BY KATHRYN O'SHEA-EVANS
A tourist mecca's new clean-lined boutique is luring New York's design cognoscenti.
South Street Seaport has long been a cog in the rapidly whirling wheel of a Manhattan tourist's agenda - thanks in no small part to its fleet of 19th-century ships and, lets be honest, mass-market indulgences (Abercrombie & Fitch and Guess have outposts there). But in recent months, hip city shoppers rarely seen in these parts have started to appear. That's largely due to a flock of new design-forward stores and restaurants setting down roots.
The Latest Seaport Studios, was recently opened in an airy storefront by the Howard Hughes Corporation (yes, that Howard Hughes) and the fashion trade publication WWD. They filled it with the kinds of bespoke experiences that New Yorkers will actually leave their neighborhoods for - local designers, doting staff, a barista counter powered by the Upper East Die stalwart Via Quadronno, a Milanese-inspired café. It's all a part of Howard Hughes Corporation's master plan to revitalize the once-down-on-its-luck area.
"Hurricane Sandy made South Street Seaport a ghost town," says Graham Kelman, a creative director at Guild, the firm that designed the shop. "Howard Hughes wants to redefine it." (Literally as well as figuratively: the neighborhood has been rebranded the Seaport District.)
That goal is evident in the design of the two-story shop, which faces cobblestoned two-story shop, which faces cobblestoned Fulton Street and is contemporary yet warm, thanks to circular pendant lamps and a plethora of blonde woods. "We kept referring to this as neo-nautical," Kelman says with a laugh. "We don't want it to feel themey but familiar."
Nods to the area's maritime past are evident in the subtler ways - maple wood slatted "ribs" shaped like the hull of a ship appear to undulate above the ground floor; nylon shipping ropes anchor a series of wall fixture displays. Poured cement countertops and Corten steel surfaces (pre-rusted in Guild's Gowns, Brooklyn, studio) compliments the spare white and gray-walled space.
Up to 10 local designers are on rotation at any given time, showing everything from Areaway paperclips to Ethiopian-made Lemlem cotton ponchos designed by Liya Kebede, displayed on angular maple wood platforms and talcum white coated steel shelves. It's a transformable canvas for designers that are transforming themselves, and it appears to be working. On a recent Friday, the shop buzzed with stylish young things (and a few models, who were cat walking for an audition in the second-story loft's open gallery space).
"People yearn for tangible experiences. They have screen fatigue," Kelman says. "Here you can get a muffin and drink coffee while you shop. That's what people want, even if they don't admit it."