On a recent muggy Monday afternoon, Jill K. Davis, 26, a jewelry maker from Ohio, stepped into Fort Greene boutique Thistle & Clover and began laying out delicate earrings and necklaces on a pristine black-and-white table in the middle of the small space. With a wall of colorful silk dresses and dressy tops behind her, the boutique’s co-owner Camilla Gale, 24, picked up one of Ms. Davis’ rings adorned with a tiny, handmade sterling silver house featuring two windows and a teeny front door. “I had a couple who wanted that as an engagement ring because, they said, it was like they found a home in each other,” Ms. Davis explained. Ms. Gale, a fair, sweet-faced blonde dressed in a strapless, flowing black dress, and Thistle & Clover’s other owner, Rand Niederhoffer, 25, a brunette in a forgiving blue dress, let out an audible “aww.” Ms. Niederhoffer will be the maid of honor in Ms. Gale’s Hamptons wedding in late September. They were sold. “We’re suckers for girls with cute stories,” Ms. Gale explained.
Best friends and business partners Ms. Gale and Ms. Niederhoffer were hosting their second open call for independent designers at their five-month-old shop. The New York natives met in 2005, when they were both studying art history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and shopped together at European outdoor markets. Inspired, they returned to New York in 2005 to get postcollege jobs, Ms. Niederhoffer at magazine internships and Ms. Gale at American Ballet Theatre, then Creative Time, a city- and business-funded organization that works with artists to present innovative public art projects (it recently worked with David Byrne on his “Playing the Building” installation at the South Street Seaport). The two opened Thistle & Clover in April of this year.
Ms. Gale said she modeled Thistle & Clover’s open call on Creative Time’s “open door” auditions. Designers make appointments, then present their wares, usually with a look book or printed images of their work and a price list. Ms. Gale and Ms. Niederhoffer try on the fashions and jewelry and take photos of specific pieces they like, often offering suggestions and edits to make a salable piece for the boutique. In a few weeks, Ms. Gale and Ms. Niederhoffer will pick two or three new designers to feature, and order from them on “consignment” for three months. They double the wholesale price and send the designer a check each month, paying them for each piece sold. After the three months, they will consider ordering more products, based on their sales.
Ms. Gale said the open call is made specifically for designers who are underrepresented in the often exclusive clothing and jewelry boutique world. “Even if it doesn’t work out and [their work] isn’t right for us, we can recommend other places for them to go,” she explained. “It creates a community for people who don’t often get feedback to help them.”
TWICE A YEAR for more than 40 years, Henri Bendel has opened its doors to designers for their “Open See” event, which has launched the careers of previously unknown talents including Todd Oldham, Anna Sui and James Purcell. (The last one was in March.) Other boutiques, including Fort Greene’s Stuart & Wright and Bird in Carroll Gardens, view designers’ work over e-mail. But the open call remains a rarity in the ever-expanding, often intimidating boutique world, which can leave most independent designers sequestered, selling their work at the Brooklyn Flea, at street fairs and on the Internet.