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SHELTER ISLAND, N.Y. — As all chic women know, looking effortlessly stylish while on vacation takes work — untold hours of shopping for the perfect selection of bathing suits, sunglasses, hats and après-sun cover-ups. That’s to say nothing of tote bags, jewelry and, of course, beach towels.

It’s no surprise, then, that Ria Browne’s shop at Andres Balazs’ Sunset Beach Hotel here on Long Island is a hit. The name of the store — Sunday at Sunset Beach — pretty much sums up its breezy and casual ambience. Unlike the typical hotel boutique, Sunday is decidedly unslick and inviting, with a whitewashed, nautical decor. And tucked inside is everything the chic beachgoer could ever need.

This story first appeared in the June 21, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

For Browne, who founded the flip-flop company Mella four years ago, vacations are serious business. “I tend to research exhaustively in order to find things that my customers are going to really love,” she explains. “They’re very savvy shoppers. I want to give them something that they can’t find elsewhere.”

Browne does her buying like a glamorous magpie — picking out only the best tidbits. As a result, the selection has a distinct viewpoint that’s evocative of Saint Tropez, Positano and Capri with a soupçon of California surfer chic tossed in for good measure. This translates into treasures such as colorful Muriel Brandolini and Allegra Hicks caftans, fresh white cotton dresses from Nicole Farhi and Miguelina, terry cloth Pucci tote bags and towels, and piles of C&C T-shirts and ikat sarongs from Bali. The store also stocks an extensive collection of chandelier earrings and sunglasses, including Boucheron frames designed by Solange Azagury-Partridge, which are usually only carried at the jeweler’s boutiques.

But not everything screams luxury. A basket of classic Nantucket rope bracelets for $4 a pop adds a dash of Yankee charm. And since Sunday is a hotel boutique, a shelf behind the counter holds the requisite disposable cameras and toiletries.

“It’s always been my dream to have a beach store,” says Browne, who approached the Balazs team in January 2003 with the idea. Balazs was so happy with the concept that he signed Browne on as a retail consultant for his other properties, including the boutique at the Raleigh in South Beach, which opened a few months ago. Of course, Browne tailors her buy to fit each store’s respective locale. “Shelter Island is a bit more American, a bit preppier,” explains Browne, “while South Beach is more Latin and more European.”

To that end, the Raleigh store carries labels like Versace and Missoni, which aren’t stocked at Sunday. And of course, there are no Nantucket rope bracelets in Florida.

After the long weekends she spends at Sunday and the weekdays at her Midtown office making sure all is well with her small staff at Mella, Browne will get only a four-day vacation this summer to jet off to Panarea. But she won’t stop thinking about work. Even on such a short jaunt, Browne can’t help but take an anthropological eye to her fellow vacationers.

“I like to see what other people are wearing on the beach,” she says. “European women are so ahead of what’s going on resort-wise. I love the research part of my job.”

— Meenal Mistry

RIA BROWNE’S FIVE ESSENTIAL ITEMS FOR SUMMER

  1. Institut Esthederm’s Refreshing After-Sun Fondant.
  2. Yves Saint Laurent tinted lip balm with SPF 10 in candy apple red.
  3. Alexis Bittar chandelier earrings.
  4. Mella animal print Ultrasuede flip-flops.
  5. Missoni swirl-printed caftan.
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