NEW YORK — If ABH Design were a movie, it would be a film by Yves Robert.
This story first appeared in the April 11, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“La Gloire De Mon Pere” and “Le Chateau De Ma Mere,” based on the stories of Marcel Pagnol, come to mind for their depiction of summery Provençal hills and the simple charms of small-town living. Even on a frigid day, a gentle breeze seems to blow through the store, at 401 East 76th Street, between York and First Avenues.
Aude Bronson-Howard, who owns ABH, has family in France, and visits there often. She also knows a thing or two about filmmaking. As a costume designer, she set the sartorial tone for movies such as “Mississippi Burning,” “Scent of a Woman,” “Carlito’s Way,” “Donnie Brasco,” “Analyze This” and “Analyze That.”
What makes ABH unique is that Bronson-Howard designs everything herself, sourcing fabric from Italy and France for coats, shawls, pareos, tote bags, napkins, towels, pillows and bathrobes. The products are manufactured here. Everything is simple, yet luxurious.
For example, there are suede-bordered cashmere blankets ($200), shawls lined with sheared mink ($1,500) and coat capes accented with Chinese squirrel ($1,400), which Bronson-Howard points out is a breed apart from the dull gray domestic variety.
Tote bags are made from striped canvas and oversized Kelly-style bags ($550) are done in embossed-Austrian leather. There’s also a group of structured Chinese silk handbags with leather trim ($400).
All of the apparel has a relaxed aesthetic, even the short jackets in Provençal prints ($120) and easy twin sets in pink and gray that were made by a little factory in England that Bronson-Howard discovered.
Crisp cotton blouses and long tunic shirts, drawstring pants, robes in vintage-looking Italian silk fabrics ($400 to $600), quilted microfiber and down coats and loungewear all speak the same casual language.
“There’s plenty of great stores that have apparel,” Bronson-Howard says. “I didn’t want to compete with them. Besides, we’re not in an economy where people want to come in and buy serious apparel.”
Whimsical hats are her forte, and she designs everything from silk and linen chapeaux with flowers and ribbons to cloches and crushers.
The designer is also known for her table linens, which can be custom-made and are used by many an upscale caterer in the city. A selection of her textiles and towels are sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Takashimaya.
“Because we manufacture everything we sell here we have a lot of flexibility,” says Bronson-Howard. “Whatever we’re in the mood for, we make. If you came back here in two weeks, you’d find a whole different setup.”
In addition to the soft merchandise, ABH sells brightly-hued glasses and vases from Italy, old hatboxes and antique planters, and bracelets in a rainbow of colors, which were made in India but bought in France.
In the winter, an adjacent courtyard is filled with 24 glowing Christmas trees. In the summer, Bronson-Howard plans to hold outdoor dinners for customers and friends.
In between designing and merchandising and attending trade shows, Bronson-Howard manages to keep her hand in costume design and maintains a friendship with Robert DeNiro, with whom she’s worked on several projects.
But the success of ABH has cut into her movie work. “It takes months to prepare for a film,” she says. “I used to do two films a year. Now, I do one every two years.”
Service is a big part of Bronson-Howard’s formula. She sends “show-and-tell” cases for the perusal of clients who’d rather shop in the comfort of their own homes. Many of her customers are in the movie industry and prefer to keep a low profile, she says.
As luck would have it, the Lycee Française is moving around the corner to 76th Street and York Avenue. Bronson-Howard is looking forward to welcoming the mothers of Lycee students who share her refined Gallic aesthetic.