When Sandeep Salter and her husband, Carson, opened their sustainable housewares boutique and café, Salter House, in 2018 — a rack of dowdy white cotton nightgowns raised more than a few eyebrows among her friends.
The breathable gowns from bygone English labels, ankle-length, so flowy as to obscure the form and smocked or embroidered with small pink roses, landed in the store almost as an after-thought — a nod to Salter’s upbringing in the U.K. and her preferred uniform to lounge at home in. Salter House, at the sunny corner of Atlantic Avenue and Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights, was never meant to be a fashion enterprise, but its selection of nighties, to her surprise, took off — making the store a cult shopping destination.
Eclipsing its assortment of enamel tableware, felted wool children’s toys, linen sheets and hand-blown Japanese sake cups, Salter House’s gowns became a kind of uniform for the neighborhood’s army of yuppie young mothers, bohemian celebrities and freelance writers. Trading slippers for Tevas and ballet flats, their casual afternoon strolls in the dresses helped reignite a larger trend for nightwear as daywear among New York’s leisure class.
Nighties were also the store’s saving grace during coronavirus lockdowns, when Salter House went strictly online due to government shutdown mandates. It was then that the underground gauzy nightgown trend crossed over, with social media trendsetters renaming the styles “nap dresses” – a uniform for coronavirus stay-at-home orders and the grocery jaunts, FaceTime calls and quick snoozes that have become part of everyday life during this time.
While loyal fans had often encouraged Salter to start an in-house brand, she had long demurred. But with nightgowns becoming an even larger majority of her store’s sales during the pandemic, Salter saw it as the right time to branch out and work on her own take.
The Salter House private label launches today, with an initial “day dress” design inspired by 19th–century shirting. Produced in New York in three different patterns — two Liberty prints and a Japanese white cotton gingham — the dresses will be on sale at the shop, and its web site as well as the East Village multibrand boutique Café Forgot.
“We are going the slow route with it, working with a small group of women in the Lower East Side who are making everything by hand. It’s a nice process, it feels really familial,” said Salter, who has priced her first run of dresses at $280.
While in-store sales at the boutique have been cut in half over last year, Salter House’s web site has made up the difference, with e-commerce sales growing 30 times in 2020. This has changed the scope of how Salter views the trajectory of her business, dresses included.
“I plan to remake these in lots of different fabrics and add new styles, but I wanted to start with something that was really simple and all-purpose. I dress purely for comfort, I change immediately when I get home into night dresses and I wanted something way more fluid, something that could be worn out to meetings, to studio visits and hanging out with the kids,” added Salter, who in addition to Salter House also runs the neighboring gallery Picture Room with her husband, selling unique prints and artwork from a small community of local artists. Many of those artists have also worked as baristas at Salter House’s once-buzzy in-house café, which is currently serving takeout only.
Salter said her inaugural design is one-size-fits-many, including those sized from 2 to 14. Their billowy sleeves and flowy bodice allow for a full range of movement — inspired by her current life split between a farm in upstate New York as well as the city. They come with adjustable cuffs, outfitted with antique pearl buttons from the Twenties, some from Salter’s private collection.
“I want to continue making really accessible and wearable clothes for people with a flexible lifestyle,” said Salter, who promised that nightgowns will soon be on the way. “I think everyone is wanting clothes to wear at home and outside, we are now just living this new reality and I want to have a line that really reflects home life as much as it does public life.”