"New Yorkers will still shop," insists local store owner Cherry Bishop.
Despite everything you hear on the news, October is still a busy month for shopping in New York City, and it's no different at Cherry Bishop's East Village boutique. I find designer Bishop, sitting in the center of her store, wearing an over-sized T-shirt, with her hair coifed in blond bob; she's happily chatting away with a customer. At 41, the talented designer has recently made what many store owners consider a fatal move: She changed the name and location of her store. "I can handle it," she says with a smirk like she just cut the tail of a rattlesnake. "I've been in the business for years."
Bishop is neither "Sex in the City" nor Martha Stewart, her clothes simply look good on real women -- curves and all. Her simple, elegant silhouettes gives 1930s style a modern flair. "Everything comes down to a good pattern," she says. "Make a good pattern, make sure it fits, then make it in multiple sizes."
Her affordable prices also appeal to her East Village fans: While most of her competition sells blouses for $100 a piece, Bishop's similarly handcrafted styles go nearly half the price. "I just want to be reasonable," says New Zealand-born Bishop.
The strategy seems to be working. From selling hats at a flea market to running two of her own stores, Bishop has proved that her good designs can prevail in almost any market, even in New York's latest economic downturn since the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Cherry has come a long way from the tiny town of Helensville, New Zealand, where her family and neighbors were farmers -- and she was in charge of the lambs. "I was good at it, too," she says proudly. "I'd get the lambs to jump in little patterns -- and I was always given two lambs instead of one.")
Apparently the sheep-filled landscape wasn't enough for the future sewing maven. "I loved it, but I was bored," she says. "It's not like we were a tribe and didn't know how far removed from society we were -- I knew I was at the end of the earth, and I wanted to be somewhere closer to the center."
Bishop relied on British magazines Honey and 19 to get all her style ideas, and turned to her mother to implement them. "My mom used to make all my dresses ... and I started telling her to take a cut here, and make it shorter. Finally she took me to the draper's shop and told me to learn to sew. So I did."
Bishop moved to Australia to study at Sydney's Fashion Institute of Technology, but never graduated.
After nine years she followed a love interest to New York. By the
time the romance faded, she had fallen in love with New York, and decided to stay. Bishop opened her first boutique, Halo, in 1992; when she moved her shop to its current location at 7th Street and Avenue A, she changed the name to match her own -- in part for a change of attitude, and also to escape confusion with a identically named local bar. "I was tired of getting calls for reservations for tables of eight," she gripes.
Her loyal customers are slowly finding Bishop's new location, and Bishop is back in school (at New York's FIT) and in the throes of "new pattern making." Bishop's popular designs are indicative that talent and hard work can pay off -- at least in New York. Her earthly designs are proving that a good pattern really does work.
Once I leave Bishop's store, It's fun and very "real world" to see someone wearing a Cherry Bishop design, especially since I know that's she's only sold in NYC. "She's very New York", says Web designer Gina Tolentino, who is visiting from Seattle. Ms. Tolentino spied her red, button down business dress while walking around in the village. "Now all Cherry Bishop needs is a Website."
Located at in the heart of the East Village at 117-119 East 7th Street; 212/529-4608
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