Since their college days Meredith Blank and Emily Titelman knew they were destined to open a boutique together. Coupling experiences in fashion PR and design the duo recently opened Dagny + Barstow on the Bowery in New York City.
How did you come up with the name Dagny + Barstow?
We really liked the way the two words sounded together because they don’t sound too feminine, and neither one of us is very girly. But we arrived at Dagny + Barstow because we wanted something literary, and Dagny is the protagonist in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. She was just such a perfect image for what we wanted our store to represent. She tough, she never backs down, she’s independent, and most of all she’s effortlessly chic. She never tries to be like anyone else.
Barstow comes from the opening of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. They’re driving through Barstow when the drugs kick in. We really liked how Dagny is a serious businesswoman and then Barstow represents this wild streak; because you should always look put together and sophisticated, but at the same time, fashion should always have a sense of humor too. We have $1200 leather pants, but then we also carry “Fuck You” bowties.
What made the two of you join forces and open a store?
We met in college at the University of Pennsylvania. Actually, we met the first week of college because Emily and her friends had gotten bored and dressed up in costumes and Meredith realized she absolutely had to be friends with these people.
We formulated the idea of opening the boutique together when we were in London on a semester abroad. Philly can get very small very quickly in terms of shopping, and so girls were always showing up to formals in the same dresses, and it was just so refreshing to be somewhere where all of the clothing was new and exciting. We saw so many things that we wished were available back in the US. There are too many talented designers out there for people to all be wearing the same pieces from the same ten brands.
What were you each doing before this?
Emily was working in PR and social media for DKC, and Meredith was an assistant designer at Brian Reyes. It’s a nice balance for us because Emily has retail and PR experience and Meredith has a background in design, which will enable us to start a line for the store soon.
How did choose your location? Do you find it challenging being located amidst a sea of restaurant supply stores?
We really love being on the Bowery in the middle of the restaurant supply district. It just gives the neighborhood that much more character and personality. We’d so much rather be here over some of the New York City shopping districts that now feel like malls. And the Bowery is a really special place to be a part of right now. It still has the direct connection to the past that people are desperately trying to protect but it’s also changing so quickly. And right in the middle of that push and pull is our store. Our personal styles are always such a mix of high and low and it’s nice to be in a neighborhood that also reflects that.
Can you tell us about the bar that is now your check out counter? What kind of history does it have?
The space has such an unbelievable history to it, which is definitely one of the reasons we were drawn to it. Not only did it used to be Kos, a club owned by Denzel Washington and Lenny Kravitz, but the storefront was photographed by Berenice Abbott when it was the Triboro Barber School. We really wanted to work around the elements that were already in place and part of that was keeping the bar. Right now there’s a major push to preserve the historical elements of the Bowery and we felt the same way about the interior of the space. It had such a great bone structure and we built our store around those elements.
Could this mean life after dark for Dagny + Barstow?
No plans for after dark! It would be nice to think about expanding to coffee or beer and wine some time in the future, but that would be much, much later on and only for the hours the store is open. One step at a time, though.
What about the designers you carry? How often to you plan to change it up?
Having unique merchandise is such a core part of our store concept and so part of that is just always trying to find new things. We’re really proud to say that some of the designers we brought to the US market are now being picked up by stores like Barneys and Opening Ceremony, but that also means that we have to stay vigilant. We never stop researching and trying to find designers who aren’t represented in the US yet.
Which collections were you most impressed with during fashion week?
Proenza was insanity. Kaelen, who we carry, showed at the Tents for the first time, and her collection had an amazing attention to detail and technique, including some great laser cut leather pieces. We are really excited to see what Sophie Hulme has in store for Fall.
What do you hope makes Dagny and Barstow stand apart from other retailers featuring emerging designers?
People will have to come see for themselves! Aside from our merchandise, we always want customers to feel welcome and at home in our store. The two of us are really committed to offering personal service, and we’ve created a comfortable atmosphere where people end up just wanting to stay and chat and have a coffee while sitting at our bar.