Byline: Jessica Kerwin
NEW YORK — Lafayette Street is pretty hip these days — in case you hadn’t noticed — and with a crop of shops and restaurants opening up just to the East, Little Italy could be next.
The new cool on Lafayette was sparked by stores like Supreem, the skateboarder’s mecca, which 32-year-old James Jebbia, who also owns Union and Stussy, opened in the spring of 1994. “I moved over here because the rent was cheap,” Jebbia says, “and the store would be close to SoHo, but all the kids hanging out wouldn’t bother the neighbors.”
Liquid Sky, the club kids’ clothier of choice, and Smylonylon followed, as well as X Girl, owned by rocker Kim Gordon and Daisy von Furth, which specializes in “cool, everyday basics for cool girls,” von Furth says. “Now the neighborhood is becoming the happening place,” she adds, “even to the point of making me want to move.”
Laura Whitcomb, the designer best known for her Adidas-inspired dresses of a few years back, opened her store Label on Lafayette last December, but she’s holding out for the real opening until May, when the art installations will be in place and she’ll show a fall collection that will demonstrate Label’s new direction. “This area is more my customer than anywhere else,” Whitcomb says. “The Nineties and Label are more about lifestyle, and this space will be an exhibition space for art and independent film, as well as the clothes.”
Chris and Judy Brick’s shop Smylonylon, packed with funky dead-stock items and some deadly sharp retro wear, inspired some designers’ spring collections — including Miuccia Prada — and brought some fun synthetic clothes to New York at very low prices.
“When the prices were too low, people from other countries would come in and buy thousands of dollars worth of our stuff, then take the best things we had and sell them abroad for tons of money,” says Chris Brick.
“We’ve tried to slow that down a bit because we’re interested in nice-looking girls in the city wearing our clothes, and in helping these girls who are looking like crazy plumbers these days look more bright, positive and feminine,” Brick adds.”The tomboy thing is a hangover from the Eighties, and in a few years the girls on the street will look like girls and their clothes will fit.”
The pair hopes to increase that possibility by opening a new branch of the shop — also called Smylonylon — two doors down from the original, next month.
During the first week of April, Keith McNally, of Odeon, Cafe Luxembourg and Lucky Strike renown, and co-owner Anna Opitz will open their “Eastern European speakeasy,” called Pravda, also on Lafayette Street. Opitz reports the boote will stock 75 kinds of vodka, a range of caviar and smoked fish, and “the kind of food that can be eaten easily while having a drink and a conversation.”
But just a bit to the East and a couple of degrees cooler, you’ll find the pioneers of a very simpatico scene in the city’s Little Italy section. Here, a look at the next wave.
242 Mott St.
At Cafe Gitane, you might have to climb over and around photographers and their equipment to get to your table during a busy lunch hour, but it’s all part of the local charm. The scene is quietly hip and the coffee is good. “I was the first one,” says owner Luc Levy. “When I rented the place in the spring of 1994, I could feel that the neighborhood was about to change. This is the only neighborhood in New York where you get a mixing of the old and the young. Miami was supposed to be that way, but it didn’t happen. Here, we have a lot of creative people who work — not like in the East Village — and these young people have more in common with the older people in the neighborhood.”
49 Prince St.
Grayson Riley opened the Dressing Room as a consignment shop last March, but recently reinvented it to carry only young designer labels like Rebecca Dannenberg, Pixie Yates and a Dressing Room line she’ll design herself. The shop offers a hip mix that reflects — but isn’t ruled by — the runways, with all items priced at less than $100. “I try to do an eclectic selection,” 29-year-old Riley says, “because I get every kind of customer, from tourists who come in off of Broadway to fashion stylists with their cell phones, and I want to have a selection that suits that mix.
“I live in the neighborhood and I really wanted to start something here,” Riley adds, “because the area has a very Parisian feel — even though that sounds corny.”
231 Mott St.
On April 14, La Cigale will start serving up “Continental cuisine,” says Katie Ward of the spot she’ll open with partner Charles Sorel, “but our chef is from California, studied in France and has the resources of Chinatown here.” The entrees will run about $20. “This area doesn’t need another very expensive restaurant so close to SoHo,” Ward says. “We really want to add to the neighborhood because there is such a strong history here and everyone is so friendly and supportive. We want the people in the neighborhood to feel like we’re adding something.” One welcome addition will be the restaurant’s garden in back.
242 Mott St.
Cari Sigerson and Miranda Morrison opened their store this past October to present a line of “less-is-more, wearable shoes for thinking women,” Morrison says. They have been selling their line wholesale for about five years. “Apparently, there was a numbers racket in this space before us,” Morrison says. “We had been wondering about the space for a while and got it the first day it opened up.” It was a lucky break for Oscar the cat, too; the former neighborhood stray can be found napping there most afternoons.
233 Elizabeth St.
Carrying everything from saki cups and hanging vases to distorted mirrors and vintage finds, Laurie McLendon’s new housewares shop opened in early March. “This is the kind of place where you can walk in with $5 and find something you like, but I also have some handmade cashmere throws coming that will cost about $600 — which is not cheap, but is a good price for what they are,” McLendon says. “I really like the neighborhood because everyone is so friendly and the neighborhood people have all come in to wish me good luck.”
273 Mott St.
Though it may look like a hip, modern-design furniture store, Rockville also houses owner Mike deAvila’s film production office and editing room. “People like to edit here because our garden in back has grapes and peach trees and they can come here and work on their film and have a barbecue,” deAvila says. “They can also shop for modern furniture that is cheaper than in the foufy stores.”
“People used to live in these storefronts,” deAvila adds, “but SoHo isn’t for the trendy people anymore — it’s all the mall crowd — and this neighborhood has exploded.”
264 Elizabeth St.
Last May, Richard Bach and Michael Howett, who also own Marion’s, opened this French-Italian bistro in the spot that used to be Frankie’s, which was — as legend has it — John Gotti’s social club. “I’ve always loved this neighborhood,” Bach says, “and once you’ve opened here, you know everybody on the block because everybody’s so friendly.” M&R boasts a summer garden out back and quite a tasty Cosmopolitan in an atmosphere that is something like a chic, well, social club.
Currently looking for space in the area
“I had a very comforting feeling walking there,” says designer Amy Chan who hopes to close her real estate deal on a quaint little spot. “It’s reminiscent of the Marais, with the church and the small shops there. The appeal is that the area is interesting, and I think it will prosper, but it won’t ever become super-commercial and lose its charm. There are certain things that won’t change there, and that’s appealing.”