In a city that’s given rise to such designers as Isaac Mizrahi, Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs, it’s hard to believe underdogs stand a chance. However, local creators are not just abundant here, they thrive on New York’s distinctive culture and energy. Shopping the flourishing indie design scene gives travelers a chance to score clothing and accessories they won’t find anywhere else. Meet some of the faces behind the coolest indie brands in New York—then shop local to take home a piece of the city that never sleeps.
Timeless Hats: Karema Deodato Millinery
There was a time when a New Yorker wouldn’t step foot outside without a chic hat. Now, New Yorkers and travelers alike rely on this statement-making accessory to distinguish themselves from the crowd.
It’s this very sense of timelessness and style that inspires Karema Deodato Almeida (right) at her namesake millinery. Take her best-selling Olympia Cloche (left), for example.
“It’s a hand-sculpted felt cloche that can be worn three different ways when turned around,” said the designer. “It is striking in its detail while very wearable at the same time.”
The mustard-hued cloche was created after years of Almeida scouring the city for materials for her hats.
“I was born and raised on the Upper East Side, pretty far removed from the more intense hustle and bustle of the city," Almeida said. "That forced me to set out and explore other parts of the city to find materials. I’d often go to the Lower East Side for fabrics where I’d also find interesting upholstery materials.”
Not only would she find the felt, straw and vintage fabric she needed for her hats, she also found inspiration during her hunts around the city—it’s why she founded her workshop here.
“The exploration of this vast city has been an inspiration in itself, working with whatever (materials) I happened to stumble upon and then, as I grew older, being able to find nearly everything I’d been looking for,” she said.
Having created a collection of more than 30 retro hats, which include stunning straw berets, peaked wide-brim fedoras and stark white bonnets, Almeida believes that shopping local gives travelers a chance to how history still pulses through New York. “Our local-made products are not only a reflection of where we live and create, but also of our past and heritage and how those two very different perspectives converge to create something truly unique,” she said.
Shop the hats at karemadeodato.com or Sugar Hill Market, 259 W. 132nd St.
Heartfelt Coats And More: VAUTE
Designer Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart disrupts fashion industry traditions with her alternative brand Vaute. You won’t find feathers and fur in her men’s and women’s winter coats—rather, she uses high-tech textiles to keep wearers snug and save animals in the process.
"(Designing the coats) was a way to create something better than what’s out there, so it would benefit anyone from a cold city who loves fashion and comfort,” the Chicago native said. “I realized if I created a winter coat warm enough for a Chicago winter, but animal-free, maybe that would be a way to create the new standard in fashion . That way, wearing animals would be a thing of the past.”
It’s easy to identify a Vaute women’s coat when you learn its defining characteristics: favored popping colors like pastel pink, emerald and buttercup; striking silhouettes featuring a hooded cape-coat that Little Red Riding Hood would wear on the runway and maxi coats that bloom at the bottom, for example, and retro elements such as asymmetrical zippers straight out of the 1980s and high-neck collars that button up to the chin. The brand also features made-in-NYC accessories and apparel like the vegan satin gown, (right), which all carry Vaute’s playful, elegant aesthetic through the fashion needs of its fans.
“Vaute’s look is based in a 1950s elegance, inspired by Audrey Hepburn and ballet class, but mixed with whatever is inspiring me that season,” said Hilgart. “For summer, it was ‘The Little Mermaid.’ For fall, it’s superheroes. So there’s always an element of playfulness and whimsy, too.”
She chose New York as Vaute’s home base not only for its coat-friendly climate, but also because of the personality of her Brooklyn community that makes it feel so homey. “I have never felt at home anywhere in the world until I visited Brooklyn in 2010—I felt homesick when I flew back to Chicago,” she said. “I had always thought my whole life that feeling of (being) out of place was how I would (always) feel. In Brooklyn, I found people who are inspired, who are living a life that's sometimes challenging, but with purpose, with dreams, with drive, and I found a community of people who are dedicated to making the world a better place for animals.”
Vaute’s recently opened flagship store on the Lower East Side gives visitors a chance to connect with a compassionate local community.
“Locally made products can tell a visitor what a city has an industry for,” she said. “It can tell them what the city cares about. It can tell them what the city supports and believes in.”
In other words, New Yorkers demand a brand that won’t compromise their values or their style and Vaute fills this niche in a beautiful way.
Shop the fashion at vautenyc.com or Vaute's flagship, 114 Stanton St.
Jewelry With Flair: Cynthia Rybakoff
New York’s fashion bloggers load up on the jewelry. One glimpse of Instagram and you start to wonder how a single person can wear so many rings, bracelets and necklaces in a tasteful way. Easy—you build your collection with Cynthia Rybakoff’s jewelry. The New York City native creates elegant, artistic styles that can be mixed and matched with ease.
“My style is classic with a twist of downtown chic. I adore the classics, but re-imagine them the way I would like to wear them,” she said. “My style is distinctively eclectic and of the moment in that it can range from geometric Art Déco to organic boho styling. Attention to detail, quality and affordability are the hallmarks of my designs.”
At the core of her collection are her stackable rings. Shoppers at her booth in Artists & Fleas dig through containers of skinny round bands, medium square bands, broad bands and rings with love knots and chevrons to find combinations of silver, gold and rose gold as unique as their own fingerprints. Her minimalist stud earrings and bracelets in similar shapes and colors also carry the style, creating an effortlessly polished look.
“I can’t leave the house without some simple geometric studs and plain bands of different widths on at least three fingers,” said the designer. “What’s special is that there’s brilliance in the simplicity of jewelry that goes with everything and adds the finishing touch to any outfit.”
Rybakoff’s collection has evolved to include more artistic, eye-catching pieces that draw upon her fine art background and incorporate self-taught jewelry-making techniques. For example, her handmade bauble wrap (left), which can be worn as a bracelet or a necklace, presents an avant-garde aesthetic and an artistic color palette. Modern designs like this build on her diverse background creating jewelry for more than 25 runway shows and even owning her own “art wear” design studio.
“I’ve gone from breaking all the rules and designing wearable art to becoming more of a classicist, in terms of style and materials,” she said.
Rybakoff hopes that travelers discover a sense of place in the souvenirs they pick up from local designers. “When travelers shop local, they are buying a special memory of the place they visited, to treasure forever. The smallest trinket can be transcendent.”
Shop it at cynthiarybakoff.com or Artists & Fleas, 88 10th Ave.
Dapper Men's Accessories: Fine And Dandy Store
The Fine And Dandy store is like your cool grandfather’s attic. It’s brimming with authentic vintage typewriters, grooming supplies, engraved flasks and Ivy League memorabilia that set the tone for the brand’s charming men’s apparel and accessories, which was launched in 2008.
“It started as a side project for my husband, Enrique Crame III (right), and myself," said co-founder Matt Fox (left). "We loved a classic aesthetic and we were collectors of vintage photos of well-dressed men from the early 1900s.”
The duo hawked their “dandy-inspired” neckwear, pocket squares, suspenders, sock garters, cuff links, tie bars and other accessories online and at pop-ups around the city before opening their brick-and-mortar shop in Hell’s Kitchen in November 2012. The success of the Fine And Dandy brand proves that local manufacturing still has a place in today’s increasingly global production strategies.
“The constant narrative is that manufacturing has all but completely dried up or left the country over the last several decades,” Fox said. “Since we created our business almost eight years ago, it’s been awesome to find these little pockets of manufacturing in this city. Whenever I visit one of our (local) factories, I’m so curious to poke around these buildings in the Garment District and in Brooklyn to see what else is being produced there.”
Fox and Crame attribute some of their success to the legacy of manufacturing high-quality, dapper men’s products in the Big Apple.
“New York City has a huge history of garment manufacturing, particularly neckwear and other men’s accessories," Fox said. "One of our manufacturers is the third generation of her family business—her grandfather started the business 70 years ago. When buying an item made in these factories, you’re part of that history and helping ensure that the industry continues into the future.”
The Fine And Dandy brand appeals to men who love the handsome styles they see in decades-old yearbooks but want to wear in a contemporary way. From floral-printed belts and polka-dot suspenders to gold dog tie pins and crocheted flower boutonnieres, every item adds handsome flair to a man’s outfit without looking over-the-top. The bold fashion choices of men walking the streets of New York play a role in Fox and Crame’s designs.
“We get so much inspiration from living in New York City. Just walking down the street, you see so many stylish men whose (aesthetics) and wardrobe are really inspiring.”
And ladies, if you love what you see, stay tuned: Fine And Dandy aspires to produce custom shirts for women in the near future.
Shop the brand at fineanddandyshop.com or The Fine And Dandy shop, 445 W. 49th St.
Modern Heirlooms: Erica Weiner
Growing up in New Jersey, Erica Weiner dreamt of a life in New York City. She took frequent trips into Manhattan in pursuit of the very thing she would later turn into a career: jewelry.
“As a teenager, I’d take the train into the city with my friends and get sketchy piercings on St. Mark’s Place,” said Weiner. When she created her namesake jewelry business in 2005, she became the third generation of Weiners to set up shop in Lower Manhattan. It’s one of many reasons why this city is special to the designer.
“I’m constantly inspired by everything around me and the amazing style of some of our female customers. It’s hard having a small business here, but I can’t imagine doing it anywhere else,” she said.
Armed with a degree in art history and an obsession for “all things antique and vintage,” Weiner and her team handcraft necklaces, rings, bracelets and earrings that reflect a reverence for the past. For example, her “Love Token” pendants, meaningfully engraved with “papa” or “mother,” draw on a 13th-century tradition of altering coins into tokens of affection. Her authentic antique jewelry and vintage-inspired pieces include necklaces with old subway token charms, genuine Victorian scarab earrings, Art Deco-style rings and creations made from finds from her travels around the world. She’s also gone on to create an ever-expanding collection of dazzling engagement rings for brides who want something different than what’s offered at a typical jewelry store.
“I’d like to think that our ethos is the same as it was in the beginning—a special, heirloom-like piece of jewelry, made in New York with recycled materials as often as possible,” said Weiner.
Shop the jewelry at ericaweiner.com or Erica Weiner's store, 173 Elizabeth St.
Feminine Garments: Wai Ming
Taylor Swift, Emma Roberts, Emily Blunt and Ellie Kemper exemplify the type of women Emily Brady Koplar designs for: Worldly and strong, but unabashedly feminine. Not only has her brand Wai Ming been spotted on those celebrities, it’s perfect for any modern woman who craves timeless outfits in chiseled silhouettes with surprising details.
“I love clean lines with graphic or architectural influences and mixing unexpected fabrics or textures,” said Koplar.
From her very first collection in 2012, Koplar’s goal was to make beautifully constructed garments in America, particularly New York City. Not only does having a production hub in New York allow Koplar to keep a close eye on quality and ensure excellent conditions for workers, it also allows her to spend plenty of time in the city that inspires her designs.
“I love New York because inspiration is around every corner,” she said. “From the people to the pace, to the way the light hits the buildings, the art, architecture, food, fonts, scaffolding, cracks in the cement—pretty much everything is fair game. It just depends on where my gaze lands and what catches my attention.”
Known for its dresses, Wai Ming garments look simple from far away, but demonstrate mastery of intricate design details. The first collection involved “lots of hand-tucking, pleating and gorgeous fabrics”—qualities that are carried through her current collection. In it, shoppers discover a navy jumpsuit with off-the-shoulder sleeves, a floor-length emerald gown with a ruffled lace-lined plunge neckline, a blue-and-gray mini dress with woven details (pictured) and, of course, plenty of pleats—Koplar’s signature.
“I love pleats. I don’t think we’ve gone a season without incorporating them in the collection,” Koplar said. “I think they are the perfect mixture of sharp lines and soft, feminine movement.”
One of the most appealing aspects of Wai Ming apparel is the ability to transition from day to night with ease. Not only is this perfect for the contemporary New York woman, it works for travelers who need to look sharp without putting in tons of effort or packing entire closets into their suitcases.
“I think the line has evolved into pieces that really speak to the modern, global woman who isn’t afraid to embrace her femininity,” she said. “She’s a modern warrior princess ready to take on whatever comes her way!”
If that doesn’t define a New York woman, we’re not sure what does.
Shop it at waimingstudio.com or Thistle & Clover, 221 DeKalb Ave., Fort Greene, Brooklyn
City Kicks: David Isaac NY
When sisters Daniela and Roberta Nunez graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, they booked it straight to New York to launch their shoe brand, David Isaac NY.
“The inspiration that you can draw from New York—the architecture, the art, the landscapes, the culture, even the food—is endless,” said Roberta.
The duo uses the city as their muse for collections of feminine, classic shoes that range from taxi yellow mules (left) and electric blue heels to leather flats in a pink python-skin print. The shoes are durable for stomping the streets of the city, but at the same time cool enough for a night on the town.
“Our style is directed more toward the classic woman that merges sophisticated with modern. Elegant with an edge,” Roberta said.
Daniela encourages travelers to skip the traditional souvenir stands and instead shop at locally focused stores to find covetable items to serve as reminders of beloved destinations.
“Supporting local designers in the destinations you visit is like bringing a souvenir home with you, but (it’s better) because you use and appreciate it in daily life, rather than just something that sits on the shelf,” said Daniela.
There’s no debate here: Cool kicks from David Isaac NY beat New York-themed snow globes as souvenirs.
Shop the shoes at davidisaacny.com or at Flying Solo Collective, 224 Mulberry St.