The clothing you'll find in Joan Shepp's new Chestnut Street boutique stays true to her aesthetic: a heavily curated collection of designer women's wear that is dark in hue, architectural in silhouette, and of course, edgy.

Yet the "concept" boutique, with its clean white walls and golden fixtures, evokes a freshness that is decidedly much more Shepp-y than 1616 Walnut ever was.

There's a section for chic and crazy hats. (Shepp loves a bright beanie). And shoppers can check out a studio where products are photographed for her cyber-store operation. ("It's a fascinating process, don't you think?")

She also plans to dedicate a spot in Shepp-land for designers to sell Stateside-made collections. (She feels it's important to support emerging designers.)

Everything in the new Joan Shepp - from that special Rick Owens sheath, to the for-sale white leather furniture courtesy of Roche Bobois' Old City store, to the Moschino cellphone cases designed to look like McDonald's french-fry holders - looks like it fits comfortably into the vogue-visionary lifestyle that defines Shepp and her daughter and co-owner, Ellen.

"Wherein as before, my world was all clothes and shoes and so on, this is the first time I have the actual space to be multifaceted," Joan said.

Depending on whom you ask, a concept store can be many things: When it comes to big chains, it acts as a prototype for what stores will look like in the future, from the new fixtures to the clothing styles. For smaller boutiques, it's a way to introduce shoppers to items outside their normal repertoire but that match the store's aesthetic. They can be labs for owners to experiment with new things to sell. They can be meeting spaces where fashion communities mull over big ideas - sometimes with coffee, wine, or food that best connects to the fashion genre, like a green smoothie in an eco-friendly-chic store.

"It's about creating an in-store experience that gets people into stores instead of shopping from their bedrooms," said Aria Hughes, an associate retail editor at New York-based trend forecasting group WGSN.

Today's concept boutiques are much like the turn-of-the-century designer salons of Chanel or Charles Frederick Worth, where couturiers treated showrooms like gallery spaces, explained Joe Hancock, a retail professor at Drexel University.

Back then, designers changed the look of their showrooms with the seasons. So, for example, if Chanel's collection was inspired by a walk in the park, parasols would be part of the decor, and probably for sale. 

Colette Rousseaux first opened her Colette boutique, merging lifestyle items with high fashion, in Paris in 1997.

Today, burgeoning hipster enclaves in New York have several concept stores. Story, in the heart of Chelsea, describes itself as a space with the point of view of a magazine, rotating and displaying items for sale much like a gallery. In April, Urban Outfitters, almost the American granddaddy of concept stores, expanded on the concept concept by opening a restaurant in its Williamsburg location.  

Here in Philadelphia, fashion entrepreneurs are using concept stores to broaden their existing identities.

In the last year, both Shepp and Knit Wit owner Ann Gitter moved into new spaces on Chestnut Street, and in a few months they will count mall faves Nordstrom Rack, Uniqlo, and the Cheesecake Factory as close neighbors. It's a perfect opportunity to capitalize on increased foot traffic.

"More and more, the things in my store are about my point of view," said Gitter, who will offer cashmere blankets in fall and is looking for sportswear lines that transition from boardroom to gym. Gitter, too, is dedicating a space in her store to made-in-America designers.

Steve Duross' Duross & Langel in Center City will soon include a salon, as well as a meeting space for wine tastings, fashion seminars, and self-defense lessons for women - all things he knows his customers like, beyond the good-smelling and the sudsy.

And in spring, Donna Sandoz opened a smaller version of her New Jersey store Erdon in Old City. Like the new Joan Shepp, her store will carry the collections that reflect her and her loyal customers, but she is experimenting with different lines of denim, too. After all, her dressy customer has downtime.

When regulars walk into the nearly 9,000-square-foot Joan Shepp store, Shepp jumps up to give them tours. She shows them how the front has the hats, and right behind them are the shoes - this season there are plenty of gold details. Directly behind the shoes is a courtyard, and that's where Shepp wants to eventually host fashion shows.

On the second floor is the men's department, where along with the Y3 sweaters, Shepp's wood dining-room table acts as display. She'll eventually decorate walls with local artists' work that she intends to sell.

But the engine of the store is at the first floor's center, at the crossroads between sporty and designer labels like Dries Van Noten and Vivienne Westwood. A devotee of feng shui, Shepp reports that's the luckiest space in the building.

It's all kept behind the entrance's steel door handles - a capital J and S. You can't get more Joan Shepp than that.

Joan Shepp is at 1811 Chestnut St.
Information: 215-735-2666 or