L'Armoire: A bastion of style in New Canaan
Published 12:30 pm, Thursday, April 29, 2010
1985 was a scary year for American style. One look back at the multitude of fashion "don'ts" that muscled their way onto hit TV shows that year is enough to send anyone scurrying to their closet praying that the incriminating evidence is long gone.
In a full frontal assault, "Magnum P.I." somehow managed to ruin the innocent and well-meaning Hawaiian shirt for all eternity. And "Miami Vice?" Surely you jest! Did Don Johnson really push up the sleeves of that already obnoxious canary yellow blazer because the day-glo orange v-neck T-shirt underneath it needed a little extra something to make its point? And it's said, reports still surface claiming that the total acreage of the women's shoulder pads on Dynasty qualified them for their own zip codes.
Yes, it was fashion purgatory everywhere you looked.
By 1985, Diane Roth had just about enough of this heresy. Blessed with a ton of in-the-trenches retail experience, a sharp eye for talent, and that ultra-rare commodity, good taste, she opened a little boutique in New Canaan by the railroad station. Thus was born, L'Armoire. And the women of Fairfield County could cease their wandering in the desert; they had found a champion.
Color. One step through the front door of L'Armoire and the muted grey sidewalks just outside morph into ruby red carpeting and the scene turns from a black and white talkie into a Technicolor romance. Turquoise, cerulean and cobalt blue. Vermillion, coral and mandarin red. The walls are peppered with garments silently boasting meticulous craftsmanship and obvious pedigree. From subtle and understated, right to the edge of daring, there's fashion satisfaction available for all, it's a sartorial democracy.
The first person that steps up to greet me isn't a person at all, it's Roth's pooch, a handsome Shar-Pei named Tattoa who, aside from his obvious charm and good manners, goes quite well with the color scheme. Roth is tall, slender and pretty with a youthful braided ponytail and a bright smile. A de-constructed, bone colored suede jacket with military details, a contrast-y black and white print skirt, a pair of killer Manolo Blahnik heels and real deal turquoise accessories all add up to a look that is both outside the box and completely understandable at the same time. No mean feat.
Opening a clothing store is much, much trickier than one would imagine. Many try based on the idea, either self-generated, or planted by friends, that they have good taste. That's like opening a half-million dollar restaurant because your boyfriend likes your lasagna. Roth is constantly amazed at how neophytes spend their precious money on all the wrong things.
"The mentality has to be that the money should be in the inventory," she said.
So, with new boutiques failing at a rate of 80 percent, it might not be a great idea to have 10,000 bags printed with your logo on them.
Roth is confident, and that's the feeling she wants to instill in her clients.
"I dress women from 22 to 94, age is not a factor," she said. "I just want each woman to look her best. Be objective, look in the mirror. Be true to yourself, but be honest."
This sort of ruthless self-editing is made all the more difficult these days by an endless onslaught of uneducated opinions from talk show hosts and red carpet analysts.
"People look at movie stars in shredded jeans and say, `I can do that,'" she said. "But the stars are wearing $2,000 jeans and a $900 cotton shirt that was custom made for them."
The game is rigged.
It's been said that good taste is timeless. And so, according to Roth, is bad taste. She has a personal hit list of items that she feels, need to be jettisoned into outer space, never to be seen again. It includes: short cargo pants that stop right below the knee; shorts in general on anyone older than 25; sliced up blue jeans; those peek-toe shoes that offer too much information on the wearer's state of manicure; and the all-time winner, polyester sweat outfits. Think "Sopranos." Enough said.
When asked to name some iconic women over the decades who she thinks got it right, her list includes: for the '40s, Carole Lombard, the highest paid actress of her time and a great beauty; in the '50s, the endlessly stylish and effortlessly feminine Audrey Hepburn made her mark; the '60s brought French and Swiss imports Brigitte Bardot and Ursula Andress. And in the '70s, Ali McGraw's great sense of personal style made her the fashion muse of every young woman in America. Super models Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington shined in the '80s. The New Canaan News asked Roth to name someone current who knocked her out. Silence.
L'Armoire's current stable of designers includes some of today's most recognizable names such as Isaac Mizrahi, Maggie Norris and Gianfranco Ferre. But Roth holds a special place in her heart for talented young up-and-comer Christian Siriano, winner of the fourth season of Bravo's "Project Runway."
"He's smart, he thinks long term, he's great with clients and he doesn't only design for a size zero."
When asked about the future of L'Armoire, she said, "As long as it's fun, I'll keep doing it." "Twenty five years ago it was Donna Karan, that's the year Christian was born and that's the year I opened."
And the seasons go round and round.