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This Chic New Appointment-Only Boutique Wants to 'Transcend Transactions'

In April, New York’s latest fashion retail concept arrived in Brooklyn’s waterfront Dumbo neighborhood. However, it didn’t exactly fling its doors wide open, nor is it particularly easy to find.

L’Ensemble is tucked away in an unassuming office building near the iconic Manhattan Bridge View, at 55 Washington Street. Racks of clothing and shelves of accessories from brands like Proenza Schouler, Kallameyer and Gigi Hadid’s Guest in Residence fill the 2,276 square-foot space, designed in collaboration with Patrick Bozeman. It’s decorated with exotic florals, vintage Tobia and Afra Scarpa pieces and a wooden sculpture by Chandler Mclellen. And you can only head inside to shop if you have an appointment.

Founder Dawn Nguyen earned her stripes working as a buyer and manager at La Garçonne, another multi-brand luxury retail destination. “I felt like a lot of stores were either a little bit young and hype-y or very mature and serious — there wasn’t a good middle,” she tells Fashionista during a visit to the cavernous but chic boutique. 

Photo: Erik Lee Snyder/Courtesy of L’Ensemble

The idea blossomed after a six-year relationship ended, Nguyen reveals: “After I transitioned into getting into dating again, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t have any fun flirty clothes to go on dates.’ Working at La Garçonne, I definitely became very chic, but I felt very buttoned-up. I wanted to be a little flirty.”

Her experience as a buyer at La Garçonne was crucial to knowing how to stock L’Ensemble, but she underscores how much she learned spending time on the retail floor as a manger, too. “I personally don’t think you can be a good buyer if you don’t have experience on the floor,” she says. “If you actually listen to what clients are actually saying… you can study data for so long, but there’s still so much to be missed.”

Nguyen wants shopping at L’Ensemble to transcend transactions, especially for the shopper she thinks is neglected by the current landscape. What does it take to woo that sophisticated, experimental individual, likely in their 30s or 40s (a demo McKinsey & Co. recently identified as making up most “aspirational luxury consumers” in an April report)? Nguyen thinks the answer lies in hospitality: She wants the store to be like “going to a really good restaurant or a really good hotel,” the kind where they’re supremely accommodating. Champagne upon arrival? No problem. Want the pieces you’re interested in steamed and ready in a fitting room? Easy.

“The first thing I pay attention to is that first interaction, the greeting — are they interested in me? Are they interested in why I’m coming to the space?,” says Agata Wilk, L’Ensemble’s head of operations, who previously worked at MatchesFashion.

“We wanted to create a space where clients could experience a personalized touch,” Nguyen adds, noting that any special requests can be made when booking and that impromptu visits can be arranged, depending on availability. 

Photo: Erik Lee Snyder/Courtesy of L’Ensemble

After passing the front desk, taking the elevator and winding through the building’s halls to the store, guests are able to shop with Nguyen herself, discovering pieces from Y’s by Yohji Yamamoto alongside products from emerging labels she hopes customers can discover at L’Ensemble — MaisonCléo blouses, Savette leather handbags, Janessa Leoné hats and Babaco socks. It was “interesting” to buy things without any customer data, Wilk says; instead the team leaned on “gut, intuition and experience.” Men’s will join the assortment in the fall.

L’Ensemble is reminiscent of other alternative retail concepts that have emerged in New York City over the years. There was the Apartment by The Line in SoHo, which opened in 2013, a shoppable loft where everything was laid out to mimic a living space — a welcome reprieve at a time when it felt like the internet had “drained much of the color from commerce,” per The New York Times. (It closed in 2019.) Angelina Jolie’s Atelier Jolie, which set up at Jean-Michel Basquiat’s home and studio in downtown Manhattan last year, has a communal café, but requires an appointment to shop.

Photo: Erik Lee Snyder/Courtesy of L’Ensemble

Opening L’Ensemble in Dumbo was key to Nguyen, as the area is “so close to really important Brooklyn neighborhoods and also accessible to Manhattan. If there are no stockists in an area so close to many important areas, then there’s a need.”

“Shopping is kind of hard. It takes a minute to know how to shop, and a lot of people really do need assistance,” she adds. “I wanted to create a space where you could give a client time. We don’t have to compete with other people walking in the door.”

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Source: Fashionista.com

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