There’s a certain thrill to buying luxury pieces at a designer’s flagship store, or from the hushed, marbled showrooms of places like Neimans, Saks or Barneys. It’s a dance of pomp and circumstance. Racks are sparse; rifling through them is done gingerly, to show your respect for the clothes and also to not piss off the saleswoman who probably already has an inkling that you aren’t going to drop $34,000 on that mink shirt. Wires, like vines, snake out from the most expensive garments and lock them to the rack. It’s all very civilized.
Shopping at Ayana Hamilton’s boutique is a different animal entirely, and for me, the thrill here is even better.
First, you've got to have lucky timing or an appointment to get in. The store is in Chestnut Hill, where it's not totally uncommon for "Ran out! Back at 2:30!" signs to be left on store doors. Once you're in, all civility drops away. The store is crammed (in the most orderly of fashions) with racks of clothing, all organized by color. This means you'll find Givenchy hanging next to Prada, Watanabe brushing up against Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent next to Chanel. You don't pluck through racks here, you plunge.
Ayana's excitement is contagious, too. She bustles around her shop, showing you her recent acquisitions (a barely used Céline Phantom bag for $2,500) and things she thinks you'll like (you will). But she's not pushy, and trying on heaps of clothes is encouraged — even if you walk out empty-handed (you won't).
Her pieces come from deep-pocketed fashionistas from New York, D.C., Florida, and Philly's toniest 'burbs, women who tire of their wardrobes after a season and then ship them off the Ayana, who painstakingly goes through them and selects the best. And their short-lived sartorial attention span is your gain: I walked out with three lower-priced finds: a sherbet-colored Calypso dress made entirely of silk fringe (I wear this as a skirt), a long-sleeved sheer Vivienne Tam top with a huge lion applique (it's oddly fantastic), and an Hermès scarf for $90 (I gave this as a gift, box and all).
The thrill here isn't just the designers, it's the hunt. Which is really what the best shopping is all about. (The other thrill, of course, is trying to imagine what woman in her right mind would toss a barely used Céline Phantom bag.)
The Details: 7906 Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill, 215-247-3868.