The Rise and Fall of Charivari, the Cult Boutique of Fashion’s Cutting – Vanity Fair

A fourth store, Charivari 72, at Columbus Avenue and 72nd Street, opened
in 1979. It was a state-of-the-art retail environment that gave great
visibility to the European designers the Weisers were then championing.
Again Buchsbaum was the architect; this time they gutted the place—the
Weisers didn’t mention this to their new landlord—and added extra
levels, thus doubling their sales potential. Jon says, with a laugh,
“When we started out on this shop it was meant to be for the men’s wear
only, but after the plan went from 1,100 square feet to 2,200 square
feet my mother said, ‘Now that we have all that space downstairs, can’t
we have women’s too?’ ” You never said no to Selma.

And it wasn’t much easier saying no to the 14-year-old boy who started
showing up at Charivari 72 while it was under construction. He kept
poking his nose in, day after day, asking the same question: “When are
you going to open? When are you going to open? You mean you’re going to
have Thierry Mugler?” Come the big opening party, Jon was talking to
Perry Ellis, the sportswear star of the moment, when the boy suddenly
popped up under Jon’s arm to ask Ellis for an autograph and advice about
becoming a designer. Jon thought, “It’s him again! Oh God, how did he
get into the store?” He was living with his grandmother up the street,
and Barbara remembers a visit from her too. She says, “His grandmother
asked, ‘Why don’t you give him a job?’ We thought, How can we? He’s only
15 years old. But he was so charming and so fashion-starstruck that
everybody fell in love with him. After about a year we made him a stock
boy.” The kid’s name was Marc Jacobs.


“FOR THEM, THE VISION OF THE DESIGNER WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE
COMMERCIAL ASPECTS,” SAYS DRIES VAN NOTEN.

The early 80s saw the dawning of a whole new era in fashion—which, in
truth, happens far more rarely than it seems. It was an era that
embraced radically new ideas about beauty, style, and proportion in
clothes. These ideas, coming straight out of Japan, often via Paris,
turned fashion on its head. They were fashion’s answer to the
postmodernism and deconstruction that were roiling the other arts. And,
thanks to merchants such as the Weisers, the clothes found an early
audience in America. They had already been carrying such designers as
Issey Miyake, Kenzo, and Kansai Yamamoto, all of whom they picked up in
Paris, when Jon said, “You know, I think I should go to Tokyo.” Soon
Selma and Barbara followed. The floodgates opened. In response to the
new fashion voices, the Weisers decided to create a special retail
forum, Charivari Workshop, on 81st Street and Columbus Avenue, for the
experimental and avant-garde designers they were becoming obsessed with.
As Barbara says, “Each of our stores was an extension and a reaction to
the other.” Eventually the Belgian designers also became a major cause.
What made each place special was that it had its own spirit.

Barbara’s discovery of Yohji Yamamoto stands out as an example of how
the family worked. It was March 1981, and Selma and Barbara were in
Paris. They were coming to the end of a grueling three-week buying trip
and were submitting their orders to the various houses. “When you tell
people you’re going to Paris to the prêt-à-porter, they have visions
that you are sitting back sipping champagne,” explains Barbara. “We
were working day and night. My mother was finishing up the orders, and I
said I had to get out of there and take a walk. I ended up in Les
Halles, and I saw this weird store. I was fascinated. I called up my
mother and said, ‘This is either the best or the worst thing I have ever
seen.’ ” Enter Selma. Twenty minutes later they were putting down
$10,000 for the whole Yohji Yamamoto collection, and they got a
two-year exclusive to introduce his designs in the U.S.

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