There’s a story Linda Dresner likes to tell about her austere New York boutique, which opened on Park Avenue in 1984: “Jackie O. came in and said, ‘Do you mind if I just stay here and have my tuna sandwich in there ? the lockerroom? ‘She just enjoyed looking at the young women trying on the clothes. “
Linda Dresner, the shop, was a minimalist shrine to avant-garde clothing. And Linda Dresner, the woman, became a Manhattan shopping legend, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis anecdotes and so on.
Except that, technically speaking, New York wasn’t Ms. Dresner’s home. She started her business in Michigan five years before moving to Park Avenue. After closing her business in New York during the 2008 financial crisis, she returned to decorating the Detroit area full time.
Until March 1, when Ms. Dresner closed her only boutique in Birmingham, Michigan after four decades in the fashion industry.
“It’s not retirement,” she said on the phone a week after the shutdown, which she described as “bittersweet.” “I just don’t feel comfortable repeating my lease at my age.”
While Ms. Dresner, 83, said the decision had nothing to do with the coronavirus, other popular high-end boutiques that preferred cool European designers and the color black – Jeffrey and Totokaelo – closed last year and spearheaded the business in a pandemic.
Even before that, larger stores with similar customers (the wealthy and fashion enthusiasts) like Barneys New York closed their iconic doors. It seems to have been some difficult decades for the multibrand retailers who pride themselves on personality, good taste and customer relationships.
“I think we’re losing an independent idea of what retail should be,” said Ms. Dresner, who never focused on selling her nervous inventory online, claiming that her customers wanted more personal experiences. “They want to look at the clothes and touch them and try them on.”
In the days before Instagram and before e-commerce, Ms. Dresner also relied on word of mouth to lure people into their gallery-like spaces, avoid large storefronts, and almost mysteriously keep their shelves sparse (and unlike most stores not grouped by designer). Her best marketing has been her unique point of view.
“My ex-husband said, ‘You should put more in the window. ‘I said, “If you’re interested, come in,” Ms. Dresner recalled. “I thought there should be an independence of choice.”
Ikram Goldman, owner of the Chicago boutique Ikram, described Ms. Dresner as “a niche” that couldn’t be compared to the luxury department stores that were competing for the same customers.
“I am devastated that the Linda Dresners of the world do not live on because they create hunger and the need for these really special pieces: for the must-haves, for the hard-to-find things, for the treasures that Linda Dresners of the world discovers, and then the rest of the world gets to know her, “said Ms. Goldman.
When Ms. Dresner announced to customers in February that it was closing, she asked them: “Where are we going to go shopping?” “Which for me was music for sure,” she said. But Ms. Dresner doesn’t know where she’ll go shopping either. As she put it, she is “not a Saks Fifth Avenue customer”.
She opened a shop in a shop in New York for the German designer Jil Sander, whose clothes seemed to reflect Frau Dresner’s commanding but simple space. When Ms. Sander later opened her own boutique, she hired the same architect, Michael Gabellini, inspired by what she called “enlightened minimalism” by Linda Dresner. Mr Gabellini was the store’s project architect and Jay Smith, who died in 1990, designed the interior.
“I will always be grateful to Linda,” said Ms. Sander in an email. “In the fashion trade, she was a visionary, fearless and unshakable. It was one of the first in the US that Jil Sander ordered and made so popular. “
Ms. Dresner loved Balenciaga too, even though “it wasn’t very easy to sell,” she said, and has advocated individualists like Maison Margiela and Yohji Yamamoto over the years, along with dozens of more obscure cult people (and many who are now inactive are). Designers including the Serbian minimalist brand Zoran.
More recently she has been disappointed with the “equality” in fashion – a lack of creativity compared to the work of designers in their early years in the industry. But she was always averse to this “equality”. In 2001, she told the New York Times that she stopped wearing Prada in her Michigan store because “there was just too much of it around”.
“For her, it wasn’t about clothes,” said Ms. Goldman. “It’s about discovering the next talent. For me, that was her magic. That was their special sauce. She was always after the hunt and always had her ears and eyes open so wide that she missed nothing or anyone. “