In Tight Times, Strokes of Luxe

Thursday, April 2, 2009

At a time when most designers and store owners are rapidly and ruthlessly retreating to the safer pastures of less stock and cheaper merchandise, Hu's Shoes owner Marlene Hu Aldaba is moving her brand in a different direction: expansion. But this time, she's thinking outside the shoe box, stocking her new M Street boutique, Hu's Wear, with high-end, fashion-forward clothes.

Which prompts the question: A new luxe clothing store? In this economic climate?

People "are looking for things that are special and different," Aldaba says. "If they are going to part with their money, it has to be something no one else has."

And so it goes that the brands at Hu's Wear are markedly different from those sold at most District shops. Nearly all of the 15 clothing lines available are regionally exclusive to the store. Aldaba specializes in emerging international labels from such far-flung locales as South Korea (Kaylee Tankus), Belgium (Veronique Branquinho) and Australia (Megan Park).

Hu's Wear is decidedly upscale. Tucked in among the lesser-known labels are accessories from top designer powerhouses -- including Lanvin's tan leather satchel trimmed in neon yellow and Alexander McQueen's hummingbird-and- smoke-printed sheer silk scarf.

The dresses, tanks and skirts are understatedly chic, in rich cashmere, silk and cotton fabrics elevated by standout prints and thoughtful details, as seen in Hache's earthy, Marni-esque striped dress and Willow's silk georgette asymmetrical coat dress, punctuated with zippered pockets and a tie belt in contrasting silk charmeuse.

Aldaba's aesthetic, she says, is "classic with a twist."

"We try to buy silhouettes that are easy for everyone, that people can relate to, and that people can wear every day -- not a one-hit wonder.

"Fashion shouldn't be complicated. And if it is, we're here to translate it."

-- Michelle Thomas

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