Act Local

Janet Bennett Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009; 1:17 PM

Never mind the temperature outside. Fashion moves forward, and as we move into mid-September, fall clothes -- sweater, jackets, slacks, suits and dresses -- are filling the racks of area stores. But are local retailers showcasing the trends we saw on the runway this past winter? Will Washingtonians wear big shoulders, decorative leggings and perk up with purple? We asked six store owners across town how they stocked up for the season.

Christopher Reiter of U Street corridor's Muleh (1831 14th St. NW, 202-667-3440), which carries both furnishings and fashion, prides himself both on offering alternatives to the selection found in larger stores and in providing many styles of a few collections ¿ such as 3.1 Phillip Lim, Rozae Nichols and Vivienne Westwood Anglomania. Serving a broad demographic of mostly professional women from 27 through 55, with a few college students thrown into the mix, Reiter says customers can see the same styles they see on the runway on the racks of Muleh. Like the chic military breakaway (the lower half is detachable) coat from 3.1 Phillip Lim. "We've got lots of black," says Reiter, including leather leggings and silk harem pants from Rozae Nichols, sparkly sequins (on a vest and flapper dress from Nichols) and cocoon coats from Vivienne Westwood Anglomania, all runway themes that Reiter chose for Muleh this fall.

"I never go to runway shows; they're irrelevant to me," says Betsy Albaugh of D.C.'s Betsy Fisher (1224 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-785-1975). Noting that hers is "one of the few stores still selling suits," Albaugh caters to working women and looks for designers (Shin Choi, Diana Inman, Hilton Hollis, Yansi Fugel) who can strike a balance between clothes "that don't wrinkle but offer enough shape to define a curve." She points to what she considers the perfect fall dress ¿ a sleeveless knit-and-lycra black-and-white abstract print sheath from Yansi Fugel. Although the runway may not matter to Albaugh, she still acknowledges the season's trends with tapered black pants offered as an alternative to leggings, a Magaschoni cashmere sweater with feminine ruffles, knit sweaters worn as jackets and plenty of purple hues to choose in sweaters, tunics and slacks.

"I've got a library of everything fashionable from the last several decades," says Stacey Ditata of her Capitol Hill vintage store The Remix (645 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-547-0211). Ditata caters to a mostly Hill clientele not adverse to mixing fun with the reality of professional life. Her collection majors in '50s cocktail dresses and cardigans perfect for a "Mad Men" obsessed audience, '60s Jackie-O sheaths and matching coats and lots of big belts and jewelry from the "accessories-driven" '80s.

American in Paris (1255 King St., Alexandria, Va., 703-519-8234) customers range from high-schoolers to Capitol Hill lobbyists to television personalities. Although owner Joelle Solimano says very little of the clothing she carries, which ranges from sporty separates to black tie, qualifies as trendy ("My customers are not going to wear big shoulders," she notes), she's mindful of current styles. A black coat from Tibi features a ruffled collar and pockets and a sporty toggle closure, David Meister's midnight-blue one-shoulder long evening gown is embellished with a jeweled brooch and a Nicole Miller metallic cap-sleeve gown shows off the season's love affair with draping and folding fabric. Solimano has also stocked up on long scarves and long cardigans that she says will be favorites for fall.

Tabendeh Sizdahkhani of Tabandeh/Sahba (5300 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase; 202-244-0777) sells fashion-forward jewelry, accessories and clothing in an unassuming ground-floor shop at Mazza Gallerie. She spotlights the big-jewel trend with a white bib necklace by Jose and Maria Barrera, Swarovski crystal and quartz necklaces and gum-ball size rings in semi-precious stones from Iradj Moini and hanging mobile-like chains from Belgian designer Ann Demeulemeester. This is the only area stop where customers can purchase the runway styles of Rick Owens, such as a bias-cut, draped slate-gray gown in crepe, and a soft and shapely leather jacket in a matching color. Jackets from Owens in black cotton and silk and mesh showcase the defined shoulder of the season. Oh, and by the way, certain New York City fashion designers have been known to limo down to D.C. just to choose a bauble or two from Tabandeh.

"The runway is all about show and entertainment," says Nancy Pearlstein of Georgetown high-end fashion boutique Relish (3312 Cady's Alley, 202-333-5343, Nonetheless, if Pearlstein, who comes from a menswear background where quality and cut are key, sees a runway trend she can believe in, she'll go with her gut and buy it. This season that translates to Jil Sander dresses and coats with funnel necks (not the most exaggerated ones that dominated the shows), the muted colors (salmon, ocher, teal) and classic shapes of Dries Van Noten's '40s-inspired fall collection and Marni's understated tailored tweeds, rather than her splashy prints that scream "Marni." Pearlstein's target customer, ranging in age from 35 all the way to 80, wants to look stylish whether she works or not. And, though admittedly a Dries Van Noten fan, Pearlstein says she had to pass on the ever-so-frivolous pink trench coat she might have been tempted to select in flusher times.

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