Byline: Karen Robinovitz

NEW YORK — Terry Gillis believes in fate.
The painter-turned-retailer/ designer borrowed a few square feet from a friend’s furniture studio seven years ago, and it has evolved into TG-170, a funky shop filled with young designer labels and a brand new collection of her own. And it all happened by chance.
After graduating from Old Dominion University in 1984, the Virginia-born artist went to the University of Michigan for a master’s degree in painting. Gillis quickly became bored with the Ann Arbor scene and transferred to Pratt here. To earn extra money, she worked part-time as a clerk at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s vertical files desk (a.k.a. The Fashion Files) and got her first real taste of fashion.
“The only reason I got into the fashion business was because I was frustrated with trying to be a painter and sell my work,” Gillis said. So she started painting baseball hats and T-shirts in her East Village apartment, selling them under the label Homeboy, “during the oversized pants craze,” she said.
Her small business started to grow, and in 1991, she used a storefront in her friend’s studio at 170 Ludlow Street, selling her hats to walk-ins and to stores like Patricia Fields and Urban Outfitters.
Then, fate started to kick in. Her friends moved out and Gillis moved in full-time, turning the space into a store/showroom/studio. The good location attracted local small-time designers from the neighborhood.
Rebecca Danenberg dropped in. Wendy Mullin and Pixie Yates stopped by, and in no time, Gillis was buying pieces from them. Eventually, she turned the studio into a specialty store.
“I met so many people that I stopped doing hats, and by 1993, I had a real store,” she said of TG-170, still in the same site.
While Gillis’s core labels include Living Doll, Scott Gibson, Heather Witt, Girlie NYC and Cake, she also carries smaller, lesser-known designers, such as Bionic Threads, Kiki Louise, Beer, Judi Rosen and Freithe, a line of messenger bags made of recycled tarps. Retail prices range from $40 for a shirt to $180 for wool pants.
But after several years of selling other peoples’ designs, once again, Gillis got bored.
“I wasn’t using my creativity. I wanted to cover the basic things that other people weren’t doing. Clean looks, only cooler,” she said of her latest effort, a small collection of essentials also called TG-170, which she launched this summer.
“It was an experiment,” she said of the line, which she expects to start wholesaling by spring/summer 1998. “I cut fabrics and put it on the floor, and it’s taking off.”
Her line includes nine styles, all with straight, clean lines, which she describes as “a bit edgy, but not too trendy.”
“My goal was to make something you could wear every season,” she said.
Her hottest seller has been a straight jacket and a matching pencil skirt with a slit in the back. Using mostly stretch fabrics, Gillis works with cotton and Lycra spandex blends, stretch wool and stretch denim, some of which have a nylon-like sheen. Her palette is basic — mostly black, blue, beige, gray and red.
Wholesale prices range from $40 for straight-leg pants to $80 for jackets. The projected wholesale volume for the first year is $80,000 to $100,000.

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