Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — Memo from Kirna Zabete to fashion nuns everywhere: Black is so over.
The 5,000-square-foot multidesigner boutique, which is scheduled to open at 96 Greene Street Aug. 9, is an unabashed celebration of color, from the lavender-painted wood floors to the back-to-school yellow jewelry vitrines and maraschino cherry-hued staircase.
Many of the clothes are equally vibrant, although there’s enough basic black to satisfy SoHo customers; Kirna Zabete is filled with designers such as Matthew Williamson, Andrew Gn, Olivier Theyskens and Clements Ribeiro.
For months before opening, Kirna Zabete has been hailed as a new Colette, the quirky Paris boutique that sells everything from Nike sneakers to couture. Perhaps it’s the age of the store’s owners, Beth Shepherd and Sarah Hailes, that captured the imagination of the design community — they’re both 27 — or perhaps it’s their irreverent approach to fashion.
Shepherd and Hailes admit they are on a crusade to educate downtown women in the pleasures of color, and like Colette, they clearly have a sense of humor about fashion.
“The customer now is more advanced and not just interested in the big Italian designers of yesterday,” said Shepherd, who was fashion editor of New York magazine. “There are a lot of really great designers that haven’t been properly represented in New York.”
There are no sacred talents at Kirna Zabete. Shepherd and Hailes said they might pair a $4,000 Olivier Theyskens leather and fur jacket with a $10 Antoni & Alison T-shirt.
Among the 40 designers featured for fall are Paul Smith, Boyd, Joely Nian, Martine Sitbon, Josephus Thimister, Saskia Van Drimmelen, Daryl K, Bruce, Wink and Susan Cianciolo.
“We’re buying Sonia Rykiel,” said Sherpherd. “It’s the fun part of Sonia. We think Sonia is very cool, but most people don’t know how cool she is.”
The two women, best friends since attending the University of Virginia, hatched the idea of Kirna Zabete over lunches at Burger Heaven. They mailed their 60-page business plan to potential investors and received 10 replies. Shepherd declined to identify their backers, saying only, “It’s not our fathers.”
Nor would she or her partner discuss sales volume. However, the store is a notable development in this age of designer store closings such as Barneys New York’s 17th Street location and Charivari on West 57th Street.
“It’s really exciting,” said Anne-Sophie De Campos Resends, a young designer based in Antwerp, Belgium, whose collection will be sold at Kirna Zabete. “At first I was a bit surprised because the owners looked so young, but they chose all the right pieces from the collection.”
On the lower level, an area dubbed Lotions and Potions by Julius is filled with hard-to-find fragrance and body care products such as Aroma M and Geisha. The lines are culled by Julius Eulberg, “a cosmetics importer who reps random, exotic, small lines,” Shepherd explained.
Also downstairs is a collection of E.vil T-shirts designed by the self-proclaimed “Queen of Evil” and emblazoned with sayings like “Little Miss Drama.” Kirna Zabete also sells an exclusive line of pajamas embroidered with messages like “Not tonight” or “I love boys.” The sets, which include a sleeping mask, retail for $95.
Nylon bags in day-glo green and hot pink with mouton edges, found in Paris, are laid out on a bench, and $50 Lulu Guinness totes and black purses decorated with beaded flowers hang from pegs on a wall along with a rainbow coalition of hats and scarves displayed on tiny basketball heads. There’s also a collection of hip dog accessories.
The back portion of the lower level features bright red computer stations with colorful iMac computers. Behind that is a wall of candy dispensers filled with nostalgic treats such as Mike & Ike, Good ‘n’ Plenty and Swedish licorice fish.
Upstairs is slightly more serious, with the big guns hanging from wardrobe displays designed by Nick Dine, the son of contemporary artist Jim Dine.
The younger Dine, the architect who designed the store, created a white Rapunzel-like tower made of Plexiglas and wood that originates on the lower level, where it encloses dressing rooms and rises high above the ground floor, where it houses Shepherd and Hailes’s offices.
“I’m very interested in fashion, but Sarah and Beth were very clear about what they wanted,” Dine said about his first retail project.
Dine seems to have learned the first lesson of retailing. Commenting on the streamlined design of the store, he said, “I didn’t want the architecture competing with the merchandise.”
The space, which was previously occupied by Architechtura, a furniture store, had been a textile factory in another life.
“They took old pieces of fabric and rewove them here,” Shepherd explained. “When we cut the staircase, all these old rags fell through.”
Another discovery was a hidden skylight in the back of the first floor, which had been covered by years of paint. Now, the newly refurbished iron skylight with a beehive pattern allows light to pour into the dressing rooms beneath it.
Shoes are displayed on violet and white powder-coated metal shelves that look like sculpture and outfits are merchandised on custom-designed “wardrobes,” which are tubular racks with shelves above and below to display hats and shoes.
All of Dine’s furniture for the store, including hexagonal purple neoprene poufs for the dressing rooms, is for sale.
There’s also a wide range of jewelry from an eclectic group of designers. Francesca Amfitheatrof creates I.D. bracelets of plastic cable with silver or gold closures for $35. Her bauble rings made of semiprecious stones set in 18- karat gold look like tiny peas or peanuts.
Lara Boeing 747 makes rubber cuffs with plaques engraved with the Seven Deadly Sins: i.e. lust, gluttony, pride, etc. Another bracelet cuff is inscribed in Braille with the saying, “Love is Blind.” There’s also Jacqueline Rabuns’s silver and gold thorn earrings and pop top rings that resemble the tops of old soda cans.
Pippa Small designs huge, precious stone jewelry on chords, including a coral necklace on brown rawhide. Trish Becker, under the name P.M. Fish, creates gold chains with big bunches of semiprecious teardrop stones and long dangling earrings.
At the front of the store, a 9-foot by 2-foot flower cart from Hybrid by Michael George, the chic 57th Street florist, will feature a display of flowers, including finished arrangements and cut flowers.
“The themes will change daily,” said Shepherd. “The idea is that every time you come into the store, it will be different.”
“That’s the whole idea of the store,” added Hailes. “You can’t get bored at Kirna Zabete.”

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