NEW YORK — Heather Harrison is Texas-born and bred and intends to celebrate that heritage at her new store in Houston and on the Web site she is launching April 1.
Harrison and her sister, Margo, plan to spotlight the best of Western wear without succumbing to sartorial clichés and inform the merchandise of the store, Gurej, and Gurej.com with Harrison's quirky sensibility. (Gurej was their paternal grandfather's original name. He changed it to Harrison when he came to America.)
"I was born and raised in Texas and have always loved the rich cultural heritage we have here," Heather said. "If anybody so much as mentions a pair of cowboy boots, you think of Dolly Parton. We have beautiful Western-style things here."
Speaking of cowboy boots, Harrison, 27, is designing several versions of the iconic footwear and giving them her own imprimatur. "I'm doing very simple cowboy boots made by one of the best boot makers in El Paso," she said. The four styles are black suede "mod" cowboy boots, English-style riding boots with buckles, a version of the classic 1890s Western boots in a palomino shade and Victorian booties made of crocodile skin. They will be priced from $1,000 to $4,000.
In addition to the Web site, the Harrisons opened a 2,000-square-foot store at 3641 Westheimer Road in Houston last week. The store has been "unofficially" open since Christmas, when friends demanded access to Heather's designs —sheer cashmere shawls, Austrian-inspired hunting jackets, sterling silver belt buckles, Tibetan flip-flops, and gold and platinum chandelier earrings. The merchandise on the Web site will be the same as in the store.
With polished cement floors, Lucite chairs and white Melamine tables, the store has a kitschy, Sixties vibe. There's also a flea-market aesthetic with British mariner's chairs, Moroccan rugs and tongue-in-cheek references to the Lone Star State such as a gold-framed photo of former President Lyndon B. Johnson with a stuffed iguana perched in front of it. Other native wildlife includes stuffed ducks dangling from the ceiling, a red fox on a display table and Texas longhorns hanging on the wall.
"I'm so worried about creating the right environment," Harrison said. "We're trying to keep it young and fun."The Harrison sisters are financing the projects themselves, but declined to discuss the costs. Heather said the store is expected to do $1,000 in sales per square foot.
Both Harrisons have lived abroad, Margo in India, where she studied Sanskrit, and Heather in Morocco, where she studied textiles. Heather attended the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London for painting and launched a clothing collection there called Expiration Date. The brand's conceit was that a label was sewn into each garment with the date it would expire and cease to be fashionable.
After several years, she said the business "became too much for me to handle. I made the mistake of expanding too quickly, doing women's and men's wear at the same time." In 2004, Heather Harrison sold 30 percent of the company to Evisu, a Japanese jeans manufacturer.
The Expiration Date experience was a crash course in sourcing and manufacturing, lessons Harrison said she is finding invaluable as she builds the Gurej collection.
The cashmere line of long narrow shawls in four shades of lavender is being produced by factories in Nepal and Mongolia. "The cashmere shawls have a bohemian chic," she said. "I really like the idea of essentials for travelers. We're going to do a collage or online journal. We'll show some exotic locale with pictures of the factory, sort of like a travelogue."
Harrison described the belt buckles as "Johnny Cash meets Hermès," adding, "I have arguably the best silversmith in Texas. The silver will look like tooled leather."
Earrings were inspired by 18th-century "chandelier-esque pagoda-style earrings" she saw in Thailand. "The jewelry I'm designing is extremely delicate," she said. "I'm doing it in gold and platinum."
In addition to Heather's creations, the Harrisons have chosen 40 designers for the Web site and store. "We're trying to keep it streamlined," she said. "We're not going to be an outpost for labels. We definitely are picking and choosing certain things. It's a sensibility."
Cacharel, Hussein Chalayan, Matthew Ernest, Missoni, Red by Valentino, Cynthia Vincent and Vena Cava are among those represented.
Gurej.com will offer a personal shopping service — for the foreseeable future, those shoppers will be the Harrisons themselves. They will answer questions and dole out advice, just as they do in the store. "I don't know who I would trust to be giving my clients advice," Harrison said. "I have a certain style. If people like it, I'm very happy."
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