DOWNTOWN COMES TO HARLEM
TALKING up N, his new fashion emporium in Harlem, Larry Ortiz posed a question: "If we had to put Harlem in a bottle, what would the scent be?" He then answered with no prompting. "It would obviously be a little retro, a little 1930’s." An infusion, in short, evocative of Harlem’s glory years, an era of artistic ferment that spawned Cab Calloway, Dorothy Dandridge and Nat King Cole, fused with a modern street-inflected sensibility.
For Mr. Ortiz, one of N’s three partners, capturing the essence of the neighborhood is not just rhetoric. To succeed as a merchant, he maintained, he will need to distill Harlem, not just in a fragrance but in all of the upscale fashions, home accessories and cosmetic lines sold at his gracious two-level store in a town house on 116th Street between Seventh and Lenox Avenues.
His objective in showcasing brands like Nicole Miller, Hugo Boss, Marimekko and Jonathan Adler to the increasingly affluent enclave north of Central Park is partly to cater to a fashionably hip local population that has until now traveled downtown in search of popular fashion labels. He is also the latest in a growing number of retailers to invoke Harlem’s multilayered heritage to put their wares on the fashion map.
"One of the things that is compelling to us is the idea of branding Harlem," Mr. Ortiz said. It is an idea he hopes to render concrete by offering a mix of local labels and African-American designers like Byron Lars and Tracy Reese with more established, upscale brands. "It’s very important to push a lot of black designers who wouldn’t get the same attention elsewhere," he said.
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