When I walk into Za Za Zsu, a boutique at 1918 Perry St. just off Ninth Street in Durham, I realize there are many other things here that I will want to wear. The clothing in this clean, modern space rivals any magazine spread I've recently drooled over. Every piece is high quality and unique, without being too outrageous in design to wear in the real world. As I look around, I formulate ways that a fitted jacket could be worn with most of the pieces in this shop.
The dresses, jackets and sweaters that surround me draw me in on their fabrics alone, but once I get closer, I find that the details are what this fall is all about.
"The details in many of these pieces act as accessories themselves," says Lynda Lewis, Za Za Zsu's enterprising owner who opened the shop late last year. "The variety of details range from fun trims to almost military-like lapels, as well as decorative prints that are reminiscent of antique wallpaper. These simple yet detailed pieces are part of this season's tendency to put together a complete look."
Lewis' experience in the fashion world is rich. She has been a buyer for Barneys in New York, Nieman Marcus in Dallas and Uniquities in Chapel Hill. She receives early, direct information from independent designers about what styles are coming up.
Yes, she says, jackets are hot for fall, especially fitted ones, but so are belts, handbags and skinny pants. Even though it's not chilly yet, Lewis says sweaters are already selling like crazy.
When I asked what from this summer would carry over into the fall, the answer was loud and clear: dresses. Glamorous, feminine, sexy and edgy dresses.
Also throughout the store are scented candles, wallets and other small, beautiful things.
"This store is full of new and established indie designers that are on the cutting edge, that I love," she says. Bringing these styles to Durham is the most exciting part for Lewis. "I just wanted to bring some fearless fashion to the area."
Of course, for a little store to stay alive, it's got to be more than fearless. "I've been trying to be sure that I partner my very selective style with the desires of the shoppers, while remaining a business of integrity," she says. "This should be a happy store for customers and employees; you should come here and feel as good as when you're hanging out with your girlfriends."
Last month, Lewis threw her first store party, inviting anyone curious about the store to stop by to browse, introduce themselves and have a cupcake made by local caterer Artisan Cupcakes.
Cupcake parties are one way Lewis is hoping to create a buzz. Hopefully, visitors will walk out the door with some skinny jeans or dolman sleeve sweaters. She wants to reach women who shop in the alternative Ninth Street area in Durham, including those on Duke's campus and in the variety of eclectic neighborhoods nearby. Look for the next cupcake party sometime in November.
"This store's success functions primarily by word of mouth," Lewis says. "It's very hard to run your own business and stay alive. I want people to have a great experience whenever they shop here, and I want to help this area to be like Greenwich Village in New York."
So far, response has been good, she says. "It's amazing how even strangers here root me on. They'll stop in just to say 'good luck'. I've found that there's a tremendous amount of support for the independent businesses here."
I left Za Za Zsu knowing where to find cupcakes and cool handbags, two things I could certainly enjoy no matter what the season. They'll go great with my jacket.