Final Research Question Page

Exhibit: Eclecticism: Mid-80s East Village Boutique Fashion


The mid-80s, more specifically the years 1985-1986, demonstrated an expansion of East Village style through the popularity of local Downtown boutique shops. There appears to be substantial amounts of evidence and resources regarding my topic; as there are many newspaper and magazine articles published during that time discussing how many individuals who lived in Uptown Manhattan were traveling to Downtown, East Village area in particular, to shop and purchase off-beat trendy fashions from boutiques. In fact, this was such a fascinating concept the Museum at F.I.T. held an exhibition titled, “The East Village” which showcased fashion, art and design. With its rebellious and edgy reputation, the East Village was the heart of Downtown fashion. Downtown fashion’s bright colors, unique concepts and forms attracted the attention of New Yorkers who lived and shopped primarily at locations in Uptown New York. This movement of Uptown shoppers to the Downtown shows unification amongst the people of Manhattan. Individuals were traveling out of their comfort zones not only literally, but also with their style. Why did Downtown, East Village, designers and boutiques attract Uptown clients? This topic can be explored further through three categories: East Village fashion publications, the popularity of Downtown designers and the impressive number of boutique shops.

An Eye for Fashion: East Village Eye

During the 80s, the East Village Eye magazine reigned superior amongst local Village publications. The East Village Eye, widely known as simply the Eye, published articles about East Village happenings and culture. It provided a monthly snapshot into the current trends in art, music and fashion. The Eye’s fashion section would frequently provide pictures of current Lower East Side “street fashions”. In addition to its plethora of articles, interviews and advertisements for local businesses, the East Village Eye published an “East Village Map” in their June 1985 magazine. The “East Village Map” provided readers with detailed descriptions of all things related to dinning, shopping and entertainment in the East Village. Looking specifically at the shopping category of the map, the East Village Eye compiled a complete alphabetized list of local boutiques. There were over 65 boutiques and shops listed. Each shop had a brief description of its products, location and hours of operation. Despite the East Village Eye’s name, the popularity, followers and readers of this publication defied the City lines of the East Village; thus providing an outlet for Downtown fashion to expand its limits.

Downtown Designers in the Spotlight

Shopping has always been and continues to be one of the most popular recreational activities in New York City. During the mid-1980s, East Village designers and shop owners began to “broaden the scope of their offerings to appeal to shoppers from uptown as well as downtown” (“East Village Boutiques Beckon Uptowners”, New York Times, Nov. 29, 1985). Some Downtown designers began to design “elegant” and “classic” pieces, while others continued to shock and awe the public with alluring alternative designs. Some of the notable Downtown designers and designer owned boutiques included: Keni Valenti, Lilla Lova, Ginnie Burke and Michael Jordan, Patricia Fountaine and Julia Morton. L’Age d’Or and La Coppia. In 1985 designer, Keni Valenti removed all color clothing from his shop. He stated that, “no color is more elegant” during an interview with the New York Times. Valenti’s shop was located at 170 Avenue B. He used only gray, black and gold tones for his designs. Valenti’s dresses and jumpsuits attracted the attention of not only the Press, but also the attention of Uptown shoppers. In general, the prices of items at Lower East Side boutiques, like Keni Valenti’s Shop, offered reasonable prices for one-of-a-kind clothing compared to the inflated costs of SoHo and Uptown Stores. Not only were prices more appealing to the masses, but the trends demonstrated by East Village designers captivated wide audiences. While Keni Valenti, Ginnie Burke and Michael Jordan produced fitted, “body-hugging” pieces in wool and jersey knit, Lilla Lova turned heads due to her age-blurring designs. East Village designer, Lilla Lova, merged typical children’s themes into adult wear. Lova designed a large toy-soldier shirt (East Village Eye, May 1985). The list of East Village designers who received spotlights in local, national and global press continues beyond this list; thus illustrating the immense impact of Downtown designs. In 1986, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology held an exhibit that showcased East Village art and fashion. F.I.T. is a well-respected and reputable fashion institution. Their acknowledgement and celebration of East Village fashion demonstrates just how important and influential the East Village is with regards to fashion. The well-known New York event venue, “Palladium”, also contributed to the promotion of East Village fashion. Designers like, Katharine Hamnett, preformed runway shows at “Palladium”. Hamnett’s Autumn/Winter ’85 Collection titled, “Think Global” exemplified the common Downtown designer’s global mentality. Many designers took influence from other cultures when coming up with pieces for their own lines; therefore creating unification between peoples. Fashion can be a common ground. It is enjoyed by many and comes in a variety of different forms.

Uptowners Shop Downtown

Between the years 1985 and 1986 there was an explosion of boutiques along East 7th Street; making it new a major New York City shopping destination. The popularity of East Village boutiques did not only grow because of their unique designs or their reasonable sale prices; the main reason, in my opinion, is because the East Village offered an extensive amount of choices with regards to style. Uptowners traveled to Downtown, because of the various fashion genres offered within a short walk of each other. Alternative designs like that found at “Trash and Vaudeville” and “Mondo Uomo” were not easily found at Uptown department stores during the mid-80s. Not only did the East Village offer alternative, punk fashions, but it was also home to many vintage clothing stores, like “Zoot”. Uptown and Downtown individuals with a deep appreciation of art, would shop at “One on One” who claimed to be a “Boutique of Wearable Art” (One on One Ad. 1985). The wide variety, location and overall affordability attracted shoppers from both Downtown and Uptown alike.


"Sportswear: The East Village show." WWD Jun 10 1985: 30. ProQuest.

Thomas, Walter. "East Village Dynamic Duos." WWD Jun 17 1986: 4-5. ProQuest.

"In the Limelight." WWD Mar 12 1985: 24. ProQuest.

"East Meets West — Vintage Style." WWD May 08 1985. ProQuest.

Daria, Irene. "Fashioned in America: Fashion's Independent Spirits." WWD Sep 18 1985: 93. ProQuest.

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