Real Estate Spotlight
Isabel Ernst: Developer
Isabel Ernst: Developer
Nico Dodd • May 13, 2016
Longtime Georgetown resident Isabel Ernst got her start in real estatein 1998. She now lives with her husband, Ricardo, a professor of Business at Georgetown University, and her four children in Georgetown.
How did you get your start in development?
I got into real estate development when I bought our house in 1998, the historic Hillandale Mansion. It was completely abandoned and was falling apart. It had no electricity or water, and the windows and doors were either missing or destroyed. It had great bones, though. I took it upon myself to bring this beautiful house back to life. I spent two-and-a-half years renovating the mansion. I did all the design myself and learned a lot about space and materials, two very important components for a successful project. After I finished my home in 2000, I realized that development was my passion and started my business.
What has been your most memorable project to date?
The Clyde building on 10th between M and L St.: It was a leap of faith when I bought it, because it was still a very “transitional neighborhood.” The building was condemned, but it also had great bones, so we completely gutted it and transformed it into 14 beautiful apartments.
When you’re not at work, what can you usually be found doing?
I am usually taking care of my family, my husband and my four kids, spending time with my friends, taking care of my house, going to board meetings for the different organizations I am involved in, planning trips or going to art fairs with my parents. Not a lot of down time!
What is the hottest neighborhood in Washington right now?
D.C. has a lot of great emerging neighborhoods that are blending into each other. We are slowly building a wonderful city with a very international flavor, where people can walk or bike to work, to the theater or to a hot yoga class. As Mayor Gray described it, “D.C. is a world within a city,” and I cannot imagine living in a better place anywhere in the world.
What is your favorite thing about being a developer?
My favorite thing about being a developer is the demolition face when you get down to the bones and then start to rebuild; the smell of fresh paint and a beautiful space surrounded by beautiful materials.
Design Meetings Announced for $1-Million Rose Park Playground Renovation
Nico Dodd • April 11, 2016
Georgetown residents and others who use Rose Park in Georgetown have been invited to participate in a charette discussing the playground’s renovation.
As first reported by Georgetown Patch, the first meeting about the renovation will be 7 p.m., this Thursday at the Rose Park Recreation Center, 2600 O St. NW. The design charette wil be May 4 from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in the Fellowship of Jerusalem Baptist Church, 2600 P St., NW.
Rose Park has not been devoid of improvements. Last October, Rose Park inaugurated a new brick walkway, fence and benches, along with new trees and bushes, all of which were community donations.
Bonobos Guideshop Opens in Cady’s Alley
For the new Bonobos Guideshop in Georgetown, it’s all about the fit. On Jan. 29, the Bonobos Guideshop opened at 3321 Cady’s Alley, NW. The Guideshop concept is one that is specific to Bonobos e-commerce busi- ness model. Instead of buy- ing clothes from the brick and mortar store, customers try on different sizes to find the right fit and can then order garments online in the store or at home.
Before the shop in Georgetown opened, Bonobos had a tempo- rary location in Bethesda. Based on the success of the Bethesda location, the company “looking for a more permanent space” there as well, said Bonobos cofounder Andy Dunn. Erin Ersinkal, head of retail for Bonobos, said that the search process for a space in Georgetown only took one weekend. Guideshops are usually located in “high foot traffic areas” but are not necessar- ily “on the busiest corner,” since the customer experience is geared towards service and experi- ence as opposed to moving pants out the door. Bonobos Guideshops are also located in New York’s Flatiron district, Boston, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Chicago.
Speaking to an opening night crowd Jan. 28, Dunn said Bonobos’s e-commerce model is “the biggest revolution in retail since the auto- mobile.” [gallery ids="102580,119825" nav="thumbs"]
What To Do in D.C. Thanksgiving Weekend
What do you do in D.C. when the in-laws are in town? They’ve already seen the monuments and the major museums, and they aren’t interested in seeing any holiday movies yet. Check out our list of things to do in town to keep the fun turned up.
Thursday, 9 a.m.
Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger at Freedom Plaza
Before loosening your belt buckle and tucking the napkin under your chin, round-up the family members and donate some time to help those that are less fortunate. SOME (So Others May Eat) will be hosting its 10th Annual Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger. With over 6,000 trotters expected, metro area residents will gather together for the 5K walk/run that raises money for homeless women, men and children.
Register online at http://www.some.org/events_trot_main.html
Friday, 5:30 p.m.
Second Annual Thanksgiving Dinner and Performance For Military Families at Arena Stage
In gratitude for their service, Arena Stage is inviting wounded warriors, service men and women, and their families to a complimentary Thanksgiving dinner and performance of My Fair Lady. The event’s featured speakers include Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton; Executive Vice President of the United Service Organization (USO) John Pray; and keynote speaker Rear Admiral Jeffrey Lemmons, U.S. Navy and Director of the Inter-American Defense College at Ft. McNair.
Mount Vernon by Candlelight
Join “Mrs. Washington” as she hosts an enchanting evening of candlelight tours for the whole family. Tours include dancing, merry music, and characters from the Washingtons’ world guiding visitors through the first and second floors of the home, adding ambiance and authenticity to a traditional Christmas evening event at Mount Vernon. Live music and festive decorations add cheer to the Ford Orientation Center and Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center.
Tickets: $22 for adults, $15 for youth (12 and under)
Friday-Sunday 2-5 p.m.
“All Sides Considered: New Research on the Maya Collection” at Dumbarton Oaks
Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown is displaying ancient Maya treasures in All Sides Considered. The artifacts illustrate the beauty and ingenuity of Maya art, remarkable production techniques, and the value placed on quality materials. Displays also shed light on the modern scientific inquiry that led to these findings. They are the result of extensive collaboration across disciplines and institutions among Maya archaeologists, art historians, epigraphers, geologists, biologists and others.
Saturday, 8 p.m.
B.B. King at the Howard Theatre
For more than 60 years, Riley B. King – better known as B.B. King – has defined the blues for a worldwide audience. Since he started recording in the 1940s, he has received countless honors as a national treasure. After 10,000 concerts, B.B. King continues to bring his music to audiences around the globe spending the better part of each year on the road with his beloved guitar, “Lucille.”
Sunday, 12 p.m.
NSO Pops: Megan Hilty at Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Megan Hilty, known as triple-threat Ivy Lynn on NBC’s hit Smash, pays tribute to the music of Frank Sinatra, as well as the Rat Pack, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James, with Aaron Lazar in NSO Pops concerts led by Steven Reineke.
Sunday, Nov. 25 4 p.m.
Pianist Anna Han at the Phillips Collection
16-year-old Anna Han, winner of the 2012 New York Piano International Piano Competition will be performing pieces by Bach, Haydn, Chopin, Rachmoninoff, and Liszt, and Prokofiev.
Tickets: $20, $8 with student ID
Sunday, 5-9 p.m.
ZooLights at the National Zoo
ZooLights at the National Zoo is the annual Holiday lights event at the National Zoo. Walk around a winter wonderland lit by more than 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights in the shapes of your favorite exotic animals.
Rugby Ralph Lauren to Close in 2013
Ralph Lauren has announced plans to close Rugby’s 14 stores in 2013, including its location on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown.
Founded in 2004, Rugby sells a preppy look marketed towards a younger audience.
A salesperson at Rugby in Georgetown said that they learned about the closing on Friday and that they expect that a human resources representative from Ralph Lauren will come to discuss the future of the company this week.
Rugby isn’t the first business Ralph Lauren has opened and closed in Georgetown. RRL, Ralph Lauren’s western wear-inspired line, opened in 2007 and closed in 2009 at 1069 Wisconsin Ave., NW. The Ralph Lauren company still owns the building.
The building the Rugby store is in was formerly Houston’s Restaurant, which closed in 2001.
According to a bartender at Rugby Cafe, the restaurant and bar will not be closing with the store.
Georgetown’s History as a Hotbed for High-tech
Other than the birth of the newspaper whose influence far exceeds its size, Georgetown has an important place in the history of technology as well. San Francisco, Silicon Valley and the Dulles Tech Corridor are all places that are strongly associated with technology, but Georgetown remains a place where innovators work towards progress.
The Birthplace of IBM
Washingtonians may be surprised to know that the first computers were invented right here in Georgetown. Visitors to 1054 31st Street, right next to the C&O Canal, will find a plaque marking the building as where Herman Hollerith’s Tabulating Machine Company was located at the turn of the 20th century. Hollerith’s company would later merge with other companies to be renamed International Business Machines, also known as IBM.
Hollerith originally came to Georgetown in 1879. In 1886, the U.S. Census Office decided to hold a contest to see who could come up with a more efficient system of counting the census. Hollerith receieved inspiration from French jacquard weaving machines, which were set up with punch cards to automatically weave intricate repetitive patterns. Hollerith created his own punch card system of tabulation and got a patent for the invention in 1889. When he entered the census office contest, his sample census took a fraction of the time of his nearest competitor. Better yet, he saved the government $5,000,000, a huge amount of money in 1889 dollars.
In 1896, Hollerith started the Tabulating Machine Company. The first factory employed mostly women, who worked on their individual tabulators in a large open room. These women were called “computers,” because that was their job description. Hollerith’s business thrived, and his machines were sold to countries around the world for census taking. His fortunes grew, too, and in 1915 he built a grand house in Georgetown at 1617 29th Street, where the house stands to this day.
While his machine was a big success, other innovators came up with similar inventions. Hollerith sold his company in 1911, amd it was merged with two others to be the Computing Tabulating Recording Company. Later. the company again and changed its name to International Business Machines.
Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory
Alexander Graham Bell is best known as the inventor of the telephone.
In 1880, Bell won the Volta Prize, a prize of 50,000 francs for scientific achievement given by the French government. Bell used the money to establish the Volta laboratory in the carriage house of his stepfather’s house at 1527 35th Street. In 1887, Bell founded the Volta Bureau at 1537 35th Street “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf.” Both Bell’s mother and wife were deaf, and much of his father’s work was in elocution. The current building was built in 1893 and is a National Historic Landmark.
The Future of Tech in Georgetown
Both Hollerith and Bell were drawn to Washington because of the special nature of it being the nation’s capital. Hollerith began his business thanks to the Census Bureau, and Bell was frequently involed in patent disputes at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
These days, most techies are familiar with the Dulles Tech Corridor, the region along Virginia State Route 267 where many technology firms are located. Washington remains a place where innovators are working together to get new companies off the ground.
As the coming “mobile wave” breaks, location may cease to be an issue as people in different parts of the area, country or world collaborate on projects.
Interior Designer Zoe Feldman Updates the Classics
Nico Dodd • February 27, 2014
his summer, interior designer Zoe Feldman moved into a loft space above The Georgetowner’s office at 1054 Potomac Street from her office at 28th and M St. Her old office was only 200 square feet, barely enough space for a designer and two employees working on projects up and down the east coast.
The new office has more than enough room for the three of them to stretch out, but Feldman has only just settled on what color to paint the walls—a beige color with a hint of pink—after three previous choices.
“You know, like, the shoemaker has no shoes,” she said.
Feldman began her design career at Mark Hampton, working under the famed designer’s daughter, Alexa, who now runs the firm. She began her own company in 2003, and soon moved to Washington, a midpoint between New York and Florida, where she grew up.
Feldman has a very approachable style. She often brings in pieces of midcentury modern furniture and contemporary art to accent more traditional spaces—fun, but elegant.
“I think I’m classic enough that I think it’s relatable, but, like, fresh enough that it’s new or maybe a little inventive,” she said.
When she was a child, Feldman’s parent and grandparents ran their own art gallery, sparking her interest in fine art. She finds pieces for her clients all over, but often goes to in Georgetown at Addison Ripley Fine art on Wisconsin Ave. Her other love, mid-century modern furniture, comes from having grown up in a home filled with it.
“I guess the reason I like it is because it has become so classic,” she said. “It definitely makes a space more chic. Pop art, the same. I think really good design has tension.”
Interestingly, though, Feldman does not want to be known for a signature look.
“I tend not to follow formulas,” she said. “It really maintains the client’s personality, a canvas to show off who they are, as opposed to showing off who I am.”
Even as an alumna of Mark Hampton, Feldman did not always embrace more traditional style.
“One of the things I learned at Mark Hampton is how to design in a traditional environment,” she said. “This is a little hyperbolic, but I had never seen, like, a curtain. It was so not my style, but it became my style. Anything done well can be really beautiful. I had no problem getting into that environment and making it really beautiful for them and truly liking it, also.”
Taking inspiration from everywhere, Feldman recalls one recent client who pushed her in a new direction. “I have a client who is more globally influenced. They travel. They collect things. It was really fun, because it was a smaller project, but I hadn’t had a client like that ever.”
“That’s the other reason I don’t want to get pigeonholed in one specific style,” she said. “That would just bore me.” [gallery ids="100960,130767,130761,130743,130755,130750" nav="thumbs"]
Le Décor Middle Kingdom Porcelain: Born in Georgetown
Nico Dodd • January 17, 2014
Alison Alten Jia was home for a snow day on Wednesday, March 6. While the precipitation outside was quickly turning into the “rainquester,” she and her three children were inside. Her husband, Bo Jia, was far away, hard at work at their kiln in Jing De Zhen, China. Alison Alten Jia and Bo Jia are the founders of Middle Kingdom, designers, manufacturers and importers of handmade Chinese porcelain. Since being officially founded in 1998, the company’s colorful pots, bowls and vases have become popular among decorators and house ware dealers across the country. With a vertically integrated company that spans two continents, Middle Kingdom fits just fine in Georgetown where it was founded.
Alison Alten Jia and Bo Jia met in China in 1987 and moved to a house on 35th Street in Georgetown at the end of 1993. After having three children and officially starting Middle Kingdom in 1998, the family moved to a larger home on P Street, east of Wisconsin Avenue. The row house was formerly divided into apartments. The Jias have worked hard to turn it into a peaceful home and a beautiful one, too. The house is filled with antiques has been featured on twice on the Georgetown House Tour.
Middle Kingdom’s products are made in Jing De Zhen, as Alison Alten Jia calls it, “a small town with about 500,000 people” in southeastern China that is known worldwide for its porcelain. The city “really is a Mecca for people involved with ceramics,” said Alison Alten Jia. Bo Jia makes a few trips a year to Middle Kingdom’s kiln there. Right now, he is there working to source Middle Kingdom’s blue and white porcelain.
Although Middle Kingdom porcelain is popular among interior decorators, the Jias are not trying to move fashion-forward with their designs. “We’re not out there chasing trends,” said Alten Jia, who hopes that with time, they have been “refining our own ideas.”
In addition to their own designs, Middle Kingdom has also collaborated with artists to create different pieces. Foekje Fluer van Duin, a Dutch artist, designed vases out after plastic containers she found on the street. The company also makes pottery for Cultivated Gardens and are beginning to sell original source pieces from China and printed silk.
Alison Alten Jia is a member of the Georgetown Garden Club and has worked with the Georgetown Garden Tour in the past. She likes to support conservation and greening efforts in the neighborhood.
“We grew up in Georgetown, and so did our business.”
Items are available through Bernhardt & Reed 202-841-1924.
Prices start at $35. [gallery ids="102588,119580,119586,119593,119600,119605,119613,119620,119631,119642,119636,119573,119565,119505,119497,119512,119518,119525,119532,119538,119545,119552,119559,119626" nav="thumbs"]
Touting Local Lending, EagleBank Hits Mortgage Milestone
This September, EagleBank passed a milestone of $1 billion in mortgages. With 17 branches in the Washington metropolitan area and the bank’s 18th on the way in January, EagleBank is showing serious strength as the largest community bank in the Washington metropolitan area.
The Georgetowner discussed this milestone with EagleBank chairman Ronald Paul. Paul was a founding board member of EagleBank. It was founded in Bethesda, Md., in 1998.
“We’re the largest community bank in the metropolitan area based on deposits,” Paul said. Investing in the community is important to Paul. “We’ve been active in staying local,” he said. “And, to me, that’s an important part about business. That’s what’s going to support our economy.”
“We promoted a bill [which calls for local governments to switch deposits from national to local banks] in Montgomery County, and we have one proposed in the District,” Paul said. “For every dollar the District government deposits in EagleBank, we’ll match it with two dollars in lending in that marketplace. We’re working with Jack Evans in the District for it.”
“You know, we put money into a restaurant in Bethesda that hired 68 employees, in which a third of those were unemployed,” Paul said. “So, obviously the big banks are not going to do that. That’s why Eagle has been as successful as it is. If it weren’t for a community bank like EagleBank, that restaurant would probably have never opened. Those 30 people might still be unemployed. And that’s why it’s so important for us to be supporting these community banks.”
Joseph Abboud’s All-American Summer
Ten years after parting ways with his namesake brand, Joseph Abboud is as busy as ever—charting new retail concepts, suiting up presidential candidates, dressing NBC’s Olympics broadcast team and power-dressing Washington players at his one-year-old Streets of Georgetown store.
“If I put a blindfold on either of you, and I helicoptered you in and dropped you in a mall somewhere in America, you wouldn’t know where you are,” said leading menswear designer Joseph Abboud, whose companies’ suits have been worn by both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. “That’s the problem with retail in America. It’s too homogenized.”
Though it is fewer than 50 days from the general election, Abboud was not discussing politics. He was talking about his latest retail concept in men’s clothing stores—Streets of Georgetown—which created a major buzz when it opened its Wisconsin Avenue doors a year ago. And the buzz continues. The store’s focus on luxury tailored menswear has made it a destination for people seeking the best service and product for the best price. Abboud, who began his career as a salesman, has a deep passion for retail, and he delights in talking about the Streets concept.
Abboud is best known for his contemporary design interpretations on traditional menswear. Beginning as director of merchandise at renowned Boston department store, Louis Boston, Abboud worked at Ralph Lauren in the early 1980s before launching his own line in 1986. Now, as chief creative officer at New York City-based HMX Group, the largest producer of tailored menswear in the country, Abboud enjoys updating historic American brands, such as Hart Schaffner Marx and Hickey Freeman, for a new generation. You saw his suits on everyone this past summer—from NBC’s announcers covering the London Olympics to Romney at the Republican National Convention. On top of that, Abboud is working hard on new projects, including a revitalized Argyleculture brand with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.
The Streets concept is to provide a shopping showcase for HMX’s different menswear brands under one roof. HMX—which also owns the Bobby Jones, Sansabelt and Ivanka Trump labels—does the majority of its business in department stores. The company sells approximately 750,000 suits a year. Abboud wants to create a retail experience totally distinct from a department store or a mall.
Currently, the only other Streets store is in Beverly Hills, Calif., Streets of Beverly Hills. HMX Group plans to open another Streets location in Chicago after it closes the Hickey Freeman flagship there.
To make each store special, Abboud is keen on tailoring the store to its location and its clientele. “As you open these stores, you have to use them as sort of laboratories,” he said. Streets has been carrying small runs of exclusive products, just to see how the market responds to them. “Interestingly enough, the customer responded to our higher-priced product,” he said.
The goal of Streets of Georgetown may be to get more Washingtonians in HMX suits, but Hickey Freeman is already a popular brand among politicos. “Politicians, we say, they buy sincere suits,” Abboud said.
The salespeople at Hickey Freeman on Madison Avenue were quick to run down a list of names. “My colleague, he dresses Rick Lazio [former U.S. Representative from New York],” said Ines Hyun, a sales associate at the store. “The senator from Nevada, Harry Reid, he comes in here once a year, twice a year. Mitt Romney has been coming here for the last ten years. Since he’s so famous, now we go [to him].”
Stephen Pindar, another sales associate, dressed Romney when he ran for the Republican nomination in 2008. “Now, he chooses something that’s a little more of an off-blue color, this kind of color,” said Pindar, pointing to a medium dark blue shirt. “Not a navy blue, but he prefers something that’s a little more of a medium blue, a softer blue.”
Of course, Abboud delights in seeing his designs on both presidential candidates. “They’re both tall and lean and, you know, the interesting thing is that Obama wears Hart Schaffner Marx, and the governor wears Hickey Freeman,” he said. “We’re politically correct, whether we want to be or not.” Obama wore a Hart Schaffner Marx tuxedo for his inaugural balls in January 2009.
The suits are perfect for politicians, given that they are made in American factories. “We’re all trying to protect American icons, American jobs,” said Abboud. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. Those are important things. You know, it isn’t appropriate for the President of the United States to be wearing a suit made in Italy.”
That concern by politicians proved invaluable last month, when New York Democrats, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Louise Slaughter, helped to secure additional lines of credit for HMX.
As more American manufacturing has been lost overseas, American-made products are finally starting to have a resurgence among a growing number of consumers looking to support American jobs. This summer, Abboud had his biggest opportunity yet to argue that made-in-America is best.
In July, many Americans were outraged when they learned the U.S. Olympic Team would be outfitted in Ralph Lauren uniforms that were manufactured in China. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to ensure that future teams’ uniforms would be made in the U.S.A. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested that the Olympic Committee “burn [the uniforms] and start all over again.” Doug Williams, CEO of HMX Group, offered another solution. Hickey Freeman, at its factory in Rochester, N.Y., could manufacture new uniforms for the entire team before the opening ceremonies in London, then only two weeks away.
Cutting, sewing and tailoring uniforms for 539 athletes in only two weeks sounds like a tall order, but for HMX Group it would have been anything but. The apparel conglomerate employs a small army of workers in factories in Chicago, Rochester and Toronto.
The team ended up keeping the original uniforms, but viewers watching the Olympics still saw plenty of Hickey Freeman designs on Bob Costas, Matt Lauer and Pat O’Brien. All of NBC’s on-air presenters were outfitted by Hickey Freeman. Abboud has worked with NBC anchors since he began dressing Bryant Gumbel for the Today Show in 1988.
“I know how to offer them the things they liked. So, they’ve always felt comfortable, and they’ve trusted me,” Abboud said. “So, that’s why I think the networks have always come back to me. They say, ‘Would you do it? Because our guys want to work with you.’ ”
In addition to dressing TV news anchors, Abboud frequently recruits sports figures to market his lines. New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira served as spokesman for Hart Schaffner Marx in 2008, and Sean Avery, the recently retired left wing for the New York Rangers, was the face of Hickey Freeman’s spring-summer ad campaign. In recent years, Avery has made a foray into the fashion industry by interning at Vogue and serving as a guest judge on Lifetime’s “Project Runway: All-Stars.”
To Abboud, Avery represents a new menswear consumer, the likes of which have boosted market sales over the past few years. “You know, guys love clothes,” he said. “It’s really funny. There’s always been this sort of taboo. You don’t want to be, you know, too interested. Those things are all gone, and guys now are starting to know about it. There’s more information on the Internet. They want to know about heritage brands.”
In this stage of his career, Abboud is eager to share his knowledge with young men and believes he’s been focused on his role as an educator. “I’ve thought that I was a teacher more than a designer, because I always wanted to teach,” he said. When he graduated University of Massachusetts Boston in 1972 with a degree in comparative literature, he originally wanted to be a teacher but instead took a full-time sales position at Louis Boston.
Getting a well-positioned storefront in Georgetown was half the battle to get the brands to younger customers. Inside, Streets of Georgetown is sophisticated, not stuffy. The store’s salesmen are hip and extremely knowledgeable about men’s style. Abboud holds them in high regard. “They’re kind of like emissaries,” he said. “They’re spreading the word.”
For Abboud, updating HMX Group’s brands for younger consumers while preserving the company’s traditional roots is his most important role. “There’s a discipline to the brand DNA,” he said. “Knowing how to stretch it but not breaking it or going outside of it.” This strategy should come as no surprise. Abboud’s style has always been on the more progressive side of traditional menswear. He started his own line in 1986, because he felt boxed in by the status quo at Ralph Lauren, where he was associate director of menswear design. At Hickey Freeman, he’s introduced slimmer silhouettes and subtle European details on jackets like ticket pockets and double-vents.
“He comes out with a nice soft shoulder, you know, patch pockets, and he also likes to use really, really fine fabrics,” said Hyun, the sales associate at Hickey Freeman’s Madison Avenue store. “Hickey Freeman needs to go fashion-forward a little bit. Joseph is introducing us to a younger generation. So, that’s where I think he comes in. It helps us a lot.”
Abboud’s design philosophy at HMX Group may be best explained in a portrait of Hickey Freeman co-founder Jacob Freeman on the wall of Abboud’s office. “I had him framed in cashmere, and he always looks over my shoulder so I do the right thing,” said Abboud, who considers working for these legendary American brands “an unbelievable privilege.”
Inside Streets of Georgetown, the tools of the trade are on display. Spools of thread, bolts of fabric and sketches of suits evoke the bespoke tailoring and hand-made quality of the store’s luxury goods. On the second floor, photos feature architectural highlights of Union Station and other D.C. landmarks. The space is remarkably similar to Abboud’s office on Park Avenue in Manhattan, which has a view of the statue of Mercury which graces the exterior of Grand Central Terminal. Both spaces have been furnished by Restoration Hardware.
“I have a really good relationship with them,” Abboud said of the home furnishings retailer. “I love it, because it has this sort of French boulevard feel to it. I love the color pallette. I love the distressed woods. They do a great job.”
Like HMX Group, Restoration Hardware is exploring a new retail concept to attract new customers. Since 2010, it has begun opening new, larger-than-life flagship locations dressed up with in-house flower shops and valet parking. In Boston, the houseware company has leased the historic former New England Museum of Natural History, a 40,000-square-foot building built in 1863. “They’re forcing a customer to look at life with a more sophisticated taste level,” Abboud said. “I like that.”
Apart from vacationing on Nantucket, gardening, and cheering for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, the 62-year-old designer recently bought a property in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and is working “with some folks from Restoration Hardware to do some cool stuff with it,” he said. “[The building] was built in 1887, the same year that Hart Schaffner Marx was established.”
With all of his work, it doesn’t seem fair that Abboud’s name doesn’t even appear on the labels of his current designs.
“There’s no celebrity aspect to this thing,” Abboud said. “Everybody’s a celebrity today. It’s much more about being proud of your work. . . . The greatest accomplishment for me is to see someone who doesn’t know who I am buying something I designed and walking out of the store and being very happy about it.”
“So, that’s, for me, what I’ve done my whole life—be proud of the work I’ve done . . . try to do the best for my customer. You know, you can’t ask for more than that.” [gallery ids="102479,120460,120455,120465,120438,120445,120471" nav="thumbs"]