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Court Owner Nicole Tondre Loves Everything About Retail

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Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a new weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.

Photos by Daniel Krieger

Mulberry Street boutique Court has the same easy downtown style as many of its Nolita neighbors, but with a twist: Most of the clothing in stock costs under $100. Owners Nicole Tondre and Lisa Fuller opened the shop in 2008 and launched an in-house denim line two years ago. Now, they wholesale to local boutiques like Steven Alan, Poppy and Alter as well as online retailers like Bona Drag and Need Supply. One rainy day recently, we talked to Tondre about the jeans, the neighborhood, and the quest for the perfect bag.

Have you always wanted to own a store? What made you decide to start Court?

No, I didn't always want to be a shop owner. I studied fashion design in Colorado, moved to New York in '99, and started working as a designer up in the Garment Center. I did that for about five years, and then a friend and I had a monster vintage collection from our design archives, and we started a vintage store in the East Village, which was Circa Now. Then I was hooked. I loved retail, I loved the interaction with people, I loved the merchandising, the buying, all of it. Court was my second retail venture and I opened it in '08.

What made you pick this neighborhood?

This is a weird in-between block, but we got a great deal. When we found this place it had no windows or anything. It was a gut renovation, it was a dump, but I knew I wanted the Nolita/Soho/Chinatown area. I like the taste of the people around here. I like that you have a mix of European tourists and all the girls who live around here.

So yeah, I knew I wanted to be in this neighborhood, and I haven't regretted it. I like that these three blocks—Mulberry, Mott, Elizabeth—are small indie boutiques. I like that I've got No.6 and Creatures of Comfort right here.

When you picture your customer, who do you see?

We're really trying to let girls come in and get something for $100 or less. We do a couple of investment pieces, but it's mostly affordable. Our girls are New York girls, cosmopolitan but comfortable, cool, classic, chic. They need to be able to wear their stuff to work and going out.

That's the frustration with shopping in Nolita. It can get so expensive.

Exactly. When I shop around this neighborhood, I'm like, "Wow, we're underpriced." I'll even go to Min-K, and you can't get a top for less than $150.

But it's working?

Yeah. It will be four years in September. We've got a nice loyal customer base.

Are you in the store every day?

I am not. I'm in the store two days a week. Lisa and I are usually here Wednesday and Saturday. We used to be here every day, from 2004 until now, pretty much, but we now have an office, basically because we started the denim line. So we're there running the denim line, the wholesale division, all that, but we're here to check in.

So you still get to see your regular customers.

I'm close by, so I'll have them text me, email me, say "I'm coming in," and I'll come down here and meet then. For a lot of girls, I'll make their wardrobe for them.

What's the next step for the denim line?

The goal is to start adding some t-shirts, jackets, more ready-to-wear. For now we're just trying to really nail the fit, be able to fit every body type, and grow the line into more stores.

Right now, what merchandise are you most excited about?

The spring line just hit the store two weeks ago, so I haven't even gotten my personals yet. I love the red jeans, I'm dying for those. I love the white jeans. I love this new vintage wash. I mostly am after new jeans. And I always love any and all Pam Love jewelry.

Is there anything that you don't currently stock that you would love to carry in an ideal world? What are you looking to add?

We're always looking for the right handbag. We have a really hard time finding a bag at the right price point that still has quality. Where's the perfect leather tote for $250? That's also something we're thinking of releasing under our own line.

OK, let's do the lightening round. I'm going to give you a couple options, and you pick one. 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s?

'70s. It's a major inspiration in my denim. I like the '60s too. But the '70s—it's sexy, it's similar to today's New York street style: high-waisted jeans, fitted jeans, t-shirts, a high platform, a casual attitude about life.

Mad Men or Game of Thrones?

Mad Men.

Mustard or mayo?

Both? Mayo. Mayo.

Jay-Z or Kanye?

Jay-Z. For sure.

· Rackage: Mulberry Goes to Court [Racked NY]
· Rogan's Dynamic Duo on Gentrification, Style, and the Bowery [Racked NY]
· Court [Official Site]

Creatures Of Comfort

205 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10012 212-925-1005 Visit Website