Brooklyn: The New ‘It’ Borough

Our fashion shoot in Bushwick, Brooklyn, sums it all up: The borough has become the city's cultural and style mecca.

As you exit Brooklyn from the Gowanus Expressway, you are admonished by a sign of pure Brooklynese: “Fugheddaboudit.” Which basically means, if you aren’t staying here, hang it up—nothing beats Brooklyn. I can’t argue with that. For 30 years, I’ve been having a love affair with the borough I proudly call home. These days, I’m not alone. Brooklyn, now known for its hipster-cool vibe, its landmark brownstone streets, actually has tour buses cruising some of the neighborhoods. What a change from when I moved here and it was almost impossible to find a taxi willing to take me home from Manhattan. Then, there were vast stretches of neglected dwellings, abandoned warehouses and gritty urban streets that felt, well, unsafe. Today, these once-forgotten sections of NYC’s largest borough have blossomed into some of the most sought-after neighborhoods, meccas for a population of professionals, families, artists and celebrities. With each neighborhood so distinctive, why go anywhere else?

On her: Cynthia Rowley embellished crop top and midi skirt,  $325 each. 376 Bleecker St., 212.242.3803  On him: John Varvatos coat, price available upon request. 765 Madison Ave., 212.760.2414 | Guess slim jeans, $128. guess.com

DUMBO/Brooklyn Heights

Here is where the romance begins. That moment walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, across the East River, taking in one of the most glorious 360° views of New York City. Then stepping foot onto Brooklyn soil, landing in DUMBO (acronym for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”), instantly experiencing a bit of dockland history as it converges with warehouse gentrification. Wandering through canyons of defunct factories, traversing cobblestoned streets, hearing the rumble of trains and feeling the breeze off the waterfront. It’s easy to imagine when Brooklyn was a major shipping hub and the fourth- largest manufacturing center in the nation. But industrial DUMBO has now given way to an enclave of artist-industry. Etsy, the online marketplace, is headquartered here. The buildings are mostly converted into creative work spaces and lofts, with avant-garde theater St. Ann’s Warehouse (29 Jay St., 718.254.8779) and a slew of impressive restaurants and shops like the enchanting River Café (1 Water St., 718.522.5200) and enticing Jacques Torres Chocolates (66 Water St., 718.875.1269). In Brooklyn Heights, by contrast, time stands still. Some 600 patrician 19th-century town houses and mansions line its elegant, leafy streets. Here, in New York’s first suburb, steam ferries once shuttled commuters to Wall Street. Life in the pre-Civil War era is tangible in the Eugene Boisselet House, built in 1824 (24 Middagh St.), the oldest in the neighborhood, and Plymouth Church (75 Hicks St., 718.624.4743), which played a role in the Underground Railroad. Today, the still-opulent neighborhood offers dining at Bevacco (60 Henry St., 718.624.1444) and shopping at Goose Barnacle (91 Atlantic Ave., 718.855.2694), a mix of art gallery and men’s clothing store. End of day, take a stroll along the Promenade, where the Statue of Liberty can be seen bathed in the sunset’s golden glow.

Left: Tory Burch Tasha coat, $995. 797 Madison Ave., 212.510.8371 | Anna Sui blouse, $400. 113 Greene St., 212.941.8406 | Guess Power skinny jeans, $79. guess.com. | Nancy Gonzalez perfume box bag, $2,150. Bergdorf Goodman, 754 Fifth Ave., 212.753.7300 Right: Diane von Furstenberg jacket, price available upon request. 874 Washington St., 646.486.4800 | Cynthia Rowley tunic dress, $325. 376 Bleecker St., 212.242.3803. | Charlotte Olympia Lips bag, $545. 22 E. 65th St., 212.744.1842

Downtown Brooklyn/Fort Greene

The grand dame of the neighborhood, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, or BAM (30 Lafayette Ave., 718.636.4100), the oldest performing-arts center in America, is ever-youthful with cutting-edge programming. For a long time, it was the only game in town to give Broadway a run for its money. Not so today. Downtown—or DOBRO—is a hotbed of sophisticated performing arts, rippling out from the BAM hub. Mark Morris Dance Group (3 Lafayette Ave., 718.624.8400), one of the country’s premier modern-dance groups, had the vision to convert a derelict building into a permanent home. Around the corner, Shakespeare meets New Wave at Theater for a New Audience (262 Ashland Pl., 866.811.4111) and BRIC Arts Media House (647 Fulton St., 718.683.5600) presents contemporary multimedia events. This flourishing art scene is also the backyard playground for a quieter neighborhood, Fort Greene. In the calm of this residential haven, all roads lead to chestnut-tree-lined Fort Greene Park. Corner cafes and restaurants, such as The General Greene (229 DeKalb Ave., 718.222.1510), celebrate locavore ingredients. Foodies line up for the modern New American cuisine of Prospect (773 Fulton St., 718.596.6826). The Greenlight Bookstore (686 Fulton St., 718.246.0200), the heart of the literary community, hosts a roster of impressive readings. But Brooklyn pride doesn’t stop there. Weekends get busy with Brooklyn Flea (brooklynflea.com), attracting throngs of shoppers to a carnival of 150 local vendors. On the farthest edge of the ’hood, the only bigger crowd draw is Barclays Center (620 Atlantic Ave., 800.745.3000), home of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team and perhaps the 2016 Democratic Convention, if Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way.

Valentino Camuflower dress, $12,000, and V logo bag, $1,975. 693 Fifth Ave., 212.355.5811

Park Slope/Gowanus

Almost as ubiquitous as the word Brooklyn are the words Park Slope, land of kale-loving, brownstone-dwelling modern families of every configuration, where busy shopping streets have a small-town feel and a sophisticated vibe. Its two main drags, Fifth Ave. and Seventh Ave., are lined with one-of-a-kind stores like clothier and jewelry designer’s eponymous Diana Kane Boutique (229B Fifth Ave., 718.638.6520), and upscale restaurants, such as the incomparable al di la Trattoria (248 Fifth Ave., 718.783.4565), serving Northern Italian fare. Nightlife pulsates with the sounds of local jazz and world music at Barbès (376 Ninth St., 347.422.0248). And influencing the tenor of the whole Slope, its crown jewel: Prospect Park, a nearly 600-acre pastoral oasis that rivals Central Park. The park’s elegant entrance at Grand Army Plaza equals those of the stateliest European cities. At the opposite side, or bottom, of the Slope (yes, there’s a real incline to the park), sits Gowanus, defined by its canal now undergoing a decade-long cleanup. If there’s a neighborhood that best exemplifies Brooklyn’s current transformation and rebirth, it’s this industrial section. The edgy domain of artists and enterprising entrepreneurs is home to some of the borough’s most unorthodox and unparalleled entertainment, such as The Bell House (149 Seventh St., 718.643.6510), a 1920s warehouse converted into a music and events venue, or the brand-new Morbid Anatomy Museum (424A Third Ave., 718.702.5937), a collection of all things related to death. Meanwhile, big businesses are wising up and starting to snap up cheap property: Whole Foods Market (214 Third St., 718.907.3622) has built its first Brooklyn store here.

Left: Etro jacket, $1,623, and trousers, $689. 720 Madison Ave., 212.317.9096 | H&M Shirt, $50. 640 Fifth Ave., 855.466.7467 | Twins for Peace white sneaker, $225. twinsforpeace.com Center: TSE raglan sweater,  $595. 120 Wooster St., 212.925.2520 | Tory Burch Gene dress, $350. 797 Madison Ave., 212.510.8371 | Mark Cross  Scottie small satchel, $2,495. Barneys New York, 660  Madison Ave., 212.826.8900  Right: Tory Burch Tammy tunic, $295, and Kay slingback, $295.Available at Tory Burch 

Red Hook

With its abundance of open sky and idyllic sunsets, piers jutting into lapping water, tugboats pushing freighters, perfectly framed views of the Statue of Liberty, and resurrected brick factories turned into lofts, Red Hook, an early-19th-century shipping depot, seems a world away from the rest of Brooklyn. Which in many ways it is, considering its limited access by public transport. But the neighborhood’s allure has always been its isolation. Living on this outer edge of Brooklyn is one reason there is such a sense of community. Here, the bumpy cobblestoned streets are home to local merchants: bakers (Baked, 359 Van Brunt St., 718.222.0345), distillers (Van Brunt Stillhouse, 6 Bay St., 718.852.6405), Brooklyn artisans (Pier Glass handblown bowls and perfume bottles, 499 Van Brunt St., 718.237.2073), all of whom support each other’s businesses. And though plans for über-expensive condos are flying in the face of old-time residents, this part of Brooklyn maintains a romantic sense of remoteness—except when busloads of shoppers head to the neighborhood’s anomaly, Ikea (1 Beard St., 888.888.4532). Admittedly, the Ikea shuttle is a good way to get here from other parts of Brooklyn, though cars are the norm. By any mode of transport, the journey is worth it. 
 

Etro overcoat, $2,705. 720 Madison Ave., 212.317.9096 | Michael Kors cable sweater, $595. Bloomingdale’s, 1000 Third Ave., 212.705.2000 | Guess jeans, $128. guess.com

Prospect Heights

This is where you find Brooklyn’s Big Three cultural masterpieces: idyllic Brooklyn Botanic Garden (990 Washington Ave., 718.623.7200), world-renowned Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Pkwy., 718.638.5000) and monumental Art Deco Brooklyn Public Library (10 Grand Army Plz., 718.230.2100). Yet, given its grand scale, Prospect Heights is actually one of the borough’s historically most diverse neighborhoods, with Italian, Jewish, Irish and Greek immigrants in the first wave of the early 1900s, and Hasidic Jewish and Caribbean residents from the 1960s onward. Recently, second- and third-generation small-business owners and professionals have folded in with the youthful proprietors of hip stores, bars, restaurants and boutiques. Along Vanderbilt and Washington avenues, artisans feel free to perfect their single-ingredient specialties, whether it’s Empire Mayonnaise condiments (564 Vanderbilt Ave., 718.636.2069), Ample Hills Creamery ice cream (623 Vanderbilt Ave., 347.240.3926) or Brooklyn Flavors bath and body products (820 Washington Ave., 718.854.7486). Down quiet side streets, an array of restored brownstone architecture is on display, at odds with what sits at the edge of Prospect Park: the 15-story glass-box apartment building of architect Richard Meier. At the base of Eastern Parkway, the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed wide boulevard steers you past library, museum and botanic garden. 

Left: Coach jacket, $995, and skirt, $295. 370 Bleecker St., 212.243.3612 | Urban Outfitter tights, $12. 526 Sixth Ave., 646.638.1646 Right: Alexander McQueen sunglasses, $455. alexandermc queen.com | Cynthia Rowley tunic, $395. 376 Bleecker St., 212.242.3803

Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick

There’s no denying Hipsturbia, the triplet-neighborhood outpost of Brooklyn popularized in HBO’s Girls, has a huge appeal. In the Williamsburg stretch, a genuine turf war ensues between hipsters, who claim squatters’ rights, and “flipsters,” interlopers from Manhattan and tourists trying to snag some cool. Here the second syllable of the word lifestyle is emphasized on every corner of the main drags, Bedford Avenue and Grand Street. Boutique retail reigns supreme, with quirky shops and secondhand stores offering variations on the Williamsburg twentysomething look, like the rumpled menswear at Hollander & Lexer (103 Metropolitan Ave., 718.797.9117). 

It’s also a foodie’s paradise—after all, this is the birthplace of Smorgasburg (smorgasburg.com), the premier open-air market of artisanal Brooklyn food vendors. And there is a vibrant music scene, too, from big-name acts to local bands who gig at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (66 N. Sixth St., 718.486.5400). But, disdaining trends, there are other reasons to head all this way, including the extensive McCarren Park, (776 Lorimer St., 718.218.2380), with its seasonal swimming pool and ice-skating rink, outdoor concerts and films. In the late afternoon, it has a suburban feel, with kids throwing balls and dog-walkers out for a stroll. The park is proudly shared with just-ahead-of-the-curve Greenpoint, where restaurants and music venues are popping up along the waterfront (Newtown Creek is known as one of the city’s major industrial waterways, an estuary divide between Brooklyn and Queens). With its treasured Manhattan views, change is coming quickly to this piece of Brooklyn: There are plans for a mini-city of residential towers. Called New York’s “Little Poland,” Greenpoint keeps its old-world heritage alive, but with an up-and-coming vibe exhibited by wee-hours-of-the-morning nightlife. And with Tina Fey’s endorsement of the doughnuts at Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop (727 Manhattan Ave., 718.389.3676), the old-fashioned aspects are positively sexy. Blocks away, the dichotomy shows in the very upscale and vibrant Ramona (113 Franklin St., 347.227.8164), where master mixologists concoct the latest in craft cocktails.

Max Mara black cady triacetate blazer, $965, and ’S Max Mara wide-leg pants, $535. 813 Madison Ave., 212.879.6100  | Y-3 cropped shirt, $280. 92 Greene St., 212.966.9833

A few stops out on the L subway line will land you in Bushwick, the rough-and-tumble little brother to the previous two ’hoods. A thriving art scene  is apparent  in the fantastical graffiti murals that dot an otherwise gritty, industrial landscape. The latest transformation of the gentrification wave, Bushwick’s newly acquired status is proof of how quickly things are changing. 

Building on its history of being one of the most important industrial centers of the nation, Brooklyn is revolutionizing the spirit of commerce with a design-driven culture and entrepreneurial gentrifiers sharing their dream of a new kind of urban life. Call it hip. Call it cool. Call it visionary. I call it home.

SLIDESHOW: Brooklyn Fashion