Soho boutique Kirna Zabete moves into Bryn Mawr, with an eye and optimism

Beth Buccini, of Chadds Ford, shown here with one of the fashion books she sells, in the dressing room of her Bryn Mawr boutique Kirna Zabete.

Beth Buccini, owner of the ultimate in modern chic boutiques, Kirna Zabête, is so certain Upper East Side fashionistas and their Main Line counterparts are birds of the same fashion feather that she opened a 3,000-square-foot version of her New York store in Bryn Mawr the week before Thanksgiving.

"Is that comparison a bit of a stretch?" I inquired - rather incredulously - one recent Tuesday amid the rosy glow of the store's shoe salon. At the same time, I marveled at the selection of Mansur Gavriel ballet flats, metallic Golden Goose sneakers, and exquisite Céline totes.

"The reality is that if you are running around New York, chances are you are going to be in a great jean, a great sweater, and a flat or bootie," said Buccini.

"But," the Chadds Ford mother of four added, "Maybe if you are in New York, you'd wear a moto jacket. Here, it might be a cardigan or blazer. But both women would elevate with a great bag. People think New Yorkers are walking around dressed up every day. That's the myth."

That style philosophy, combined with an innate knack for stocking Kirna Zabête (KEER-nah zah-BETT) with beautiful, minimalist must-haves, like a Sacai T, Veronica Beard shirtwaist, or a pair of perfectly distressed Mother jeans, has brought Buccini 17 years of success.

Opened in SoHo in 1999, the Kirna Zabête brand - which now includes three brick-and-mortar stores, online sales, and a personal shopping service, is a multimillion-dollar business. Buccini also counts Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson, and Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry's wife) as clients.

Still, despite the obvious cachet Buccini brings to our suburban woods (her home was just featured in the December/January issue of Harper's Bazaar), the Philadelphia retail scene promises to be a tough one.

Boutiques that have offered edgier pieces from almost-mainstream brands like Stella McCartney struggle because local fashionistas with a hefty dose of disposable income tend to prefer their fashion Neiman Marcus-conservative. As in they prefer to drop their cash on St. John's Knits rather than Rick Owens T's. 

 The Main Line elite shopper will, however, pay for stylish practicality. That is why a $5,000 Mr & Mrs Italy parka will likely find a home.

Designer prices aside, Kirna Zabête's space has some serious whimsy.

Housed in a former SEPTA bus terminal garage, Kirna Zabête's high ceilings create an airy, relaxing showroom vibe. The walls burst with vibrant primary hues and the massive, yet sparkling hanging chandeliers twinkle.

To the left of the entrance are more casual and contemporary pieces, like RE/DONE denim and Barrie cashmere sweaters. To the right: runway-worthy regulars - Rosie Assoulin, Stella McCartney, Altuzarra, Saint Laurent, and Chloe.

"It's the edit that we do that's different from everyone else," said Buccini, attired in a floor-length crepe Saint Laurent dress plastered with big red flowers and a the embellishment of the season, the pussy bow. On the strength of that outfit, not to mention her cute signature pixie, I trust her edit.

"We give people what they want and what they can't get anywhere else."

Buccini, 45, grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., with her dad, a newspaper-ad-salesman-turned-car-dealership-owner, and mother, who worked as a docent for the Chrysler Museum of Art. She majored in art history and French literature at the University of Virginia, where she joined a sorority and became friends with Sarah Easley. (Remember that name.)

After spending semesters abroad in Paris and Florence, Buccini moved to New York and did a stint at Mirabella magazine. She then became fashion editor at New York magazine, and, ultimately, a fashion insider.

While there, she realized the New York retail scene lacked a space - other than, say, Barney's Co-op - where one could buy contemporary high-end clothes, home goods, and other knickknacks in one chic place. The idea was to open a concept store like Colette in Paris.

After realizing how easily she could be replaced in the magazine world, Buccini decided opening her own business would ground her career. She partnered with Easley, and Kirna Zabête - their college nicknames pulled together (Zabête is French for Elizabeth) - was born.

The two wrote a business plan, shopped it to investors, won over a silent one, and, in 1999, when both women were 27, they opened one of the country's first concept stores. (It wasn't until 2013 that Dover Street Market of London opened in New York, and the next year, Joan Shepp called her new Chestnut Street boutique a concept store.)

"We were among the first pioneers to sell such an interesting mix of stuff. When we opened, we were selling candy and dog accessories," Buccini said. "But then Dylan's Candy Bar came out and everyone was doing candy."

Over the years, Easley and Buccini discovered up-and-coming brands, like Veronica Beard (the Veronicas, as fashion in-the-knowers call the design duo, are good friends of theirs). They also helped put Nicolas Ghesquière's collections for Balenciaga on the map (he is currently creative director for the house of Louis Vuitton). Costume designer Patricia Field regularly shopped the SoHo store for Sex and the City.

And much like the celebrities they follow, Easley and Buccini became "it" girls in their own right, ending up on New York best-dressed lists.

Six years ago, Buccini and her husband, Robert, a partner in real estate firm the Buccini/Pollin Group, moved the family here. And by January, Easley, now over the retail scene, had sold her stake in Kirna Zabête to Buccini.

Buccini decided it was time to expand, so she opened stores here and in East Hampton. A Palm Beach store is scheduled to open next year.

"Look," Buccini said, pointing to a woman on the sales floor. "She's wearing Golden Goose sneakers, and I know that's a Saint Laurent bag."

Seems her people really are here.

Kirna Zabête is at 915 Lancaster Ave., 610-581-7777 or www.kirnazabete.com

ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704@ewellingtonphl

Continue Reading