By  on October 14, 2009

NEW YORK — A sandstone statue of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom and remover of obstacles, greets shoppers at Swing, a new concept shop in Harlem. Ganesh has clearly worked his magic here. Owner Helena Greene overcame the recession, scarcity of financing and uncertainty over whether the community would respond to the store’s selection and prices when she opened recently at 1960 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

“We get so many tourists,” Greene said. “Now, we’re starting to develop more of a retail base here.”

Swing is named for the form of music that has a connection to Harlem. The merchandise mix reflects Greene’s global approach. She spent part of her childhood overseas, when her mother, Janet League-Katzin, took Greene and her sister to India for a year so she could study meditation. When she was 19, Greene spent a year in Italy, learning the language and immersing herself in the culture.

At Swing, Hindu deities comingle with Asian and Tibetan furniture, which is for sale; African bead necklaces; Italian hats by Nafi de Luca, and French and Italian fashion labels. There’s also a variety of jewelry, from delicate beaded necklaces made by a San Francisco artist, priced at $164, to large bead necklaces made by Ghanaian women. Of the huge green vases from L’anverre Collective in Belgium, Greene said: “It’s unbelievable to have such an emotional reaction to glass.

“I’m buying a lot more European style,” she said, citing Rick Owens, Cristina Bomba’s Italian knitwear, Balenciaga, Lanvin, Ann Demeulemeester and Véronique Leroy.

Prices range from $72 for flirty French Maille Demoiselle dresses to $2,114 for a Raf Simons coat.

In the kids’ area, baby onesies and outfits from Album di Famiglia and Finger in the Nose spill out of a yellow armoire hand-painted with butterflies. A white butterfly table holds tiny jeans and miniaturized versions of Splendid designs for babies.

Greene’s discoveries include the London-based handbag company Lie Down I Think I Love You, whose designs feature old-fashioned shapes lined with vintage scarves. Others have scarves strung through the eyelets on the front of the bags and tied into large bows. The Oyster handbag with pearl clasp is $300 for the small size and $500 for the large.

Greene, who worked at Tommy Hilfiger, Bergdorf Goodman, Alberta Ferretti and for designer Reed Krakoff, designed a signature collection that will be sold at Swing. Her inspiration for the dark, tight-fitting suiting was “West Side Story,” she said. Pieces are lined with a custom fabric Greene designed by turning the company’s logo into a pattern. A black blazer is $365; a pinstripe skirt with silk logo fabric on the pockets and a kick pleat, $320; a black fitted shirt with silver trim, $120, and a pewter satin dress with a bow, $560.

“We want to have it made in Harlem,” she said. “I just met a tailor on 123th Street.” The tailor is Dapper Dan, who had a thriving shop on 125th Street in the early Eighties where he reworked luxury logos into bigger and bolder statements for clients such as Salt-N-Pepa and Don King.

Greene said she and Dan may barter services — his tailoring in exchange for display space at Swing for his own creations. “We’re changing from making fashion an industry to making fashion a community,” she said.



Around the corner from Swing is Mojo, the restaurant owned by Greene’s husband, Mounir Jabrane. Together, the couple, who met in Antwerp, Belgium, is reshaping a small corner of Harlem. Jabrane five months ago opened the vivid fuchsia and lavender Mojo on Saint Nicholas Avenue and West 119th Street, and it already has attracted the likes of New York Governor David Paterson, Phylicia Rashad, Benicio Del Toro, Danny Glover and Don Cheadle, in part due to the American Express commercial “Law & Order” actress S. Epatha Merkerson filmed at the restaurant.

Other luxury stores in the area include Bebe Noir and JB Born, one of the only high-end vintage shops nearby. N Boutique, which bowed in 2006 on West 116th Street, has learned some lessons from the market and will reopen later this month on Lenox Avenue in the Mount Morris Park Historic District. Moving to Lenox Avenue will bring N closer to its core customers. N carried well-known designers at first, but the buy has evolved to include independent and Harlem-based labels as well as vintage, said Lenn Shebar, a co-owner. Another sign of the burgeoning fashion scene is Harlem’s Fashion Row, which on Thursday will present the spring-summer collections of four designers at the Gatehouse at 150 Convent Avenue and 135th Street.

“Harlem is now having a renaissance,” said Greene. “We’ve all been hearing about it for so long. I think it’s actually sticking now.”

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