Name picked, they scrambled to make Phoebe 45 a reality.
had to have our inventory committed in spring in order to get
it in for fall. We didn't have a dollar to our names," Darrow
explains. "Then we had to have a lease so we could start construction,
but we still didn't have our loan approved. It was so scary."
came finding the designers, which they did by reading Women's
Wear Daily, interviewing designers, and visiting showrooms.
"The heart of our store," says Darrow, "is that we work with these
phenomenal young artists who are scrambling at the opportunity
because we give them room to do whatever they want to do." She
and Tunstall ordered about $80,000 worth of inventory--COD, naturally--that
had to be stacked in the tiny kitchen area of their studio until
advice from the Women's Business Development Center, they completed
their business plan in July. Then they applied for--and received
a week later--a loan from the Small Business Administration, financed
by North Community Bank, whose president they'd met. "We
did a really thorough, well-researched plan, and I think that's
what got them," Darrow says, noting that being under 30 and being
women probably helped rather than hurt.
saw their store's future home while eating breakfast one day,
about to sign a lease on a different space. "It had more character,
more risk, and therefore more potential," says Darrow. Several
friends recommended the same young architect, Suhail, who agreed
to design their space for a nominal fee and the chance to make
his stamp in Chicago. He accented the long, narrow space's high
ceilings and brick walls with unfinished steel and large curved
sheets of fiberglass.
celebrate Phoebe 45's opening--hoping also to garner some attention
and begin a tradition of social service--its owners organized
a November 1997 music-and-fashion bash held at the Double Door,
a nearby music venue and bar. Dennis Rodman and drummer Matt Walker,
who's played with the Smashing Pumpkins and Filter, attended the
party, a benefit for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Wear Daily covered the event, beginning a run of good publicity.
A story in InStyle brought a rush of out-of-state business.
Rodman--a Filter fan who met Phoebe 45's owners through Brian
Liesegang, AB'91, then a member of Filter--helped to generate
plenty of buzz by talking the store up, buying clothes for friends,
and wearing some of the jewelry.
aside, the philosophy behind Phoebe 45 has remained constant:
to bring customers' attention to original fashions by up-and-coming
designers and to help the customers feel fabulous. That means
getting to know individual personalities and tastes, and being
honest about what clothes work on which bodies. "We have so many
customers who use us as their personal shoppers," says Darrow.
"One customer who has become a friend of ours asked us to come
over to her house, drink some wine, and tell her what she could
use in her closet and what she should just throw away. That's
a huge compliment, being invited into a woman's life to help her
revamp it, basically."
the clothes aren't cheap--a tank top could cost $30 or it could
cost $210--Darrow says Phoebe 45 has a varied clientele, ranging
in age from 14 to 60, from the North Shore to the city. "One customer
who just broke up with her boyfriend is half in tears and has
got to buy something to make herself feel better," she cites as
an example. "The next customer who's there with her two kids is
dying to get home to get dinner ready for her husband, and the
next woman who's waiting on line is on her way to get to work
stripping. It's a really funny combination, and I think they all
get a kick out of the fact that they're all there together."
the hiring of two other employees, Darrow and Tunstall now spend
five days a week instead of six or seven in the store. In Darrow's
new spare time, she's taken on duties as secretary of the Wicker
Park Chamber of Commerce. "I have enough of a reputation with
this business that I'm listened to," she comments. "That's amazing
at 28, to be able to have an influence."
other hands to help also means that Darrow and Tunstall can now
do the shopping for Phoebe 45 together. They attend two major
New York shows every year, once in February, and again in September,
when hundreds of vendors display their latest lines at a big convention
center. This fall, Phoebe 45 put on a show of its own, Black &
White 2000, featuring the designs of Amy Zoller and Kwiyun. Guests
attired in black and white paid $10 or $30 to enjoy hors d'oeuvres
or dinner, followed by a medley of multicultural, rail-thin models
strolling in black beaded skirts, white handkerchief halters,
and gray leather pants to the strains of "The Girl from Ipanema."
The most exciting news in fashion this fall, Darrow says, was
year 2000-inspired parachute, metallic, chain-mail, and reflective
for Phoebe 45's owners, the year 2000 will bring not only a name
change but also decisions about when and how to expand their business.
Darrow is counting on their Web site, www.phoebe45.com,
to advance the business further and faster than a catalog. Though
the Internet accounts for only 5 percent of Phoebe 45's sales
to date, Darrow predicts that's how most of today's high--school
and college students soon will do their shopping.
seems like every time Tricia and I decide to take a real risk
and we know that we could really flop, it turns out well," Darrow
muses over her usual morning latte. "But you have to go through
the fear period in order to earn the success. So we'll see. We're
still in the fear period here."
the horse that goes," chuckles Tunstall. "I'm the one who pulls..."
the reins," Darrow finishes for her. "Fortunately, I pull harder
as much of herself as she's put into the shop, Darrow doesn't
know how long she'll stick with it. She has more risks she wants
to take, like living in Africa for a few years, or starting her
own restaurant, which she thinks would be an even bigger challenge.
the time I'm 55, I'll have had four or five careers," Darrow predicts.
"I won't have to retire--I'll have burned myself out."