Claire Danes shops there. So does Whoopi Goldberg. In fact, there’s a veritable United Nations of customers choosing their Israeli-made frocks, scarves, jewelry and vintage Gottex swimsuits at Rosebud, a Manhattan boutique opened by Fern Penn 10 years ago.
“It’s what I love about having my store in SoHo,” said Penn, a New Yorker, during a buying trip to Israel. “Everyone walks in here, customers from Germany, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. They just like how the stuff looks, and it means that people all over the world are wearing Israeli clothing.”
An early adapter of Israeli fashion, Penn opened her concept shop at a time when emerging sabra designers could only dream of selling their wares in the Big Apple. Along the way, several tried to open their own SoHo stores, but the rents were too steep. Penn’s store offered an option for designers looking to export their work.
“What Israeli designer can afford [rent of] $30,000 a month?” asked Penn. “You’re not selling at the price points of the market makers and you can’t lose your shirt like the market makers.”
Once the gentrified home of artists and architects, SoHo has become the Madison Avenue of New York’s downtown, albeit with appeal for the hipper set. But Penn has been able to develop her own niche among the Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Bloomingdale’s SoHo stores. With prices ranging from $95 to $400 for a select group of pieces from designers Ronen Chen, Alembika and Kedem Sasson, as well as a handful of accessories and jewelry makers (and vintage Israeli clothing and knicknacks), Penn has figured out what some New York women like to wear and calls her customers each time a new shipment comes in.
“I send things to Whoopi,” said Penn. “She loves Kedem Sasson and Alembika, those are the two she wears, and she’s been addicted ever since.”
Danes was first in the store before Christmas, said Penn, when she was heavily pregnant with her son, Cyrus, who was born in late December. She was shopping for stocking stuffers, said Penn, and bought an armful of bracelets and recycled picture frames, made by the folks at Yad Lekashish, a Jerusalem day center for elderly artisans.
“I told her everything is designed and made in Israel,” said Penn, remarking on Danes’ recent trips to Israel to film scenes for the award-winning TV show ‘Homeland.’ “She loved that.”
The concept of Israeli-designed products is a draw for many of the Rosebud customer base, but not all, added Penn.
“They come because they love the clothing,” she said. “They love our personal touch. We create an experience, you get a glass of wine or coffee, we sit, we talk; it’s a much more personal shopping experience.”
With a client base of women between the ages of 35 and 85, said Penn, many shoppers are repeat customers, some buying their entire wardrobes from Rosebud, others focusing on select pieces.
“It’s a look that works for women, not girls,” she said. “They love the clean look, and they want to look different, because most of what works for them in New York is Eileen Fisher.”
With plans to celebrate her first decade of business during the spring, Penn is also thinking about expanding her store, but “vertically,” she said, adding other kinds of Israeli products, such as Arad towels and bathrobes, shoes, possibly a coffee bar. For that she’ll need financing, and she is currently talking to possible investors.