Claire Distenfeld is the founder of Five Story, a boutique on the Upper East Side of New York opening April 19th. A native New Yorker, Distenfeld spent several years in the art world before turning to retail.
Do you feel you’ve been taken seriously, opening a high-end store at such a young age?
Like anything else in life, one has to prove themselves worthy of respect in order to be taken seriously. Before the store was a reality, it was almost comical to think I would walk into designer meetings in what in hindsight seems like an Alice In Wonderland fantastical way. I would say “I have this amazing store with emerald green walls and marble floors and fountains” only to follow it with: “Oh no no, it doesn’t exist YET, but it will!”
Having made that fantasy a reality with the help of my father and his business savvy mind and creative forethought, I now feel that people understand this is a serious project both for retail in general and for New York.
Do you have an assistant?
I have an amazing other half. I wouldn’t call her an assistant because I’m a control freak and don’t really share my workload, however I’m a realist and I know what I can and cannot do. That being said, she is a gem because she can do everything that is not in my capabilities to get done. We work off each other, which strengthens both her tasks and mine.
On the heels of Fashion Weeks around the world and you finalizing your fall buys, what can we expect to find at Five Story come September?
You can expect a huge growth from spring to fall regarding the level of designers. While all the designers that are in the store will always be up to a certain standard and quality aesthetically, we will begin working with some of the more famous and sought after designers in the industry such as Balmain, Peter Pilotto, Comme des Garcons, Creatures of the Wind, Anthony Vacarello, Thakoon, and McQueen.
What has been your biggest hurdle thus far?
Not dwelling on negative hiccups. Everyday there is something else that goes wrong, but as long as I stay focused and keep my head in the game, we, as a team, have been able to conquer all challenges.
Can you tell us a bit about your background leading up to your new venture?
I worked in art for several years. I went to NYU and Sotheby’s for a masters in Contemporary Art, and happily followed that path dabbling in many branches of the art world. What came out from it all was I loved art — I love to look at it and talk about it but I was a terrible dealer. Art wasn’t quantifiable for me and with that I came to the realization it would forever be a passion but aesthetics was my real calling.
What gave you the inspiration to open on the Upper East Side?
I grew up there and while I didn’t realize it when I was younger, I began to appreciate and understand that there are certain parts of New York that have this magical, timeless aura. I think the UES has moments of grandeur and decadence, but it also has such a charm and charisma about it that that can’t be found anywhere else in the city. And additionally, it was starving for something new and exciting.
Where did you like to shop up until now?
Hmm, difficult question and I don’t really have an answer. Until now my shopping was strategic. I saw something I liked, whether on a friend, in a magazine or on a blog, and I went and got it. There was no experience to it, which is what made me realize how strongly New York needed that experience.
You’ve compared Five Story to a New York version of Colette in Paris. In what way do you think it will be similar?
I don’t think I could ever make that comparison myself. Others have, and it’s humbling to have been compared. Colette is a store that’s always delivering new, fun, witty products, and we too at Five Story will be doing the same. Combing high and low — Nike dunks and a Celine dress — taking ourselves seriously but having fun while doing so.
Do you think the Upper East Side shopper is similar to the Parisian in Colette? In what way?
Nope. While people could say Colette and Five Story are similar, in reality they are both very much a part of the city that houses them. Five Story is all about New York, 69th street, its history and its character. Colette is very Parisian for the same reasons. I can’t talk for the Parisian customer because I really don’t know her well enough, but a New Yorker is saturated with everything. Every designer has a store, every block has a 24 hour bodega, everything a person could fathom is at their fingertips in New York. But, if you can find something that is lacking in the city, if you see some kind of gap — whether that be in culture, in food or in entertainment — one should jump on it because New Yorkers like to get excited and like to be wowed. I hope that Five Story can give to my customers a new kind of retail experience.
How is the store merchandised? Home/Womens RTW/ Accessories or is it all interspersed?
There will be some overlap in each section but like most stores, strategically it’s business in the front, party in the back. Meaning the easy product to sell that will get the most attention will be the first things you see, and the crazy-one-of-a-kind dresses and big diamond bedazzled skeleton bracelets will be upstairs.
Who are some of your most coveted designers?
I would say that people are really excited for the well known designers that are very hard to find in the city, like Versus, Preen, Hussein Chalayan. Vika Gazinskaya is also one of the most amazing young designers right now and besides us and Colette I’m not sure you can find any of her product.
Is Five Story going to move into ecommerce or be just bricks and mortar retail?
Eventually we will be ecommerce. But for the time being, people need to see the store. The design is really something so special and unique that I would never want someone to think they can get the Five Story experience through a screen. When we do begin ecommerce, it will never have the whole store available. The special pieces from a Puiforcat tea set to a Saint Louis decanter is something that you will have forever and should be courted and appreciated in person, not just clicked at and shipped.
Are you interested in holding events at the store?
Of course! We love events, we love parties! We will have designers in the store hosting anything from a trunk show to a meet and greet to a customizing product event. I am in the works of creating night activities ranging from a Five Story book club to a pajama party with our nightwear company called Poplin.
We will also have childrens and babies clothing, so obviously any event done for kiddies will be fun!