For Sherri McMullen, the doyenne of Oakland luxury fashion, celebrating 15 years in business is no occasion for a party. It’s the reason for several, as the retailer and tastemaker’s months-long anniversary extravaganza culminated in a takeover of Shack 15, an event space at the iconic Ferry Building in San Francisco, on Thursday night.
The eponymous owner of McMullen, a luxury fashion boutique just east of the bay, has been busy coordinating anniversary events in Los Angeles and Detroit, as well as popping up at notable fashion events in the area — like the opening celebration of Thom Browne’s San Francisco flagship in October and the “Where Luxury Meets” event by Moët Hennessy and luxury fashion sales app Bond in November. Yet, she found time to arrange the latest phase of her anniversary tour, a packed evening with a cocktail hour, fashion show and after-party.
Amidst a glittery atmosphere, friends, family, fans and clients sipped sparkling champagne and enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres before filling into seats for a runway show highlighting McMullen-approved designers, such as Christopher John Rogers, the CFDA Women’s Designer of the Year winner. (The boutique was the first to carry his collection alongside established luxury brands such as Carolina Herrera, Proenza Schouler and The Row.) Others included Khiry’s Jameel Mohammed, Yara Flinn of NOMIA, Anna Chiu and Valerie Santillo of Kamperett and Lauren Harwell Godfrey. The designers contributed styles for a 15th anniversary collection for sale at the store and on her website now.
The former Neiman Marcus buyer’s knack for spotting design talent has elevated her profile, making her a familiar face at fashion weeks and the most recent CFDA Awards.
A stylist as well as a retailer, she has a notable client roster that includes Phenomenal Media founder Meena Harris, activist Fredrika Newton (widow of Black Panther party founder Huey P. Newton), author and political strategist Alicia Garza, “And Just Like That” actress Karen Pittman, Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry and actress Ayesha Curry, among others.
But the night wasn’t just about the business. “I’m here to celebrate Sherri because she is McMullen,” friend and client Jeneffer Punjani, wardrobe stylist, told WWD. “She is one of the kindest, warmest and hardest working women I know. She puts her heart and soul into her business, and her clients know that.
“She also has an incredible eye, always on the cusp of an emerging designer that she will carry in her store and usually really gets it on the front line, so that client or designer gets recognition,” said Punjani, framing McMullen’s efforts to introduce new designers to clients has helped build a community. “We really look to Sherri to see what’s next in fashion,” she added.
Not that success came easy for McMullen. As she explained to WWD, fashion retail may seem glamorous on the surface, but it takes grit, determination and perseverance to weather things like recession and, of course, a global pandemic that took out one shop after another.
“We’ve weathered so much in the last 15 years, and we’re still standing strong and growing our business,” shared McMullen. “So it feels good to take this moment to slow down to say, we’re still here. And thank you.” She credited a long list of supporters, including Google, with which the business launched a “Made in Oakland” campaign.
As a devoted advocate and thought leader on issues of equality and representation, McMullen blends her heart with her head for business, consciously sharing her platform with talent — of all kinds, not just fashion — that may have few other opportunities.
Before the runway show, she invited a student from the Oakland School for the Arts to take the spotlight. The young poet threw down a hard-won truth that seemed beyond her years, but could have come straight from McMullen’s mouth herself: “What does it mean to be a Black woman in power? What does that entail? It entails making moves, not letting the moves make you.”
McMullen glowed with every word, and also with every look that came down the runway afterward. At the end, roused by a standing ovation, she almost seemed to float over the floor. Eventually the revelers flowed into the after-party, where DJ Nisa spun a set and pianist D’wayne Wiggins offered a special performance.
As for the business, she believes there’s a lot to look forward to. Consumers today think more about where they spend their money and look for “places that really align with who they are, their values, and I feel like we bring that to the forefront, because we’re very transparent about our mission and why we are supporting the designers that we carry,” she explained.
Like many retail and fashion company executives, McMullen keeps a keen eye on the operation and emerging opportunities, such as the metaverse. But it wouldn’t be technology just for technology’s sake. Although she resides in the tech-centric Bay Area, she likely won’t fall for that trap. It would be, perhaps, more about what the new tools could enable for the business and its up-and-coming designers.
“We’re here to tell their stories; we’re here to invest in them; we’re here to mentor them, and customers love that. They want to see that — they want to be a part of it, and I think that is really the future of this industry,” she continued. “We should be thinking about supporting the next generation of designers who are very talented, but maybe need a little more hand-holding to get to the finish line.
“We want to make sure that creators and people in the industry, especially Black designers, young designers, emerging designers, female designers, we want to make sure that we’re in it for the long haul, and not just for a year or two.”