While fashion's big stores struggle, quirky boutiques are finding success with a different business model: small. At the überhip Confederacy in Los Angeles—where customers sip Gimme Coffee that the owners imported from Brooklyn because they miss New York—the economic crunch has only made the selection more special. "Instead of skimping by selling guys T shirts and jeans because that's what they can afford, we sell what excites people," says Ilaria Urbinati, a celebrity stylist, who buys for the store with partner Danny Masterson, an actor and a DJ.
The 5,000-sq.-ft. store, a favorite of actors Ben Foster and Hunter Parrish, is on the border of funky Los Feliz and trendy Silver Lake, far from the chic boutiques of Hollywood. Housed in what was originally a print shop, it has a decidedly non-L.A. vibe, with salvage-yard furniture, exposed-brick walls and beamed ceilings that create a Depression-era backdrop. Featured brands include a mix of big names like Marc Jacobs and Jil Sander and new American collections from Patrik Ervell and Tim Hamilton. "Most of them are up-and-coming designers," Urbinati says, "but that's not why I buy them. I buy what I love." This season the owners summon their New York roots with the arrival of Brooklyn-made suits designed by Urbinati and Albert Hammond Jr. of the garage band the Strokes. The small collection is made with classic fabrics and vintage 1940s styling. "Albert is incredibly dapper and passionate about suits," says Urbinati.
At Opening Ceremony in New York, the owners' idiosyncratic, personal touch has also proved recession-friendly. In their SoHo boutique, Berkeley grads Umberto Leon and Carol Lim collaborate with designers to offer the truly unique. This fall Chloë Sevigny will launch a menswear collection. And Pendleton, the 100-year-old heritage brand that is a favorite Salvation Army find, will get an update at the shop. Confederacy's Urbinati sums up the trend best: "We have to be original to catch people's attention."