You're probably most familiar with Totokaelo from your computer screen — the high-end Seattle boutique founded by Jill Wenger in 2003 has amassed fans the world over with an e-commerce store stocked with designer labels that aren't readily found in department stores (think Haider Ackermann, Dries van Noten, and Issey Miyake). But now New Yorkers can log off and step into Totokaelo at 54 Crosby Street, where Wenger just opened her second store over the weekend. "Expanding globally has always been the dream," Wenger told Racked over email a couple days after walking us through the store." Opening in New York gets us closer to the rest of the world."
From the outside, Totokaelo is unassuming. But just a few steps inside 54 Crosby Street is all it takes to realize that you're not at just another Nolita boutique. Wenger transformed this former artist's residence into a shop that's a cross between someone's cozy home and Dover Street Market. What's most striking at first glance is the light: it's natural, since the open-air space features plenty of skylights. Walk past the army of mannequins arranged near the door to find fall-ready pieces from The Row and Vetements, weaving through architectural chairs that invite you to sit down and take in the space before getting down to business, or head upstairs to find clothing divided by color — there's a white room, a black room, and a color room, naturally.
Upstairs is also where you'll find a wall of shoes (just like in Seattle) and a VIP fitting room, with enough space for five shoppers to hang out in Totokaelo-branded slippers and bedazzled silk robes in between outfits. A staircase opposite this room — lined with a wall of nooks stuffed with plants and books to evoke that homey feeling — leads to one of two outdoor gardens, where Wenger plans to install heat lamps for use past the prime summer season.
The other outdoor space is off of the men's department two floors below ground level — yes, this is a literal man cave. Highlighting the contrast between here and the upper levels' airiness is that everything downstairs is painted black, with theater-style lights shining on clothing racks and shelves. But before you land on this level, you'll pass through the department that Wenger says has your "wear every day" clothes, from MM6 and Rachel Comey to designer denim.
What Wenger takes great pride in is her fitting rooms, which are bigger than the average pre-war studio apartment in the neighborhood. Her favorite feature is the "double-sided closet," in which a stylist (that's what sales associates are called here) can stock different sizes or styles through an outside door and a customer will open another within the fitting room to access them — no more half-naked hanger handoffs through a half-open curtain.
Totokaelo is open daily from 11am to 8pm Mondays through Thursdays, 10am to 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 11am to 7pm on Sundays. Even if you can't afford most of what's on the racks, stop in to appreciate just how cool this store really is — and maybe pick up a candle as a souvenir.