Beth Buccini, Sarah Easley: Southern belles on Greene Street dress yoga moms with dogs at boutique Kirna Zabête.
For the city’s fashionistas, the swish, post-feminist Soho boutique Kirna Zabête is a lavender-red refuge in an area that increasingly resembles a Midwestern strip mall.
It’s owned and operated by Beth (Zabête) Buccini and Sarah (Kirna) Easley, a pair of 32-year-old Southern belles. Loyal clients include costume designer Patricia Field and preggers actresses Kate Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow. The store, which opened in 1999 selling a highly edited selection of women’s designer clothing, added a baby section last year (they already had a candy department).
The dark, long-haired Ms. Easley, who looks like the girl who would cover for you if you snuck in past curfew, is herself five months pregnant. One favored maternity costume is a Jean Paul Gaultier kimono, a “timeless piece” she received as a wedding present. The pixie-ish Ms. Buccini, who looks like the girl who’d bust the curfew (sort of a bikini to her business partner’s maillot), also favored Gaultier through all three trimesters of her pregnancy. She was coolly assessing the spring line at Chloé’s New York office four days after giving birth.
The two girls were each reared in Rockwellian homes in picturesque Virginia towns-young Ms. Easley’s mother made her clothes; kindergarten couture!-and attended separate private schools. Their paths collided in 1989 during freshman year at the University of Virginia, when they were assigned to dorms one floor apart. They successfully rushed the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, “but didn’t take it terribly seriously,” said Ms. Buccini, particularly natty the other day in an off-the-shoulder ecru top and tweed pants.
“Aerobics was the frenzy, so all day long most people were in aerobics gear,” said Ms. Easley, whose floral gossamer top covered her barely burgeoning belly. “At football games, I wore Laura Ashley and pearls with cowboy boots.”
“And a flask of Jack Daniel’s,” put in Ms. Buccini.
Graduating in 1993, the two fleurs uprooted and repotted themselves in our concrete jungle. Ms. Easley’s only marketable skill was fluency in French, so she got a job answering the phone and ordering white roses for the front desk at Christian Dior’s corporate office. She moved on from there to become a buyer and retail manager for Christian Lacroix, braving an office uniform from which she’s only recently recovered. “I have re-embraced the blazer,” she said. “I had the anti-blazer backlash for years.”
Ms. Buccini, meanwhile, worked as a fashion editor both at the Kurt Andersen/Caroline Miller–era New York and at Hachette Filipacchi’s dear, departed Mirabella. She remembers the Mirabella brass telling her she should wear more black, and constantly wanting to shoot fashion layouts containing garments more avant-garde than what stores were choosing to stock.
They quit their jobs in November 1998, began to scribble 60-page business plans at Ms. Buccini’s house-“wearing Club Monaco sweatpants for six weeks while eating ramen noodles,” Ms. Easley said-and opened for business on Greene Street nine months later.
It was an unconventional, girlish proprietorship from the start. “We’d lie on the floor of our office, hung over, and eat cupcakes and laugh when we didn’t feel like working,” Ms. Buccini said. “We wanted to create a warm, unintimidating environment, where people would feel comfortable coming in with their dog after yoga.”
Fortunately, a lot of people in Manhattan these days are following a long, cool draught of yoga with a quick chaser of shopping, and the boutique’s combination of laid-back vibe, spacious dressing rooms and edgy selection quickly attracted a devoted following, including Kim France, editor in chief of Lucky. “In September, I was looking for stuff to wear for Fashion Week-but I hated every fall trend, so I wasn’t having much luck,” said Ms. France, who worked with Ms. Buccini at New York, in a phone interview. “Then I walked into Kirna Zabête, and it was a wonderland of stuff I wanted to buy.
“I don’t see boutiques taking many risks in L.A. or New York,” she continued. “I go in and see the same five lines of jeans and the same little T-shirts lines and froufrou top lines. I can predict what I’m going to see even before I walk in. It takes a lot to stump me, but there will always be a new designer at Kirna Zabête that I haven’t heard of. These are not the quiet pieces that blend into your wardrobe; they’re pieces that make the outfit.”
The key to the pair’s longevity in a difficult retail market, however, is that they’re careful to choose with customers in mind, rather than other designers or the nightlife freak fringe (R.I.P., Charivari).
“Overly avant-garde items can be a little pretentious,” Ms. Easley said. “Really, who’s going to buy a jacket with four sleeves?” Some of their recent offerings include polka-dot Jimmy Choo high heels for $440, a cropped shearling coat from Balenciaga for $2,328, and a Viktor and Rolf black leather jacket on sale for $1,943. Where’s our sugar daddy?
Also selling briskly: two perfumes named for the respective owners, with fragrance notes culled from difficult-to-find essential oils. “Like silver-tipped frankincense harvested by monks on a full moon only!” Ms. Buccini shouted gaily. Then, however, she grew solemn.
“We want everyone to feel like they’re Gwyneth Paltrow when they walk in,” she said. “Like they look that good, and they’re that important.”