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Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a weekly Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.Photos by William Chan
Lexi Isadora has been dressing the girls of Williamsburg from the inside out since 2007. Her N. 5th Street lingerie store, Brooklyn Fox, was born from a lifelong appreciation of the secret confidence that comes from wearing something pretty that no one else can see (unless permitted).
After success through the recession and a rapidly changing neighborhood, Lexi saw her opportunity to open a second outpost on Bedford Avenue. Under the same name, the new store sells accessories and apparel from brands like Mara Hoffman, Tibi, and Nicolas K just around the corner from her lingerie shop. We sat down with the blonde storeowner to hear how being raised at the alter of Halston lead to a career serving lingerie addicts and ultimately dressing one of the city's fastest growing retail stretches from the inside out.
Let's start by talking about your first store, the lingerie shop. How did you open and when was that?
It was six years ago.
And why did you choose lingerie?
I had been raised by a mother who, instead of having Jesus or Moses or a crucifix on the mantle, we had Coco Chanel and Halston. It was very much abou couture pieces—;even though she couldn't afford them, she loved them as art. When I was in high school she bought me a La Perla thong, and it was, like, $55, which was in the early '90s. Between my age and how long ago it was, a $55 thong was unheard of, and it just blew my mind. But it was the most gorgeous gem that I had in my closet. It was the first time I ever had that experience of feeling a confidence and a sexiness that was my own private way of shining, without anyone else knowing why.
From an early age I had a very strong connection to lingerie, and I was also raised with a connection to fashion. I think ready-to-wear is a beast of an endeavor if you're a retailer. The neighborhood was changing—I had lived here for quite a while and I saw the zoning laws change, and I knew that there could be a way to make money and have a store here. It would be a destination spot for women to find gems.
I always use that word because all women have these gems in our closet, whether it's lingerie or it's a dress or it's, you know, a very expensive shearling coat or something that you've invested in. And it may or may not be expensive. It could be vintage or new, but the quality, the fit, everything screams, "This is special." And when you open your closet, it's like a light or a kind of a halo shines around it. You just want an excuse to wear it.
When you opened the lingerie store, what was the reception like in the neighborhood?
I got a good reception initially, and then 2008 came. That was a painful moment because you could hear people's wallets screeching to a halt. I had started off with really high-end merchandise. I didn't have T-shirt bras, it was just these special pieces, and our price point was quite high. I had to make a little adjustment. One comment I always received was that it was well-curated, so I believed in myself, and that I could buy well for the neighborhood. It was just a matter of adjusting the price point to meet the needs of the economy at the time.
How did the ready-to-wear store grow out of the lingerie store?
I had a lot of customers coming in asking where they could buy dresses or specific ready-to-wear items locally, and I'd send them to a few of the stores in the neighborhood and they would come back wanting something a little different than what was offered. Because I always had my heart in fashion as well, I thought it would be just really great to offer that—to offer a different perspective to the neighborhood.
You chose the neighborhood for the lingerie shop because you lived here. Why did you choose it again for the apparel store, and what was the thought behind calling them both Brooklyn Fox?
[The name] was more of a branding decision, and I feel like even though we may not have the same customer for both, the spirit of the stores are the same. The philosophy of how the salespeople interact with the customer, the idea of having gems of pieces is the same. I felt really confident in that I understood the neighborhood, and I understood the customer. Branching out to a different neighborhood, or Manhattan, would have felt riskier because it wasn't a customer I knew.
What was it like opening the lingerie shop the first time around, and then opening this store, the second time around?
When I signed the lease [for the lingerie shop] I didn't speak to anyone for like a week. I was so scared and overwhelmed. Then I just calmed down, because there was just a lot of work to do—so much work to do that it kept me from really focusing on how scary it was to open a store. I just threw myself into it, and I was really involved. I worked everyday for a really long time until I could afford to hire people.
Opening [the lingerie] store was a very modest curve in terms of establishing myself. [The ready-to-wear store] was much more radical. I signed the lease and they wanted me to take possession immediately. It was a lot of work. I didn't know if I had enough time in the day, each day. I was like, "If only days were 30 hours, maybe this could work!"
When picture your typical customer at this location, who do you see?
A lot of women come in here and they're expecting a special piece that they know, if they walk into a party or a restaurant, they're the only ones wearing that piece.
Does your customer differ on the weekends? Because Williamsburg's become this weekend destination, do you see a different influx of people on the week versus the weekend?
Certainly. We have a lot more tourists on the weekends—it's definitely a different vibe. Williamsburg, even though it's expanded so much, is still such a community. On the weekend we have less of an intimate experience with the customer because of the volume.
Do you think your customer differs between the two stores?
A little bit, yeah. Lingerie is different because it's a mood. Lingerie is an experience and lingerie is a state of mind. It's like how rock and roll is a state of mind more than it is a genre, in a way. We have lingerie addicts who come in and are obsessed, and it's a little different here. People come to fill in their wardrobe, and it's not much more of like, what's the latest thing you have? Which I thought would be more of the situation [with apparel].
What's your favorite thing in the store right now?
Right now? It's this fringed python backpack. I will try it on for you! Any excuse to put it on. It's by Barbara Bonner. She's British. It's just so special and different, and it's actually practical. I mean, it will hold things, but I'm not sure you'd want to wear it in the rain.
Are you in this store everyday?
No, I'm not in this store everyday. I do all the buying, so a lot of times I'm in showrooms. I do pop in the store almost every day, though.
What do you look for in an employee?
Warmth and honesty. Not just honesty to their employer, but to the customer. It's very much a community store, and we don't have anyone on commission. New Yorkers are smarter than that! We know when someone's BS-ing us to make a sale.
Is there a Holy Grail item that you haven't been able to stock, but would love to carry if you could?
Rick Owens! He's the Holy Grail. I mean, honestly, that's the Holy Grail in a price point that we can maintain. The Holy Holy Grail is, you know, I have to go back to how I was raised, and if I could erect Halston from the dead, or carry Chanel, you know, I could die now.
What is your thinking on the general price point of the store?
I try to have a bit of a range, because it's just incredibly challenging to have quality products that are very affordable and can match a Zara or a J. Crew, where a lot of people get their basics. We try to bring in a lower price point so that anyone can come in here and find something they can afford. It's not always what they're lusting after—sometimes things that are lust-worthy are very expensive, and there's a reason for it. When you investigate the fabrication, the design work that went into it, the handwork.
What's on your low end right now, and what's on your high end?
One low-end—and I hate to use that word because the quality is so good—is KamaliKulture. The dresses are super flattering, the quality is great, and it's Norma Kamali. She's been able to make silhouettes timeless. For her to introduce KamaliKulture, where everything's under a hundred dollars, has been a great way for the girl who doesn't have $500 to spend on a dress to walk out and look like a million bucks.
And what's on your higher price end right now?
We have this wonderful Femme D'armes lace gown. It's $828. And yet we have to keep reordering it.
What's your advice for people who are trying to break into the industry and open their own stores?
I have some opposing advice, and some contradictory advice. My father gave me this advice the other day, because we're going to start a private label for the lingerie line. I was telling him all the steps involved and how much work it's going to be. He said, "Sometimes, the less you know about something, the better, because if you knew what it entailed, you would never do it." In that sense, I really do agree with him, because your dreams can be thwarted once you realized what you're up against.
On the other hand, I'd say my biggest piece advice would be to be humble. When I opened the stores, I was not afraid to say I didn't know, and ask questions. I asked a lot of questions. I had to be street smart, in a sense—I didn't ask the people who might, you know, use [my inexperience] to their advantage. I asked people who I felt would have my best interest at heart, or were just kind custodians of the business market. Cynthia Rowley had [written about the lingerie store] in the Post. I reached out to her, and she was so kind. Everyone's just been quite wonderful, in terms of the female designers sharing advice.
What did you do before opening the lingerie store?
Before the lingerie store, I worked in accessories, but I worked on the wholesale side of things. I was a yoga teacher. Oh, and I was a DJ for several years! I had a radio show.
If you had a week off of work, what would you do?
I would say I would sit still, but that would never happen. Oh God, that opportunity has not presented itself to me in several years, so I don't even know what to think! I might go out of town. I would probably go to the museums and do the New York thing, because I'm from here and that's in my blood, and I feel like I get stretched thin a little bit and I don't get to enjoy New York.
Okay, time for the Lightening round! Tumblr or Pinterest?
Outsourced to my employees!
'60s, '70s, or '80s?
Today I'm rocking the '70s.
Jay-Z or Kanye?
Dress or jeans?
Mac or PC?
8am or 8pm?
Go-to lunch spot in the neighborhood?
I make everything myself.
Go-to after-work watering hole?