December 20, 2014

German Indie Fashion Go-To nelou Lands In Silicon Valley

Co-Founders Regine Harr and Boris Berghammer (photo courtesy of nelou)

When the Berlin-based independent fashion startup nelou began in 2011, there were few places people could go to find the latest in indie fashion from all across the globe. So with the innovative company’s recent move to the Silicon Valley, you can bet that our indie fashion radar detectors were going off.

With nelou’s unique concept of creating a single platform from which independent designers from all corners of the world can showcase and sell their designs directly to the customer, not to mention the company’s emphasis on sustainability and concern for global consumption habits, we see many reasons to tip our hats to them.

We spoke with co-founder Regine Harr for some insight into what we can look forward to with their presence here in the United States.

How did nelou get its start? What led you into the realm of online, independent fashion?

All girls can recall situations where we were wearing the same or similar dress as someone else during an event. We also see people on the street and think to ourselves, I have the same jumper or jacket. This is when I thought that there needed to be a solution to the problem. Where are all the independent designers, those who produce in small quantities and have great inspiring designs. This got us started, and 18 months later we have close to 500 designers from 30 countries.

What kind of designs can shoppers find on nelou?

On nelou you can find designers from around the world. You can shop for anything from clothes and accessories, to scarves, handbags, and jewelry. The idea is really that everyone can find their favorite items on nelou. We not only have women’s clothes, but we also cater to men and children. Besides all areas of fashion, we also cover the world. You can find designers from Germany, Spain, Israel, South Africa, USA, UK, Australia, and 25 other countries on nelou.

What sets you apart from other online marketplaces that specialize in independent apparel and accessories?

In the United States, most websites focus on American designers. We really bring the world of fashion onto a single platform. Especially interesting to the U.S. market is our European angle. If you are looking to find items from overseas you can now find them on nelou.

How does shopping from independent designers tie in with the ideas of sustainability and taking responsibility for our consumption habits?

By supporting independent designers, you support local production. Through nelou you can strengthen small business which is so important to any society. Furthermore, the customer pays a fair price which helps to stop the cycle of throwing things away after one season. We can see that people who buy on nelou are much more attached to their products. This is because they know there is a real person behind the label who has shipped it to them, and who put a lot of love and care into the product.

What is the process like for designers hoping to join your fashion community?

That is easy. All they need to do is apply to our website. We then make sure that the photos and products match the quality standard on our website. The designer can then upload all their products and set up shop on nelou. That is it, all free and easy. We only charge a commission when an item is sold.

Any tips for designers who join your fashion community? How can they be successful on nelou?

The designers who are most successful are those who link back from their website to nelou and who understand social media. Using tools like Facebook and Pinterest are important.

Your website provides such a great platform for independent designers from all over the world, what kind of impact would you like nelou to have on the fashion industry?

Our ultimate goal would be to really get people to understand that supporting local production and paying fair prices is important. We cannot maintain our attitude of disposing things we no longer like just because they were so cheap. I remember back in the days how my mum would fix socks when they had holes. It is important that we value other people’s work and our money and lives much more than we do right now. The way we consume fashion will and has to clearly change.

What’s next for nelou? Any exciting future projects or news you can tell us about?

We will be part of the Passport to Rio Fashion Show in the Clift Hotel on the 28th of July, which we are really excited about! We are also in talks with some other major fashion shows, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that those fall into place as well.

More San Francisco independent fashion

Behind the Shop: Dina Louise

Colorful rayon-silk blend 80's-era dress in the window of Dina Louise (260 Divisadero St., SF)

Just off Haight Street, vintage boutique Dina Louise has been a neighborhood gem for nearly a year and a half. The shop stands out for not feeling like your typical vintage-slash-thrift situation, but rather an upscale boutique with uncharacteristically reasonable prices.

In the front shop window, handbags from different eras and of varying designs are nestled on an old-timey service cart, while a potted plant and retro kitchenware to add to the homey and welcoming feel. A mannequin dressed in a vibrant rayon knit dress in hues of purple, magenta, black and green sports a bauble-laden gold chain and beckons onlookers to come in for a peek.

When you do, you’ll meet owner Dina Laquaglia, whose wealth of style knowledge is vast and insightful. Not surprisingly, she tells us she was “too young to remember” when her love for retro glamor began. A glance around the store shows that her ardor for old school style is ever-enduring: vintage furniture brimming with fuzzy sweaters and well-edited racks of blouses, dresses, and outerwear from labels such as Yves Saint Laurent, Joseph Magnin, Lanvin, Louis Feraud and Jaeger adorn the small shop’s interiors.

We got a chance to chat with Dina in her shop about vintage style, her boutique and why retro-shopping is oh-so-smart:

A sampling of handbags at Dina Louise

What do you look for when picking new pieces?

I look for pieces that are classic and well-made, good tailoring. I look for something that’s just really fun, unique, something that you would not see if you were to walk into a regular store.

What is currently inspiring to you?

Pieces from the 1980s. I’m really into color right now.

Why do you love vintage?

The quality. For people who can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on well-made clothes, vintage is a great way to go. Things were just made better back then. Nobody makes clothes like this anymore. I mean, they do, but it’s mostly couture and out of most people’s budgets.

How has Divisadero Street been treating you?

Sales-wise, my best month so far was last month, so things are starting to take off.

What does it take to wear vintage?

You have to be creative, and you have to be willing to take risks. My customers are comfortable with themselves and their style.

Photography courtesy of Alexandra Naughton

More San Francisco vintage

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Alexandra is a San Francisco writer with a passion for style and creativity. You can find her on Twitter @theTsaritsa

Mikimoiselle.com: SF’s New French & Japanese Style Source

Flora skirt

Are you a French fashion fanatic but can’t seem to find the time or money to book a flight, fly 5,000+ miles and scour the cobblestone streets of Paris? Mais pas pleurer! Newly launched, San Francisco-based online boutique Mikimoiselle is supplying stateside French fashion lovers with a well-edited shop featuring exclusive and hard-to-find independent designers hailing from France and Japan.

Raised in a bi-cultural home (her mother is Japanese and her father is American), founder and self-proclaimed Francophile Miki Carlton grew up in Japan and dreamed of working cross-culturally, and now she’s doing just that, searching far and wide to find the most unique boutiques in some of the best fashion cities in the world and curate them in one online shop.

The site name is a tribute to Carlton’s love all things French-Japanese fusion which combines the French “mademoiselle,” the French word for “miss” or “lady,” and Carlton’s first name, Miki.

To keep the merchandise original and fresh, Carlton takes several buying trips per year, with new deliveries arriving monthly and seasonally. The site currently features Fall/Winter 2011 designs by Antoine & Lili, Madeva, TURBO:wear, Pas Touch Douce, Lorina Balteanu and, coming soon, Un Jour Un Sac.

Volga hat & jacket

Volga hat

Shop owner, Miki Carlton

We sat down with Carlton for a brief chat about the launch, what she’s wearing right now, what she’s up to in 2012.

Your site just launched, how does it feel?

Very exciting! It’s taken about a year and half to get to the site launch, and it feels really good to have reached this milestone. Now I’ve entered into the next phase and my focus has radically shifted from “site launch” to “marketing, branding and sales.” The initial feedback has been very positive, which I am both humbled and motivated by.

Can you tell me a little bit about the journey to get here?

It’s been a very organic process, from the initial inspiration to sourcing brands to launching the web site. Five years ago, if someone told me I’d be running my own online clothing boutique, I wouldn’t have believed them. But I just followed my instincts, my love of fashion and bringing cultures together, and voila! Here I am. Of course there was a steep learning curve around starting a business, import/export issues, photography, ecommerce, taxes, etc., but have loved building something truly from scratch as well as a whole new community of designers, artists, (web) developers, photographers and other boutique owners.

Your online boutique focuses on artisans and small designers specifically from Japan and France. What is it that draws you to Japanese and French fashion? 

I grew up in Japan, and know that culturally, the French and Japanese have a lot more in common than one would think. Aside from the pride they both have in their country’s history, the French and Japanese both love art, fashion, food, and natural beauty. Many years ago when I first visited Europe, I was immediately struck by how much more similar Europe was (than the U.S.) to Japan. When it comes to fashion, the attention to detail you find in clothing and jewelry coming out of Japan and France is amazing, whether it’s the fabric, stitching, pattern or buttons. Take hosiery for example. While in the U.S. it can be an afterthought, in France and Japan, you can find tons of great hosiery both in department stores and stand-alone boutiques that are works of art!

What will we catch you wearing this season?  

It’s coat and hat season, and I love wearing my array of them — I love every single one I have and have collected them from near and far. With several of the coats, people often stop me in the street to ask where I got them. And adding a hat is a perfect way to accessorize your look this fall/winter. As I mentioned with hosiery, outerwear is something that should never be an afterthought. Be chic and get yourself a super stylish coat (or hat) — a little something different can go a long way.

Mikimoiselle will be hopping offline to show off her goods I.R.L. at Appel & Frank on Wed. December 7th. Details below:

Photography courtesy of Mikimoiselle

More San Francisco shopping

Behind the Shop: Marmalade’s Hope Colling

Inside Marmalade Boutique

At a mere 17-years-old, Hope Colling of Marmalade dropped out of high school in New York to travel with legendary rock band KISS as a wardrobe stylist. She came to San Francisco after a bad breakup to experience California and decided never to leave. It should come as no surprise that this fearless store owner has found innovative ways to keep her cute Union Street boutique open for business even in the face of a grim economy.

The shop’s girlish, vintage-inspired décor goes swimmingly with the array of flirty dresses, charming accessories, trendy tops and various flea-market finds that are scattered throughout the space. But unlike many stores on Union Street, you do not need to take out a loan to purchase a new pair of pants. Colling abides by a strict nothing-over-$100 policy, which she claims “delivers an Anthropologie style on an H&M budget”— something every fashionista is bound to appreciate. We recently caught up with Colling to chat about how she got where she is today and what life is like as a San Francisco store owner.

Hope Colling

How did you break into the fashion industry?

I grew up in New York in the West Village in the 1970′s.  It was, and still is, a very bohemian neighborhood full of artists, actors, fashion designers and musicians. My mom was a Radio City Rockette, and I used to love to look at all of her costumes hanging in the closet. I think that’s what first got me into fashion.  That and the fact that living in our neighborhood was such an eclectic mix of people; everyone had their own individual style, and I recognized early on that the way you dressed was directly related to people’s first impression of you. If you dressed like a hippie, you probably didn’t have much money, but were very creative. If you wore a suit to work, you probably made a lot of money, and that’s all you cared about. It was a different time, and everyone was judged based on his or her “uniform.”  I wanted to break that down, even at an early age.

How would you describe your store’s style?

Vintage, modern, romantic, edgy, bohemian, classic, charming and chic. We have something for everyone’s style. Overall, you could say it has a fashion-forward, laid back vibe.

Who is your ideal client?

Anyone with an open mind and a willingness to “play,” as I call it. Many times girls will come in looking for something to wear for a specific occasion. They will be very limiting in regards to what they’ll try on. If they let me style them and try things that are out of their normal comfort zone, 90 percent of the time, they’ll buy what I suggest. I can actually see them stand up a little straighter, and look a little more confident because they feel good in the clothes.

What sets your store apart from the other quaint boutiques on Union Street?

Well, our price point for one….We are very fair about our pricing and that’s how we’ve gained such a loyal following. We also work really hard to keep the store looking cute, fresh and inviting. And because I do small orders (two of each size), we turn our inventory over very fast – sometimes twice a week. So every time you come in, you’ll see something new.

How would you describe life as a store owner?

It’s more work than anyone could ever prepare you for. It’s a 24 hours a day, seven days a week job. I dream about the store, I make lists next to my bed about what needs to be done, what ideas come to me in my sleep, what I need to fix, buy, sell, etc.  It’s also the most rewarding job (next to being a parent) I could ever imagine. They say, “if you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life,” and I have found that to be very true.

Click here to see Colling’s quick style tips for turning the basic jeans-and-tank uniform into cute, casual outfits.
Photography courtesy of Marmalade


Meet Pigment Cosmetics Founder Manhal Mansour

Manhal Mansour

Behind the runway looks of painted faces and spritzed ’dos in Bay Area fashion shows such as Snow II, San Francisco Fashion Week, and this year’s Charity Fashion Show is Pigment Cosmetics founder and CEO Manhal Mansour.

And while Pigment Cosmetics and its line of fashion-driven beauty products are constants when it comes to San Francisco fashion events and photo shoots, they’re not just for industry insiders. Anyone can stop by the white-walled downtown location for makeup lessons and a touch of color. Mansour also opens Pigment’s doors to the Bay Area fashion community as a hub for local fashion shows, networking events and collaborative projects.

We sat down with Mansour recently to talk about the man behind Pigment’s many makeup brushes, what goes into creating a runway look and whether San Francisco women are putting their best faces forward.

We’re familiar with your company, Pigment Cosmetics, from all the fashion shows and events we’ve attended in your downtown headquarters, but we’d like to know a little more about the man behind the company. Tell us about yourself.

I was born overseas—Kuwait, but I’m not from Kuwait, I’m Palestinian, actually—by parents who work in a completely different field. When I graduated high school, my parents sent me back here to go to school in Sacramento. I went to college, graduated with a degree in engineering—emphasis on architecture—so you can see where the art started to seep into this. Then I worked in the industry: engineering, structural, architectural field for about five, seven years.

How did you go from designing buildings to working in fashion?

I had an incident where I didn’t get paid for a job from a developer who was a family friend, and he turned the incident around to where it seemed like it was my fault. I was really young, my early twenties, and that’s when I decided that that would not happen to me again. So I was already looking at things that were more of my interest, and that literally was the final straw that pushed me over. I started working in the industry, in the hair aspect of it, but I always had an eye for fashion. I started doing fashion shows and working with modeling agencies, and things like that.

How did Pigment Cosmetics come about?

[At first], we were Elite, and we were just doing hair and makeup, there was not cosmetics, which is what gave birth eventually to Pigment. We would get these jobs and when we would sit together after the jobs, we would all be like, “Wouldn’t it be awesome—wouldn’t it be amazing—if there was this line that had beautiful colors, but could last longer?” Well, you don’t need a hammer to hit me on the head to get it, so after about two to three years of that, I was like “Really? It has to exist somewhere.” Well, it didn’t. And we started to talk to people, manufacturers, and nobody wants to talk to you when you are not going to order a thousand pieces of a shade. [In] about two and half to two years, we’ve found someone that was willing to talk to us, and they had a lab, and that’s where it started.

What goes into creating the line of makeup?

We’re very lucky because we work with fashion designers year around, and we have a pulse on the colors. We see what the designers are doing, and we see the colors that they’re into. We are around the runway, so we see other makeup artists and other stylists, being so intimately familiar with that scene.  Then you go back and you create what you think is happening. There are instances where you go out on a limb, you just do something or see something and you go, “Oh my god, that is absolutely stunning,” and it has no basis, but that’s a very risky proposition when you’re going to order thousands of pieces in that shade.

How does Pigment Cosmetics coordinate with a designer to create a look?

It’s quite an involved process, and I think people don’t think it’s as involved as it is. Generally, when a designer begins their collection, we like to be invited and be involved from the get-go. Then we can see the swatches of the color, we see the evolution of the collection. We actually touch the fabrics, which allows us to have a three-dimensional perspective, and that’s what creates three-dimensional looks sometimes in makeup. Once we’ve developed that final look, and we invite the designer to look at it, then we develop the palette, and we hand the palette to every makeup artist at the show. It’s a very narrow choice of colors and needless to say, they’ve all practiced with those colors in advance. The show is about the fashion designer and their clothes, and showing them in the best possible light.

What show are you most proud of?

Los Angeles Fashion Week 2007. We were doing a collection for Joseph [Domingo] the year prior, and he walked in two nights before the show in the rehearsal room. And one of our staff was doing something off-the-cuff, a look that we couldn’t do for that show for 2006, but Joseph allowed us to explore the idea and develop it for Fashion Week 2007. What it was, was the eyeless models where we covered the models’ eyes. We made them look like their skin. I mean, you couldn’t see their eyes—nothing. It was almost eerie. It was perfect; we rehearsed it for five months. That’s something I really like about him, he was open to exploring something different. In some respects, it might’ve backfired.

What do you think of the looks you see off the runway and on the women of San Francisco?

The San Francisco woman is classy, sophisticated, beautiful, well put-together, fashionable—all of those. In their yoga pants and their dresses, they still look very sophisticated, nothing over done. It’s not an ostentatious display of anything.

Do you have any makeup advice for local ladies?

They could use a little bit more makeup. Well, you know, I’m a makeup artist, so you know I like to see a bit more color. Personally, my recommendation would be more blush, more lips, but you know that’s an artist for you.

More San Francisco fashion news