Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Mona Williams boutique
It’s not just the items people buy, but also the reasons why that make retail fascinating to follow and challenging to master.
Designer consignment seemed the perfect niche for Patric Richardson when he opened Mona Williams two years ago. As a former designer apparel manager at Nordstrom Mall of America, he helped stock many of the most exclusive closets in town . . . and knew how quickly those wardrobes get turned over.
From day one, Mona Williams in Northeast has featured gorgeous, barely worn designer pieces—Gucci dresses, Louis Vuitton bags, Prada shoes. The shoppers came, but they didn’t always buy. Richardson was correct in thinking his boutique customers would want fashion at more accessible prices. But he’s realized they care more about leaving with something, and not necessarily something with a famous label.
“Women aren’t shopping me the way they do Fashion Avenue,” says Richardson, referring to the broad assortment available at one of the Twin Cities’ premier destinations for designer consignment. “This is not the place for $99 Armani pants.”
Instead, Mona Williams is the place for that one-of-a-kind beaded skirt. But if the skirt isn’t the customer’s size, she’s out of luck, and Richardson is out of the sale. The last thing an independent retailer wants is to turn away an eager shopper.
So Richardson decided to tweak his inventory—not his strategy. He believes that in a sea of stores selling basics, there’s a need for a boutique that focuses exclusively on the special purchases. He’s just changing his philosophy on what makes the merchandise special. To that end, Mona Williams is moving away from consignment to new merchandise.
“If mainstream stores can start mixing in vintage, I can start selling future vintage,” he says. Richardson is bringing in lesser-known brands like Danish collection Baum Und Pferdgarten—all pattern and pleats, no basics. Although Richardson says he’s never going to turn down a vintage Chanel jacket, new lines give him more control over what’s on the racks, especially in terms of sizes.
“People want a trophy,” Richardson says. “They don’t necessarily want to buy Paco Rabanne for $4,000, but they want that look. They’re curious, interested in fashion, and seeking brands no one has ever heard of.”
Risk-taking retailers are what make the Twin Cities exciting to shop. Make a point to see what new and unusual fashions arrive at Mona Williams over the coming months.
18 University Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-331-4493, monawilliams.com
No one knew more about blazing a trail in fashion than Eunice Johnson, founder of Ebony Fashion Fair, which was more than a magazine feature and a touring runway show—it was a movement that redefined beauty and style for African Americans for 50 years, beginning in the late 1950s. An exhibit on display at the Minnesota History Center features 40 fantastic pieces shown in the Ebony Fashion Fair in the late 20th and early 21st century by Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint-Laurent, and many others. You don’t have to know a lot about fashion to appreciate the impact these dramatic designs modeled by women of color had on an entire generation. I’ve never seen the history center as packed as it was on opening night of the exhibit. It’s definitely worth a visit. Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair is on view through August 16. Tickets are $11 for adults; $9 for seniors and students.