Submitted by Melissa Howsam — Correspondent
Fashion and function fuse at this très-magnifique esteemed, eco boutique. Fashioning le dernier cri in luxe natural-fiber fabrics, fit for women, men and tots alike. Vert & vogues organic, classic-contemporary vision is racking up the Durham renaissance by going old-school with some back-to-basics class, offering well-made products in a well-curated shopping experience remember service with a smile? and moving to the head of the class.
Housed in an old eco-updated tobacco warehouse in Brightleaf Square, the green n glam style shop is a casual-chic September '08 addition to Durhams burgeoning fashion district by husband-and-wife duo Ryan and Nadira Hurley.
A veritable staging of sustainability and swagger in an accessible, not-so-trendy prêt-a-porter collection of mostly stateside-designed duds, heavy on the Euro influence, vert & vogue may not be "trendy," but theyre trend-setting. And theyre raising the bar with classic threads that are current but also have staying power.
We recently chatted up the Hurleys about their award-winning shop (Indys 2010 Best Local Womens Boutique and Best Mens Clothing), their vision, their product and their raison dêtre, from being their customers favorite playdates to creating what they call the "joie de vivre." They say its the clothes that make the man and while these clothes are hot, its the service that makes the shop now thats the life. Or, cest la vie.
Q. What is the inspiration behind vert & vogue?
Vert & vogue is the perfect representation of our mutual passions. Nadira is French and a fashion sensation. Her hometown is Paris, where she worked in many areas of the fashion business and thrived most in boutique sales and management. She's the inspiration behind the European sensibility of our collection, our brand's French name and the business' overall joie de vivre. I'm a green business and design fanatic. After many years of environmental advocacy work and developing my business and management expertise in the publishing industry, I found my ultimate calling at vert & vogue. I head the buying and back-end, while Nadira leads the front of the house, including customer service and merchandising. We have the same aesthetic sensibilities, belief in delivering outstanding service and overall vision for the business. We aim to wow our customers with exceptional fashion and styling and then surprise them with the ecological benefits of our ready-to-wear goods. We met in 2001 at a men's boutique in Paris that Nadira managed (and it took me multiple visits there to overcome her rule of not dating her customers!).
Q. How would you describe vert & vogue's vision for the local retail and fashion 'scape for Durham?
The team at vert & vogue is incredibly excited about downtown Durham's future. Its nationally renowned restaurant and entertainment scene has led the way in the downtown renaissance. Now there is a burgeoning boutique district in and around Brightleaf, fronted in part by vert & vogue. Since the shop opened in 2008, a handful of additional boutiques have sprung up, mainly focused on independent designers.
What's driven downtown's restaurant and entertainment offerings is a commitment to creating innovative, quality experiences. The boutiques popping up downtown fit perfectly into this milieu. And the combination of five-star fare made of local, organic ingredients; innovative, award-winning musical and Broadway acts, a minor league baseball stadium with craft beer, and independent and eco fashion, has created a fresh and vibrant experience that stands in clear contrast to the mall and chains. We've found our customers want to feel more alive and connected when they're shopping and eating out. They want a memorable experience and want to feel like their support of a business matters. In Durham, that's what they get today, and we expect it will only get better!
Q. What is it about shopping at vert & vogue do you think really appeals to people?
From the feedback our customers have given us, it's the whole experience. In our information-overloaded world today, many people are looking for the boutique experience again or for the first time. They want a well-curated experience when they shop. They don't have time to hunt through a zillion generic offerings at the chains and mall. And they want authenticity and uniqueness in their styling. Again, this may be as a result of the mass-generic consumerism that has touched every corner of the country at this point. People also want service. Though so many people have had such bad experiences with service and being over-sold and marketed, they don't even realize there's a possibility of being served well when it comes to fashion. We put an emphasis on having fun and trying something new, even if you don't buy. We really seek to help people renew and update their style. We like to say, "Come play dress up!" We often sign off on our newsletter as "your favorite play-dates." It's all about the joie de vivre!! Without this part of our business, even if we had the most phenomenal collection, our business wouldn't be what it is today. Service is a big part of what we do and offer. And we're not happy if our customer isn't. We go to great lengths to ensure our customers are thrilled with their experience.
Q. How has vert & vogue put its mark on local fashion?
In creating our collection, we're aware that people's fashion lives and needs have changed dramatically in recent years, especially in a creative-class region such as the Triangle. There's no longer a clear line between what to wear at work, out and about or on the town. Our customer is also not enamored by trends. As a result, our MO is offering a full silhouette of styles and accessories that are classic, casual chic and comfortable (our fabrics such as organic cotton tend to be super soft)! We also emphasize versatility. We enable our customers to mix and match tops, bottoms, dresses and accessories to create a casual, professional or night-out look.
Q. How has vert & vogue's retail concept contributed to Durham's renaissance?
We're trying to do our part to create a fresh retail concept while filling a need in the community. The Triangle area has become very cosmopolitan, but the fashion scene, especially in Durham, hadn't kept up with that development. Due to the food scene's sophisticated supporters here, we guessed that there was a very underserved community when it came to fashion. Fortunately, we were right, and in spite of the economic downturn, we've had outstanding support from the Durham community. Many of our customers tell us they only shopped in New York, LA or other metropolitan U.S. and European cities before. Now they say they're excited to have a reason to come downtown during the day in addition to spending time here eating and being entertained at night.
Q. Vert & vogue is known for partnering with local orgs that promote eco well being both ecological and economic. What goes into forming these partnerships, and how do they enable vert & vogue to advance sustainable practices in the fashion industry?
We support SEEDS (South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces) here in Durham, which is a community gardening organization that helps people care for the earth, themselves and each other. We think that's a mission that can't be beat! They also have a particular emphasis on working with young people, many of whom are at risk and need positive influences in their lives. What they do jives locally with what we're doing in the fashion arena and many of our customers are SEEDS' supporters, too.
The other key part of our mission is to support businesses that are committed to producing sustainably and help them strengthen and evolve that commitment. We could do a whole additional article on the complexity of creating a viable fashion line with an environmental component. Suffice it to say, it's challenging and requires a lot of experimentation and innovation. We believe change in the market will come from the small, independent designers and businesses within the fashion supply chain committed to creating it, not the entrenched big brands. We support these smaller, up-start businesses through buying from them directly and indirectly. And all of them wear various shades of green based on the business model they've found works for them. Some produce with organic fabrics in the U.S. others produce in the US without organics some use vegetable-dyed leather, vegan and recycled materials. But the vision is the same.
Q. Who are vert & vogue's signature designers and how do these distinguish the boutique's collection?
Our signature designers include AG Jeans, Stewart + Brown, Loomstate, John Patrick Organic, Raleigh Denim, Coclico and Cydwoq. They each fulfill different needs in the collection, based on our previously mentioned focus. It would be rare to find any of these designers at the mall or carried at a big box chain. Many work exclusively with boutiques and independent online sites. Around 30 - 40 percent of the goods that we sell from these designers are made in the USA. That contrasts with 5 percent produced in the U.S. in the broader fashion industry. We work with Raleigh Denim, for example, and they not only produce solely in the U.S., but right here in North Carolina. Their cotton comes from the Carolinas it's woven in Greensboro and it's handcrafted into premium denim in Raleigh.
Q. With a focus in green and glam, how do you remain accessible to your customers in this economy?
We're a full service boutique and we offer quality, made-in-the-USA and eco-friendly goods. As a result, we don't compete with discount or big box retailers on price. Our customers pay for tangible design, environmental, social and economic qualities and benefits in our goods, along with our service. What they don't pay is an inflated brand- name price. Like Patagonia, an ecological pioneer, we often encourage customers that inquire about price to buy quality and buy less. Make an investment, and it will pay itself back over time.
This issue is also why we don't focus on trends. We sell classic styling that can be worn in almost any season and stands the test of time. For there to be real change in the fashion industry, we need people to rethink the real cost of their purchases. Right now, the artificially low prices for apparel are possible because of production largely on the back of slave wages abroad (also creating fewer jobs at home) and the despoiling of our planet. The throwaway quality of these goods is also a major problem. It's almost so cheap to buy some things, you can wear something for few months and if it falls apart you don't care. This needs to change.
Q. How would you define the look and/or focus of your winter collection?
Maybe it's easiest to give you a few standouts of the season. On the women's side, it's been AG's skinny straight cords that flatter almost any body type and are offered in rich mushroom grey and dark night (navy) colors. The beauty of the mushroom grey in particular is that it's a unique color but goes with everything. The skinny description of the cords is deceiving. In terms of versatile fit, we call them magic jeans!
Our other stand- out on the women's side has been a gorgeous wool and silk lined coat by Stewart + Brown and the chocolate brown wedge- heel Damona boot, made of veg- dyed leather by Coclico. You can pair all three of these pieces, and it's the quintessential embodiment of vert & vogue's casual chic, to-die- for look!
On the men's side, it's been all about Raleigh Denim's raw, super-cut jeans and Culturata's tailored, organic cotton button downs. You put the two together, and you've got a truly casual chic, work or play look. We also have (almost had!) beautiful wool/cashmere sweaters from Culturata that can be paired with the above for a nice finish.
Q. A glimpse at spring?
We're super psyched for spring. On the women's side, we're going to have a great range of casual and occasion dresses in gorgeous floral prints and bold and bright solids. These will mostly be made of organic cottons and silks. We'll also have a strong selection of cotton basics, including tunic-style tees and tanks and beautifully cut short sleeve tees by John Patrick Organic and others. We have the perfect pair of white stretch denim jeans from AG too, as well as some other lighter weight offerings from them for spring and summer. We're equally thrilled about our sandals, wedges and heels from Coclico and Cydwoq. One style of Coclico's in particular stands out, a pair of flat sandals made of the softest suede and including an ankle wrap closure. To-die!
On the men's front, we're fired up about bringing in the Camper line of shoes from Spain. They'll arrive in early March and exemplify our casual-chic attitude for work or play. Beautiful vegetable-dyed leathers in sneaker or more traditional, yet modern, shoe styles. We'll also have more styles from Culturata, including short and lighter long-sleeve button-downs with super sharp stripe, check and solid designs. And we'll have polos, shorts and chinos from AG jeans, along with our stable of rockin' Raleigh Denim styles.
Q. What does the future of vert & vogue look like?
We're very excited by the prospects for our future growth. We're considering all possibilities in the future, including launching an e-commerce business, which many of our out-of-town customers are clamoring for. What's thrilling about the retail fashion business today is that you can evolve it in a multitude of ways. Generally, we have a commitment to Durham and plan on always making it our home and central to our future.