Up until last year, I spent the majority of my time in New York living in the East Village where the vibe had rapidly shifted from on-the-fringe to straight up downtown cool. Having come from a small town in Georgia, I loved the more intimate feel of the establishments that populated the area. There were no skyscrapers towering over you, most bars and restaurants were beloved, locally-owned institutions, Starbucks had not yet taken hold and independent coffee shops were where you’d find creative professionals hammering away on their laptops working on the next great American novel. As with most things, some of that has started to change (you can’t keep a venti soy vanilla latte out of any ‘hood for too long). However, I’m happy to see that some of my favorites have survived and better yet, continue to thrive. Specifically, I’m thinking of a little gem of a boutique that I discovered several years ago and have continued to frequent even after moving out of the zip code I called home for 10 years.
Tucked away on 11th street is a somewhat unassuming storefront that bears the oh-so-charming name Pas De Deux. The cozy space immediately evokes the feeling that you’ve stepped into the enviable walk-in closet owned by that cool mother/sister/friend whose style you’ve been secretly (or not-so-secretly) coveting. Housed here is one of the best curated collections of clothing, accessories, shoes and fragrances available this side of the Hudson. Established brand staples like Alexander Wang, Acne and 3.1 Phillip Lim take up regular residency on the racks as well as an impressive array of emerging brands. As if that isn’t enough, add in the fact that the personal attention you receive from the sales associates makes you feel like you’re on a shopping trip with your besties. I could gab on and on about this store to anyone who will listen, so I figured it would be best to go straight to the source to find out just how they do it. What IS the secret sauce that gives Pas de Deux that certain je na sais quoi?
The answer is a great eye and well-honed instincts, which Tiffany Bainbridge and Ashley Cohen have in spades. These girls have the magic touch and are responsible for the beautifully edited inventory at Pas De Deux. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with these two lovely ladies to talk shop (in addition to several off-topic-yet-very-important discussions about puppies, potbelly pigs and Buzzfeed quizzes). We chatted for hours, and I was instantly drawn in by their chemistry and passion. Read on to see how they have helped to build an uber loyal customer base and also what upcoming brands they’re loving right now.
Tell me a little bit about your background.
Ashley: I went to school for art restoration. So it was metal, wood and ceramic. I got really into gilding while I was there. After I finished school, I had always been interested in fashion but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. At the time, I was thinking that I wanted to stay more academic, so I went back to school for my masters in Visual Culture and Costume Studies at NYU. It was a mix of things but definitely focused on fashion.
Tiffany: When I first moved to New York from Ireland, I started working in retail for a small store. From there, I met one of the editors from Glamour at a party. She needed an assistant so I started with her and worked my way up. Through her, I met other contacts and eventually started doing my own styling.
How did you find your way to Pas de Deux?
Tiffany: I was interning for Richard Chai, which is how I met Paul (Birardi) and Eddy (Chai), who were just opening up Odin (the men’s store). As they were opening the second location, they needed help so I did assistant work for them, and I did part-time work in the store while I was working at Glamour. The owners approached myself and another employee about opening a women’s store. Three months later, we curated and opened the doors to Pas De Deux.
Ashley: After I finished school, I was interning at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) helping them get this huge exhibit together. I was helping dress mannequins and doing research. When I finished, I missed New York so I moved back and started a part-time job at Pas De Deux. Pretty quickly I was very interested in doing more, and at first I started doing the accessories buying.
Tiffany: She was really good at accessories. She brought in all of these new lines that we just weren’t exposed to and didn’t have time to look at. She brought in the best, and she was a natural.
Who is your core customer?
Tiffany: There’s a range. We always say mother/daughter, we see a lot of them. Sometimes a mom will walk out with the same piece as the daughter. They’re both very important. Some companies like to focus on one small audience, and it’s difficult to hit that wide range when you look at a collection of 500-plus pieces and you have to narrow it down.
Tell me a little bit more about your approach when considering designers and pieces that you are going to bring into the store?
Ashley: I’d say more conservative than trendy. Definitely trend-driven, but it has to translate into an everyday look. We’re not selling tiny, little crop tops. If it’s going to be a crop top, it has to work with other pieces. We’re going into designers like Alexander Wang, but we’re not buying the craziest piece. We’re going to buy something that represents the line, but it will be a bit more classic that you can wear for a little bit longer.
Tiffany: It goes back to our customer, that’s when it rings true. Maybe every blogger is talking about that one shoe, and it’s everywhere. You see it in every showroom, but then you have to ground yourself and be practical. Like the Birkenstocks which I loved back in the 90s, and it’s really great to see them again. But I’m not sure that’s going to be a long-term thing.
Ashley: It also has to do with us personally. Because we’ll know something like that is a big trend, but neither of us would really wear it because we’re not super trendy. It’s a mix of knowing our customer and also our personal taste.
Tell me about a challenge you face with your jobs?
Tiffany: Watching these smaller designers explode and being a part of that, it’s exhilarating but it makes our jobs a lot harder because they can explode overnight.
Ashley: The reason it’s hard is because you have to know when something has run its’ course because you’re buying so far in advance. Does something have one more season or is it already over?
What are a couple of newer brands in the store that you’re excited about?
Ashley: We brought in Apiece Apart, which we really love. For fall, we just picked up Objects Without Meaning.
Tiffany: Building Block, I just want to keep talking about them. They’ve done really well.
What do you think makes PDD different than other boutiques in addition to having a very well-edited selection?
Tiffany: We’re very hands on, so we’re also in the store.
Ashley: We’re not just looking at the numbers and seeing what’s selling that week. We’re in there, we know what people are saying and how people are reacting to things.
Tiffany: It allows us to always be very aware of our customers.