STORES: Albertine, 13 Christopher St.; 212-924-8515; Claudine, 19 Christopher St.; 212-414-4234; and Leontine, 226 Front St.; 212-766-1066
OWNER: Kyung Lee
If Lee is on-site when you walk into one of her three stores (all named after characters in Otto Preminger’s Bonjour Tristesse), she’ll take one look at you, pluck something from the racks, and say, “Go try this on.” Chances are it will fit perfectly. Chances are it will also be something you’d never have picked yourself. About half of the clothing and accessories (and, at Leontine, a smattering of housewares) are limited editions, made by Lee’s cadre of local designers; there’s Joanna Baum’s line, called Sir, and Kathy Kemp, who sells to Lee even though she has her own store, Anna, on 3rd Street. Lee dug up Nadia Tarr’s cotton-jersey wrap dresses at “some weird trunk show,” and she carries the Los Angeles line Show Pony because the singer Sarah Sophie Flicker “came in one day and told me I had to carry her friend Kime Buzzelli,” says Lee. “So I called and left a message. A few days later, two huge boxes of Show Pony clothes arrived.” She half-encourages, half-bullies her employees to ply their creativity for the stores, and since about half the pieces are sold on consignment there’s little financial risk in giving a new project shelf space. Her manager and co-buyer Philippa Content’s family collection of ancient Greek and Roman intaglios is now a jewelry line called Delphine. “I have to stop with the rhyme, I know,” says Lee.
Lee herself designs a line of shoes and boots made “by these old guys in Korea” that start at $248. Next up is a line of basics that may be produced in Vietnam—she’d like to keep those prices under $200. To finance it, she’s thinking of parceling out ownership to designer friends and staff members. “Nobody wants to be a salesperson forever,” she says. “And I’m always looking for a crew.”