and my customer base is here,” says Uyen Tang, who in 2014 launched Stylecable, an indie designer website aimed at professional women ages 25 to 45.

Add a well-heeled population eager to patronize local businesses plus a slew of new retail destinations, and it’s no wonder homegrown fashion is taking root. “I started a clothing company here because I thought it was something D.C. was missing,” says Will Sharp, founder of men’s streetwear label Durkl. “Ten years later, and this city is headed in the right direction with new boutiques, more out-of-town brands opening flagships and a bigger concentration of people interested in those types of things.”

Marlene Hu Aldaba

HU’S SHOES, HU’S WEAR

Graphic-designer-turned-boutique-owner Marlene Hu Aldaba, 38, bucks Georgetown’s preppy image with her pair of are-we-in-New York? (or heck, Paris?) M Street shops, Hu’s Wear for women’s clothing and Hu’s Shoes for high-end, often high-heeled, footwear.

The shoe trove came in 2005, the clothing shop across the street in 2009. “I wanted to sell pieces that were both accessible and on trend, and it was a time when D.C. was really opening up to high fashion,” says Hu Aldaba, who grew up in Illinois; Taipei, Taiwan; and Virginia Beach before settling in the District. Her boutiques, decorated with vintage Asian pinup posters, exude a cool-girl vibe.

Above: On Hu Aldaba, right (all items from Hu’s Wear and Hu’s Shoes): Fendi “Birds of Paradise” print dress ($1,990), Mr & Mrs Italyfur-lined parka ($3,490), Jimmy Choo “Holly” sandals ($995). On model: August Getty leather jacket and sequin drawstring pants ($2,488 and $875), Jimmy Choo “Myriad” sandals ($895), Fendi “Buggies” pouch ($1,000), Eddie Borgo cuff ($300), Vita Fede bracelet ($315) and wood cigar ring ($440), all from Hu’s Wear and Hu’s Shoes; Darlene de Sedle gold oval earrings ($7,200, Relish).

Hu’s merchandise, by names such as the Row, Lanvin and Alexander Wang, is edgier than what’s found in most M Street retailers. “I’m always open to newness, to constantly changing the mix,” says Hu Aldaba, which means betting on fresh talents like oil heir August Getty, whose leather jacket and sequined pants are on our model on the previous pages.

Despite stocking $3,000-plus fur-lined military jackets, Hu Aldaba insists, “I always tell clients to keep things simple and timeless — a good mid-heel pump, a well-cut dress. If you aren’t comfortable, you aren’t bringing your best self.”

On Harris, right: Paul Stuart Phineas Cole cotton-silk dinner jacket, formal shirt and wool vest ($1,797, $297 and $487, Paul Stuart); Paul Stuart wool trousers, silk tie, silk pocket square and silvertone cane ($344, $129, $70 and $228, Paul Stuart); and flower pin (stylist’s own, similar at the Tie Bar). On model: Paul Stuart Phineas Cole cotton-silk dinner jacket, white cotton dress shirt and wool trousers ($1,797, $228 and $397, Paul Stuart); silk cummerbund set, mother of pearl stud set and pocket square ($228, $328 and $70, Paul Stuart).

Grant Harris

IMAGE GRANTED

Behind the scenes of a Washington Post fashion shoot

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In 2009, when Grant Harris, 31, launched his men’s style blog, Image Granted, “I’d never even heard of an image consultant,” says the native Washingtonian. But the dapper Harris, a defense contractor until 2008, knew how to pair a shirt and tie, or which chunky watch to wear with his gray suit. “I always took care of my appearance and thought about clothes all day,” he says. A menswear advice blog was a way to extend his interests.

In his new biz, Harris ghostwrites fashion marketing copy, hosts events for local and national retailers such as Shinola, Blank Label and Penguin, and takes clients shopping for new wardrobes. “I love teaching guys about fabric and textiles, helping them rebuild their closets from the bottom up,” says Harris, who has worked with boxer Todd “White Lightning” Wilson and actor Morris Chestnut (Fox’s “Rosewood”).

And whether a gentleman is suiting up for work or a formal event, the key, Harris says, is small standout details. Here, accessories men might not usually consider take an evening look out of “the archaic prism where you look like a penguin,” he explains. “I juxtaposed shine and matte — a shiny handled walking stick and silky pocket square versus a matte doeskin glove [not pictured] and lapel flower. It’s sophisticated.”

On Tang, left: CH Carolina Herrera peacoat ($1,220, CH Carolina Herrera store), Marc Jacobs skirt and top ($1,600 and $795, Relish), Stella McCartney shoes ($995, Neiman Marcus), nylon socks ($5.86, Walmart), Melanie Auld 18-karat gold-plated ring and cuff ($90 and $140, Stylecable), Matterial Fix 16-karat gold-plated necklace ($76, Stylecable), Elaine B Jewelry 14-karatgold-fill pyramid ring ($29, Stylecable) and Tang’s own ring. On model: Akris mesh top and plissé shorts and skirt ($695 and $2,490, Neiman Marcus), Stella McCartney shoes ($995, Neiman Marcus), nylon socks ($5.86, Walmart), Elaine B Jewelry hex necklace and silver pagoda earrings ($100 and $60, Stylecable), Giant Lion rings ($110 each, Stylecable).

Uyen Tang

STYLECABLE

On her far-flung travels as a U.S. Foreign Service officer, Uyen (pronounced “win”) Tang “loved visiting the markets and meeting artisans, seeing what they were creating.” Tang, 35, would bring back unusual items: a ruby and silver ring from the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, dresses from emerging Thai designers. “People would always ask, ‘Where’d you get that?’ ” says the Lancaster, Pa., native, so she began to consider working with independent U.S. artists. After leaving the Foreign Service, Tang graduated from the Wharton School and worked at Booz Allen Hamilton for several years before launching Stylecable in 2014. The online souk sells small jewelry, accessories and clothing, much of it designed by women “who have bootstrapped their way into business, like me,” she says.

Behind the scenes of a Washington Post fashion shoot

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Most pieces are minimalist and modern, with such standouts as geometric jewelry from designer Sophie Blake and flowing knitwear from Nicole Alfieri’s brand Pico Vela, both based in Northern Virginia. “I hate fast fashion and all the low-quality pieces,” Tang says. “When you work with small designers, you see the effort and standards they put into things.” The simple-yet-dramatic accessories Stylecable specializes in work particularly well with clean-lined sportswear, as Tang and our model show here, she says. “The jewelry enhances the outfit rather than distracting from it.”

On Sharp, right: Durkl jacket and flannel shirt ($185 and $105, Maketto), Naked & Famous jeans ($175, Maketto) and Red Wing boots ($290, Maketto). On model: Durkl jacket, flannel shirt and rugby shirt ($145, $84 and $135, Maketto); Naked & Famous jeans ($155, Maketto); and Vans leather sneakers ($115, Maketto). | On Farr, left: Julia Farr Collection “Milano” sheath ($328, Julia Farr), petal drop earrings ($90, Stylecable), belt ($18, H&M), Manolo Blahnik “BB” pump ($665, Hu’s Shoes).On model: Julia Farr Collection silk “Le Diplomate” coat and sheath dress ($448 and $328, Julia Farr), Halston Heritage leather clutch ($345, Julia Farr), Yossi Harari 24-karat gold and onyx earrings ($1,000, Relish), Manolo Blahnik “BB” pump ($665, Hu’s Shoes).

Will Sharp

DURKL

Though the schools he attended are bastions of tradition — St. Albans prep and Washington and Lee University in Virginia — D.C. native Will Sharp, 35, says he always felt a connection to “the creatives, the artists, the people getting D.C. flag tattoos.” After spending a couple of years absorbing the Brooklyn art scene following college, Sharp returned to the District in 2005 to found Durkl, a guys’ clothing line that’s a mixture of traditional menswear and what he calls “over-the-top streetwear.”

Durkl, which also has a presence in Los Angeles, riffs on Americana clothing (L.L. Bean boots, Carhartt jackets) as well as the bright hoodies and sneakers of hip-hoppers and Japanese teenagers. Think backwoodsy flannel shirts like those seen here, paired with funky striped hats. Clients include rappers Mac Miller and Logic.

The line’s largest showcase is Maketto, the H Street NE store/restaurant that Sharp and Toki Underground chef Erik Bruner-Yang opened last year. There, Durkl items mingle with Dutch sneakers and Japanese T-shirts. “Go for an element of surprise and don’t be afraid to mix high and low styles,” says the individualistic Sharp. “Try a long fishtail parka unzipped with a white T underneath, a pair of black Dickies pants and white Converse 1970 high-tops.”

Julia Farr

JULIA FARR

D.C. native Julia Farr, 49, practiced corporate securities law for 17 years, so she knew about suiting up — or (sheath-) dressing up — for Washington offices. “I had to get up, look presentable and zip something up my back every day,” says Farr. In 2010, inspired by a lifelong dream, she quit her job and founded her eponymous Friendship Heights boutique. Now, in a little house tricked out like a plush European apartment, she caters to professional women in politics, medicine, law and the media. (Jill Biden and Maureen Dowd are clients.)

Farr sells boardroom- and Senate-floor-worthy clothing and accessories that come from mid- to high-end brands not seen on every rack in town. Think sportswear by Singapore’s Raoul, jewelry by Arlington, Va.’s Ruth Barzel and body-con dresses by London’sNumber 35 (you’ll see styles from the last on CBS’s “The Good Wife”).

In 2012, Farr established her own line of conservative-with-a-twist basics named for D.C. landmarks and restaurants, such as the Milano and Le Diplomate, shown here. “Working women always need a few corporate pieces in their closets: a little black dress, good trousers, that pencil skirt,” says Farr. “It’s colors and accessories that bring basics all together.”

On Khan, right: Brimble & Clark Prince of Wales custom suit, tan custom waistcoat, salmon custom shirt with horizontal stripes and white collar ($1,095, $325 and $189, Brimble & Clark); Paul Stuart leather cap-toe shoe ($1,428, Paul Stuart); Khan%u2019s own tie and Longines watch. On model: Brimble & Clark smoke gray windowpane custom suit and sky blue French oxford shirt with white collar ($1,298 and $225, Brimble & Clark), Paul Stuart leather double monk-strap shoe and alligator print convex top briefcase ($488 and $1,487, Paul Stuart).

Sim Khan

BRIMBLE & CLARK CUSTOM CLOTHIERS

Find the looks at: Amalgamated; Brimble & Clark, service@brimbleclark.com; Hu’s Shoes and Hu’s Wear; Julia Farr; Maketto; Stylecable

Producer: Deborah Boardley

Styling by Mario Wilson/kenbarboza.com

Models: Adria Hynes and Daniel Conteras, T H E Artist Agency

Style assistant: Cherie Scurry-Burns

Make-up: Shaune Hayes, Sharron B

Hair: Lisa Anderson, Kira Dior

Groomer: Marvin Church

When Montreal native Sim Khan, 33, practiced banking law in Washington, he had trouble finding suits to fit his slender frame. The baby-faced lawyer didn’t want to look like a kid in his dad’s baggy suit, he says, so he turned to local tailors to create slim, British-style menswear for him. “It was about getting juries to respect me, to value my opinion, and those sharp suits really helped,” says Khan.

Friends started asking him for sartorial assistance, so he founded his own haberdashery company, Brimble & Clark, in 2011, leaving his law firm in 2014. The concept is simple: Customers make an appointment to visit Khan’s clubby showroom in Mount Vernon Triangle or have reps come to them; they go through fabrics, get measured and then, six to eight weeks later, receive a bespoke British suit.

Khan’s wares have been a hit with local doctors, lawyers and newscasters, plus sports and entertainment figures such as former D.C. United player Chris Pontius and DJ and rapper Diplo. Clients often choose throwback looks that Khan excels at, such as the patterned suits seen here. “They’re a real Cary Grant look that conveys authority, particularly if you wear them with a double-breasted vest.”

On White, center: Late 1920s silk dress ($350, Amalgamated), 1930s fur jacket ($5,000, Amalgamated), 1930s two-piece silk jacquard and monkey fur short jacket and full-length cape ($5,000, Amalgamated), Manolo Blahnik “Paygaymod” slingback ($775, Hu’s Shoes). On model, right(all clothing from Amalgamated): 1930s men’s suit ($2,500), flocked cotton shirt ($250), fedora ($450), print tie ($200), silk pocket scarf ($95) and shoes ($600). On model, left: 1920s floral lace dress and crewel coat ($300 and $750, Amalgamated) and CH Carolina Herrera sandals ($860, CH Carolina Herrera store).

Shelley White

AMALGAMATED

As a teenager in Arlington, Va., Shelley White, 47, haunted Georgetown’s now-defunct Classic Clothing, picking up 1940s print dresses she rocked with her new wave haircut and cowboy boots. Though she grew up to work in telecommunications at the Defense Department, White still collected — and wore — clothing from bygone eras.

“I’d put on 1940s suits, and I’d get compliments,” she says. By 2009, she and business partner Gene Elm were selling to the public. Their customers also include costume designers for theater productions (“Bright Star” at the Kennedy Center) and TV shows (“Boardwalk Empire”).

Today, Elm and White, who left her Defense job in 2012, oversee Amalgamated, a vintage clothing emporium that is moving this month from Alexandria to a 4,000-square-foot showroom in North Arlington.

The pair still contributes to film and stage productions, including the forthcoming Ben Affleck Prohibition-era film “Live by Night,” and they sell in New York and online (famous clients have included Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone). They relish helping clients incorporate old clothes into current wardrobes. “The key is not to wear vintage head-to-toe,” White advises. “Put modern shoes with a 1930s dress or wear a 1960s wool coat over jeans.”

Jennifer Barger is a frequent contributor to the Magazine.

Find the looks at: Amalgamated; Brimble & Clark, service@brimbleclark.com; Hu’s Shoes and Hu’s Wear; Julia Farr; Maketto; Stylecable

Producer: Deborah Boardley

Styling by Mario Wilson/kenbarboza.com

Models: Adria Hynes and Daniel Conteras, T H E Artist Agency

Style assistant: Cherie Scurry-Burns

Make-up: Shaune Hayes, Sharron B

Hair: Lisa Anderson, Kira Dior

Groomer: Marvin Church

Credits