By Julie Parise, CBSNewYork.com
When you think about young fashionistas looking to make it big in the Big Apple, you might imagine a cutthroat The Devil Wears Prada atmosphere, where young Anne Hathaway types go to have their dreams crushed by frigid, no-nonsense executives who suck the souls right out of their ambitious underlings in the name of style.
Manhattan’s RS Pop Up Shop in midtown, however, hopes to prove that success can be had by taking on the very opposite of this philosophy.
Put on your favorite heels and head to the Roger Smith Hotel, where the storefront has taken a firm hold of part of the emerging trend of “pop-up shops” that work to give a name to up and coming designers. At RS Pop, a different designer is featured in-store for one month at a time, taking front and center on the shop’s runway.
RS Pop’s mission? To embrace a dream and turn it into a real life success story.
And co-founder Melissa Gonzalez is a storyteller. Well, she’s a storyteller, an entrepreneur, an actress and a producer, among other things. Tapping into her background as a Wall Street executive, she uses her marketing skills to show designers the best way to pitch their product and get it to the masses.
With an emphasis on the storytelling process, Gonzalez and the Pop-Up Shop employees work with each designer as they take over the posh digs on 47th Street.
“We want to embrace concepts,” Gonzalez said. “Make [the store] your own. Sell your story.”
RS Pop provides the designer with a brand profile video and an opening night bash at the boutique upon their arrival.
“When I meet a designer, they might catch my eye with a piece or clothing or an accessory,” Gonzalez said. “But it’s not until I talk to them and get their full story and their process that you capture who they are. [The video] adds to their story, and I find that it gives customers a more personal feel, a more personal relationship with the designers.”
The Sohung Collective, a group of seven designers out of the East Village, called RS Pop home for most of October. The retailer transformed the boutique’s space to feature the individuality of each of their eclectic lines, which boasts aberrant blazers from Wendel Johnston and funky, nature-inspired jewelry from designer Kyoko Honda. As London-based designer Simon Carter moved into the store during early November, the artist transformed the boutique into his own space, chronicling his creative take on men’s fashion.
In a city that is known for cutthroat competition, the RS Pop Shop is a breath of fresh air. For Gonzalez and co-founder John Knowles, the idea behind RS Pop isn’t isolation – it’s collaboration. Making connections is a central focus of the operation, and with over 10,000 followers combined on Facebook and Twitter, these guys know what they’re talking about.
“Such a big portion of how these designers make their sales – they all want a storefront – but it’s a lot more cost efficient to be online when you’re starting,” said Gonzalez. “You have to let people know you exist. It’s important to understand that online you have such a good reach.”
But just as the pop-up shop works to bridge the designers with new clientele, they’re also working to connect the artists to each other. Gonzalez expressed her pride at seeing designers attend each others’ opening nights. Growth, she said, is a shared effort.
The refreshing, new take on fashion doesn’t mean the RS Pop Shop isn’t uniquely New York. During the city’s Fashion Week last August, the shop transformed their Lexington Ave street corner into a runway, where emerging artists who didn’t (yet) have the opportunity to be seen at Fashion Week had a chance to make a statement. Outside, crowds gathered in the street to watch the creative, only-in-New-York kind of event. Inside, models walked up and down the catwalk – the first steps for the featured designers in making their dreams a reality.
“To see the models walk the runway after weeks of preparation and their faces just glowing cause it was such a success, it was so rewarding,” Gonzalez said.
For some, it truly was a Cinderella story.
“A lot of the designers we had this season, it was a mix of having done shows before and never having done runway shows,” Gonzalez said. “So for me, it was weeks of working with them. How many looks are they going to have? How are we going to present it?”
In keeping with the “dreams come true” idea, the RS Pop Shop is co-sponsoring a holiday gift drive for a Bronx school district. The store is hosting a Holiday Gift Kickoff Event at the Roger Smith Hotel alongside Simon Carter and fashion industry executive Timothy Danser on Wednesday, Nov. 17th.
The Pop Shop will also be open for in-store drop off donations on Thurs. Nov 18 and Fri. Nov. 19th. For a wish list and information on how to give, click here.
Yes, cold-hearted Kelly Cutrone clones may still be what outsiders and ambitious, aspiring designers expect from the fashion industry, but the RS Pop Shop serves as a contradiction.
It’s not about nightmares. It’s about fairy tales – and those never go out of style.
RS Pop Shop
The Roger Smith Hotel
501 Lexington Ave (in between 47th and 48th Streets)
Julie Parise is the Features Editor for CBSNewYork.com.