The Austin Chronicle

After a Fashion

By Stephen MacMillan Moser, May 28, 2004, Columns

SXS1st After spending too long not going to the new stores on South First between Barton Springs Road and West Mary, my erudite shopping companion Madame X and I decided it was high time we slipped on our hiking stilettos and went shopping. Our first stop was Ruby Pearl (507 W. Mary). Owner Sunny Haralson is one of Austin's most original designers, creating unique garments from vintage scarves and slips with all manner of embellishments, which are the mainstay of the store. Her store features other fresh collections by other designers, and she is working toward a Buffalo Exchange-ish approach by offering store credit in exchange for gently used clothing, shoes, and jewelry. Around the corner sits Secret Oktober (1905 S. First), which has a great deal of its own kind of charm. Though the concept of a goth-themed store is not exactly original, the owner has a distinct point of view and is in no danger of slipping into the morass of new stores for women. A bit farther up on the fledgling strip is Napa Home (1106 S. First). Though a prior misunderstanding with the store left a bad taste in my mouth, I'm glad I went in anyway. The store is a jewel box of gifts for the home and body – beautiful, elegant merchandise to decorate your life. It has a truly original selection of items displayed attractively in themed rooms of a small house. Next door is Jillian's Garden (1104 S. First), a lovely outpost selling gifts, plants, trees, and garden accessories. Tryst (1002 S. First) offers some menswear as well as womenswear and gifts, and Love (1000 S. First) is another store of gift ideas and casual womenswear. Kick Pleat (910 S. First) is wonderful – especially different from its neighbors by being spacious and wide open, with a bright and stylish interior (by Clarissa Hulsey) and very well-merchandised clothes for women. Not on South First, but definitely on our agenda of stores that we hadn't been to yet, was Girl Next Door on Lamar and 5th (behind By George and the fabulous new location of Zanzibar). Though Girl Next Door has a deliciously lovely interior in pink and chocolate brown (by Joel Mozersky), the merchandise was not unlike much of what we had seen before, and we were completely ignored by the staff, who seemed much too busy to deal with things like customers. Obviously, Austin is awash in new stores for women, and the process of natural selection will determine who will and who will not survive. Best of luck to all of them and all the others looming on our horizon.

WARDROBE MISTRESS I recently had lunch with wardrobe consultant Paula Lundgren – though image consultant is a better description. It's the kind of job many people think they'd be good at, but few have the stamina and unerring skill to look into someone else's life and offer the kind of advice that really works for her. And what sounds like fun is very serious business. Paula stresses the importance of good record keeping, tracking the client's choices and events. There is an initial form to be filled out whereby Paula will take stock of you and your closet, listing what you have and what you need, but her recommendations go beyond what to wear. Paula may recommend a particular hairdresser (she tries them all herself), cosmetic surgeon, spa treatments, and dental work. You have to go shopping with her the first time – alone. No sisters, no girlfriends, no mothers. It is a shopping expedition where Paula will learn as much about you as she will about your style (or lack thereof), and you will learn what a whirlwind of knowledge she is. She has cozy relationships with store managers from South Congress, Davenport Village, the Central District, the Design District, and the Arboretum, which allow her to bring merchandise to her clients "on approval." Some clients will simply provide her with her own credit card to make purchases. "I'm a stickler about good underwear and well-fitting bras," she says (and she always recommends Petticoat Fair), "and I'm all business. It doesn't bother me at all if I have to tell a client that something's not right for her because she has fat arms." But bluntness aside, intimidation is not Paula's style. She is part consultant, part therapist, and part confidante, and she's very good at what she does. Her finesse, knowledge, and instinct are what keep her 250 clients coming back for more. The most important thing I learned from Paula was what to do when hot sauce dripped on my shirt at the restaurant. She whipped out a Shout stain-treating towelette and – voilà! – all evidence was gone from my shirt. I have now added Paula's wardrobe wisdom to my must-have list when leaving the house: wallet, keys, cell phone, sunglasses, fragrance ... and Shout. Contact Paula at 451-0688 or 789-0887.

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