Projects and Passion: 4 D.C. Principals Usher in the School Year

September 17, 2015

The waning days of summer have an intriguing ability to unearth youthful memories. This time of year reminds many of their childhoods, of long sun-soaked days and back-to-school shopping. It’s a time when slates are scrubbed clean and a feeling of anticipation (new friends, new challenges, new opportunities) floats buoyantly in the air.

As school begins this month, four local principals shared their enthusiasm for what’s ahead in their respective schools, from new playgrounds and outdoor classrooms to growing enrollment numbers.

Patricia Pride, principal at Hardy Middle School on 35th Street, is excited to see the Hawks return to the nest.

“There are great opportunities in store for our Hardy Middle School students,” said Pride. She added that the support the school is receiving from its feeder schools is stronger every year. Following boundary changes, John Eaton Elementary will become a full feeder school for Hardy.

One of the school’s newest additions is a homeroom class period for every student on Wednesdays, an initiative meant to foster students’ emotional growth.

“Homeroom will be a place where students can connect with teachers, where they won’t owe a grade,” said Pride, adding that it’s also a safe place to discuss issues that may be worrying them. Additionally, the school is breaking ground on an outdoor classroom in September, and teachers will be implementing new District-led “Cornerstone Shared Experience” assignments.

Meanwhile, at Hyde-Addison Elementary School, planning is underway for a new gym, media center/library and cafeteria, plus new music and classroom space. Excavation is expected to begin between late spring and the end of the school year. The project comes at a good time given the school’s growth, particularly in its fifth-grade numbers. While the school has two fifth-grade classes, enrollment continues to increase as families prepare their students for the middle-school world ahead. The 2015-2016 school year will also see the introduction of the school’s first Pre-K 3 class.

“We’re excited to have 16 three-year-olds this year,” said Principal Elizabeth Namba, who’s going into her second year as principal of Hyde-Addison. Originally from Connecticut, Namba seeks to nurture a supportive, yet rigorous and caring environment. Furthermore, she diligently works with the school’s staff to ensure that students have the best possible academic experience while meeting their social and emotional potential.

At Stoddert Elementary School, Principal Donald Bryant was upbeat about the campus’s playground renovation. The project, to be completed by late August, includes an outdoor classroom, a new climbing structure, a jogging track and a hard walking surface, not to mention a new artificial-turf surface.

Stoddert’s hallways will brighten this year after some new faces are welcomed to the leadership team, including Ibis Villegas, assistant principal, and Clinton Turner, the new resident principal and a Mary Jane Patterson Fellow.

As at Hyde-Addison, fifth-grade enrollment at Stoddert has increased, actually doubling since the past year. This rise has led to the addition of another classroom.

While some schools are just finishing additions and renovations, others have quite a bit longer to go. The Duke Ellington School of the Arts is undergoing a major renovation expected to last until spring 2017. In the meantime, students are being bussed between two different buildings for their academic and arts curricula, considered only a slight inconvenience given what’s to come.

Desepe de Vargas, head of school at Duke Ellington, believes that the building and the tools therein are of ultimate importance to the overall experience at a school of the arts.

“The building will be a learning tool as much as our textbooks are,” she said, adding that a state-of-the-art facility with the equipment to train aspiring artists is fundamental to the school’s mission. “The challenge we have now is making magic with very little.”

The renovation will provide new band studios, visual arts rooms, computer labs for graphic and media design and specialty spaces, such as a black box theater. The theater, said de Vargas, will give students enormous flexibility to transform the performance space, telling the story in creative ways.

After the renovation and campus expansion is completed, enrollment at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts will rise from approximately 530 to 630 students — that’s 100 more kids to grow and learn at this inspiring institution.

De Vargas, who is from Liberia, has good reason to be proud of her student body, which is consistently one of the highest performing in the public high school sector.

“Our graduation rate is 98 percent,” she said. “We continue to be proud of that.” Just last year, the students at Duke Ellington were awarded $3.5 million in scholarships, with one young dance major named a Gates Millennium Scholar by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Stories like these inspire young minds to dream big and follow their passion. And there could not be a better time than right now, at the advent of a new school year, to do so.
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50 Shades of Fall

September 2, 2015

The last month of summer has slipped through our fingers. Soon, fires will be lit, crackling warmly in their grates. Outside, autumn leaves will turn shades of gold, butter yellow and burnt orange. In town, tree-lined streets and places such as Rock Creek Park and the C&O Canal put on a colorful show.

Yet it’s outside the city, where concrete gives way to canopied trees and sprawling fields, that the true spectacle takes place.

People hoping to witness the quintessential display of fall foliage should travel to Shenandoah National Park, where Mother Nature never fails to awe or inspire. Here, just 75 miles from Washington, 200,000 acres of some of the country’s most scenic land is home to tens of thousands of living creatures, including 200 different species of birds. Throughout the park, hickories and birches, gum trees and blueberry bushes are but a few of the native plant species, and they burst with color every fall.

Hikers at Shenandoah National Park will delight in the 500 miles of rugged trails that score the terrain. For a less strenuous experience, hop in the car and venture down the park’s famed Skyline Drive. This 105-mile-long path affords some of the park’s most picturesque views. There are more than 75 scenic overlooks facing the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Virginia Piedmont to the east. Pack a picnic lunch and take in panoramas that attract visitors from all over the world.

The meandering Blue Ridge Parkway is another renowned place to witness the fall season’s vibrancy. This 469-mile drive, carved through the Blue Ridge Mountains, connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In the fall, visitors wind their way along the road, taking in the vivid canvas of sourwoods, black gum trees and poplars.

Dissuaded by crowds? Try hiking at Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Virginia. Just an hour from D.C., this less crowded destination affords beautiful views of fall’s color from late September to November.

Closer still is Great Falls National Park, only 15 miles from the District. Lined with hiking trails along the Potomac River, this 800-acre park offers a number of stunning places for visitors to unwrap a picnic lunch and rest tired legs.

In any of these places, however near or far, large or small, the real beauty of the season is evident in the leaves’ ephemeral symbolism. Destinations like Shenandoah National Park or Sky Meadows give a beautiful burning glimpse of life’s fleetingness and renewal. In the coming weeks, plan your trip to witness this beauty firsthand — and remember to close your eyes. After all, it is the sound of the rustling leaves mingled with birdsong that sings on in memory, long after the last leaf has dropped.

Modern Luxury Meets Country Tradition at Hound Hall

August 19, 2015

With foxhunting season on the horizon, thoughts of tacked-up horses and stylish hunting parties, with all dressed in riding coats and hunt caps, come to mind. Soon, the Virginia Hunt Country — with its large, historic estates, elegant horse farms and unspoiled surroundings — will reawaken these images. Rolling hills colored apple green and cornflower blue take on an almost mystical quality in the early morning light, or at dusk when hunting parties traverse through venerable foxhunting grounds associated with private clubs.

Perhaps the most prestigious of these is the Orange County Hunt, founded in 1910. Today, the Orange County Hunt encompasses a patchwork of properties with thousands of acres of easement-protected land. Rare is it then to find an estate coming on the market in such an esteemed place. Enter: Hound Hall.

With 100 acres in the heart of the Orange County Hunt, Hound Hall is a golden coin unearthed from Virginia’s deep-rooted treasure trove. In the early 2000s, a private owner purchased the land and built an English country house for his family. The estate was named Hound Hall after the owner’s daughters attended Foxcroft School. Here, students are either “Foxes” or “Hounds,” the designations of two spirited teams, and when the girls became “Hounds,” a name for the estate was born.

Hound Hall has frontage on two country roads and is situated just down from Boxwood Winery and Hickory Tree Farm. The grounds boast a number of impeccable features, including a state-of-the-art equestrian facility suitable for professional show, polo or racing operations. The 17-stall Belmont racing barn and stable was completely rebuilt, a tribute to the surrounding country. Highlights of the facility include an expansive 7/8-mile sand exercise track that can be used for cross-country schooling or converted for polo. Additionally, there’s a separate two-stall barn with a two-bedroom apartment for trainers.

The house at Hound Hall defies its recent construction. It feels at once historic and modern, a dichotomy that affords both luxury and convenience. Outside, the home, built with a locally quarried stone, is lavishly landscaped. Inside, five en-suite bedrooms allow ample room for family, extended family and guests. Throughout the house, antique, wide-plank oak and pine floors sprawl; the railheads are all period reproductions, stained to replicate the patina of age and wear. Five wood-burning fireplaces add warmth on cold Virginia evenings, and the ironwork in these hearths, along with the fireplace tools, was designed and forged locally.

The owner spared no time or expense to ensure the home’s quality construction, readily working with the craftsmen, artisans and architect on his vision. This effort is evidenced in the paneling, doors, bookcases, cabinets and interior window shutters, all of which are handmade and hand carved from 9,000 square feet of old chestnut boards sourced in Pennsylvania.

In addition to the home and the equestrian facility, Hound Hall has a first-class sporting clays course. Shooting enthusiasts will covet the enclosed automatic, dual-action Promatic thrower and the area for entertaining, all within walking distance of the house. There is also a walk-in Pentagon gun safe on the lower level of the house.

This multi-faceted property, just seven minutes from Middleburg, is both an elegant sporting estate and a comfortable country home. Whoever its future buyer may be, the land — with its unobstructed mountain views, wooded acreage and rolling hills — is sure to offer a sense of peace, embodying the bond between man and nature. And, who knows, Hound Hall’s future owner may just watch the next fox hunt canter through, witness to a token of sporting history that remains alive and well today.

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Channel Your Youth at Georgetown Salon & Spa

August 17, 2015

Growing up, I never had a solid skincare routine. Simplicity has always been my mantra and I can count on one hand the number of products I use on my face. Starting around the age of 25, however, I noticed a faint web of fine lines and wrinkles setting in around my eyes and across my forehead. Worse still are the creases on my neck. Time has been turning while quietly altering the roadmap of my face. Now, I often wonder what I can be doing that will help my skin stay youthful longer. Enter: META therapy. I have to confess when I first heard about it I cringed. Needles? No thanks. However, after a little research, I became intrigued.

Medical and Esthetical Tissue Activating therapy is the latest technology in anti-aging and skin rejuvenation, stimulating the skin from the inside out to naturally develop collagen while producing elastin. Here’s how it works. Prior to the treatment, the face and neck is cleaned and a concentrated serum called a subjectable is applied, much like a cream would be. Then, a licensed aesthetician uses a small, digitized hand piece outfitted with eighteen tiny polycarbonate plastic needles to make micro-perforations through the skin’s basal cell layer at high speed. Because the head is flexible, it expertly follows unique contours, making precise perforations at a max of .5 mm in depth.

In the process, two things are happening. First, the perforations activate cell activity in the upper dermis, a hard to access area beneath the skin. This is the skin kicking into its natural defense system, and it goes to work producing collagen and elastin to repair itself from the perforations — it’s a 100 percent natural method of skin repair. Second, the applied subjectable and the active ingredients within it go to work, seeping through the perforations to further regenerate the cells beneath the skin’s surface.

“The subjectables reach the living skin cells directly, enabling the active ingredients to stimulate cell regeneration,” says Linda Hardiman, a META therapy specialist at the Georgetown Salon & Spa. Hardiman has a master aesthetician license and is the only aesthetician in D.C. currently performing META therapy. She was born and raised in England, which is where META therapy got its start. In 1994 she moved to Washington and worked at the Watergate Salon, before coming to Georgetown Salon & Spa.
“I was looking for a treatment that I could add to the spa, saw an article about this in a trade magazine and went from there,” she said, adding, “I was drawn to it because it scientifically made sense and many doctors were already doing it.”

There are many roads that people walk to reclaim the fresh, taut appearance of youth, ranging from invasive treatments like needle rollers to non-invasive treatments like chemical peels, and even medical treatments like face lifts. META therapy’s innovative approach to anti-aging makes it beneficial to a wide age range. One of Hardiman’s oldest clients is in her 80s — though the ideal age starts around 30. “Collagen loss has already started by then so, although the visible results may be few at that age, it will have a preventative quality,” she said.

On the morning of my appointment, I was rattled by anxiety. My mind flashed to thoughts of distressed skin and adverse reactions — the worst-case scenario. However, from the moment I walked into the Georgetown Salon & Spa, Hardiman’s passion and expertise soothed my trepidation. She explained to me that the skin serves as our shield, keeping harmful substances from getting in. The problem is that many dead cells live on the skin’s surface, and finding a way to penetrate through to the living cells can be difficult. META therapy makes doing that safe, strategic, and efficient.

The precision hand device looked to me like a glorified electric toothbrush, and it created a vibrating, tingling sensation as it moved. The only area where it felt intense was the forehead, where the skin blankets thinly over the bone. Overall, however, the process was painless.

Following the treatment, a cool restoring mask was used on my face and neck. This contained active ingredients like Tetrapeptide and Hexapeptide, which work through the perforations, soothing the skin while eliminating any redness.
A few days later, nothing drastic had occurred, but I did notice a few subtle changes. There was a slight glow I’d never seen before. My skin felt hydrated and plump, reinvigorated. The results of META therapy include these and others, from faded lines to enhanced circulation and reclaimed elasticity.

Hardiman suggests starting with a course of four weekly treatments, then one every two weeks for a total series of eight. The first treatment is $175, four treatments are $700, and eight treatments are $1,225. The process takes roughly an hour, which includes the treatment, the cooling mask plus a massage. Best yet, no anesthesia is required so you can conveniently return to your daily routine as a fresh, younger you.

Georgetown Salon & Spa is located at 2715 M Street NW. 202-333-8099. georgetownsalonspa.com

The Tastes of Summer

July 16, 2015

The tastes of summer reveal themselves in a number of ways, from the sugary juices of a watermelon to the berry-colored stains on a farmer’s fingertips. Here in Washington, chefs around the District are taking full advantage of summer’s bounty — and, even better, much of it is local.

Robert Wiedmaier of RW Restaurant Group (Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck, Mussel Bar and Grille, Wildwood Kitchen, etc.) believes in the importance of putting faces to food, knowing the people behind certain products and, ultimately, being able to buy with confidence.

“I’d much rather talk with the farmer or the cheese maker or the guy who caught my striped bass on the Chesapeake,” he said, as opposed to buying from a commercial, faceless source. “The romance goes away when you buy in a package.”

Wiedmaier buys from roughly 15 different vendors from surrounding states, including Congressional Seafood for blue catfish and striped bass from Chesapeake Bay. For the best local mushrooms, he frequents the Irwin Mushroom Company, a second-generation family-run business in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (known as “Mushroom Capital of the World”).

Indeed, there is something sensual about indulging in a local product, a richness of flavor and color. “Normally it’s a better product if it’s local,” Wiedmaier said, adding, “That’s not always true, but we try to buy as much locally as we can.”
This philosophy is put into practice at the Chapel Hill Farm in Berryville, Virginia, where Wiedmaier sources whole Randall Linebacks, the oldest and rarest cattle breed in America. The farm — a registered Virginia Landmark and National Historic Landmark — is situated in the Shenandoah Valley; conservation and tradition are at the heart of the program.

Another chef who’s incorporating local products into his menu is David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar and Eatery, with locations in Arlington and Capitol Hill. Chances are you’ve seen chef Guas on the “Today Show” or the Food Network, or even as a co-judge on the Travel Channel’s “American Grilled” program. The New Orleans native is a big proponent of using local foods at Bayou Bakery, where he is working to cultivate a culture and invigorate a taste for Southern style.

At Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, Guas finds a rainbow assortment of fresh produce: apples, pears, sweet nectarines, watermelons and award-winning peaches, among other stone fruits. The farm has over 21,000 trees solely for fresh-market apple production, and the orchard uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) growing methods, which eliminate chemical residue.

While Toigo Orchards has Guas covered with the best in local fruits, Potomac Vegetable Farms fulfills his vegetable needs. Cabbages, spinach and radishes; collard, mustard and turnip greens; bell, chili, jalapeño and shishito peppers — these are just a few of the goods he and his team pick up from the Saturday farmer’s markets. “Everything they do is top-notch,” he said, adding that Bayou Bakery also buys their okra there (which they then pickle for their bloody Marys).

The Bayou bloody Mary was recently mentioned in Washingtonian, and for good reason. Served in a 16-ounce Mason jar with a creole-seasoned rim, it’s loaded with pickled vegetables, green olives and fresh lime.

Venturing into farmer’s markets and stocking up on seasonal fruits and vegetables give Guas and Wiedmaier an opportunity to color their menus in creative ways. However, this practice also fosters friendly, trusting relationships, one of the great gifts of doing business locally. And just as foods have their own flair and personality, so do the people who grow, harvest and sell them.
“I love doing business with good people,” said Guas. “It starts with that.” And good people he has found, including Jamie Stachowski of Stachowski Market and Deli on 28th and P in Georgetown, who makes all kinds of sausages for him, including boudin and andouille. Tom and Susan Hunt of Westmoreland Berry Farm in Oak Grove, Virginia, are another example. Guas waits in long lines at farmer’s markets to get his week’s worth of their fresh asparagus and berries, including their award-winning strawberries.

Back at Bayou Bakery, Guas’s accumulation of local ingredients shines through in many of the menu items, including beverages. One of the most popular cocktails at Bayou Bakery (aside from the bloody Mary) is the NOLA Backyard Swinger, a grapefruit-based beverage with bourbon, local honey, jalapeño and fresh rosemary. The jalapeño, sourced from Potomac Vegetable Farms, adds a nice heat. The honey used is lovingly called “Holly’s Honey,” named after a grade-school student (she and her father bring it to Guas from Ashburn, Virginia). In addition to the NOLA Backyard Swinger, this honey is also available at the chef’s “Sticky Station,” which features an array of honeys for guests to sample by stirring it into their tea, folding it into their oatmeal or spreading it through the insides of a hot, flaky biscuit.

Washingtonians are lucky to be surrounded by such strong agricultural communities. Artisans and farmers from Pennsylvania to Virginia and Maryland are passionate about their products, and chefs in the District are increasingly interested in sourcing the best ingredients they can. “That’s what we do as chefs,” said Wiedmaier, “we source.” For the rest of us, all that’s left to do is eat and enjoy. [gallery ids="102128,133730,133732,133727" nav="thumbs"]

Bon Appétit: Honoring Bastille Day Over a Spread of French Cuisine


As Americans celebrate the Stars and Stripes on July 4, the French will be preparing their own celebrations for Bastille Day on July 14. In a perfect world, we’d like to imagine ourselves sitting in a soft, woven chair as we dine at a Parisian bistro, indulging in salade verte, cuisse de canard and assiette de fromage, while parade-goers cheer and chant along the Champs-Élysées. But, alas, Paris will have to wait. Luckily, the magnifique montage of French restaurants in Georgetown is the next best thing.

Bistro Lepic and Wine Bar, which celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year, will host a weeklong independence celebration Sunday, July 5, through Tuesday, July 14, with live jazz performances on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Chef George Vetsch’s renowned menu includes French specialties such as escargots au beurre d’ail (Burgundy snails baked in garlic butter); rognons de veau, sauce Dijon (veal kidneys with Yukon gold potatoes and Dijon mustard sauce); and an ile flottante (floating island of soft baked white eggs atop crème anglaise).

At the newly opened Maxime Steak Frites and Bar (formerly Rialto), Francophiles will find a fine array of French fare, from cheese and charcuterie plates to warm quiches and savory mussels with hand-cut fries. The restaurant’s “La Formule” menu option is a $19.95 prix-fixe favorite that includes a fresh-baked baguette with salted butter, a mixed-green salad and a top-sirloin steak glazed in the restaurant’s signature béarnaise sauce, with a side of fries (seafood and vegetarian alternatives are also available).

This M Street newcomer exudes a rustic bistro vibe with art and exposed brick walls. Furthermore, the affordable price-point makes it accessible and inviting to a younger crowd. The restaurant is open every day for dinner and has a weekend brunch with sweet crepes, French toast, Belgian waffles and an assortment of egg dishes.

Across the street at Bistro Francais, chef Gerard Cabrol will have both his a la carte menu and a special $35 three-course menu in honor of Bastille Day. Indulge in a number of French fancies like clams Provençal, homemade onion tart, bouillabaisse with seafood and roasted duck breast. We’d also like to try the napoleon for dessert, s’il vous plait.

At the nearby Chez Billy Sud, chef Brendan L’Etoile will be serving his classic cuisine from the south of France alongside a handful of Bastille Day specials. Stop by for a memorable meal over a glass of rosé on the charming outdoor patio, or sit inside and relish the space’s très chic interiors, colored mint green and gold.

Finally, for a special night out, make a dinner reservation at Marcel’s, Georgetown’s preeminent destination for haute French cuisine for more than 16 years. The beloved restaurant was awarded the top honors for Service Program of the Year at June’s 33rd annual Rammy Awards Gala. This well-deserved accolade exemplifies chef Robert Wiedmaier’s continued stature as a leader in the D.C. dining community. [gallery ids="117491,117485" nav="thumbs"]

Retail Oracle: Iraklis Karabassis on the Future of Retail and Georgetown’s Retail Future

June 22, 2015

On a sunny, spring afternoon, Iraklis Karabassis sits in his office at 3238 Prospect Street. Light floods in through an open window. Faint, soothing sounds of a cocktail shaker emanate from Peacock Café across the street. Fittingly, the fashion-focused Karabassis is well dressed, polished-yet-effortless in dark jeans and a striped button-down. His outward sophistication reflects the sharp mind and business savvy for which he is known.

“Georgetown has stolen my heart,” said the former owner of the Benetton at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, among many other Benetton stores, including the first-ever U.S. store in the former White Flint Mall.

Karabassis has traveled the United States and the globe extensively as head of IK Retail Group, a premier fashion retailer. But it’s his place in Georgetown that he returns to time after time.
“Thirty-two years after being here, don’t ask me why, but I love Georgetown,” he said of its village-like atmosphere. “I still find this uniqueness and mystique. If you live it, then you get it.”
Although his fondness for Georgetown is undeniable, Karabassis has concerns for its future.

On any walk down M Street, residents and visitors alike can witness the burgeoning presence of large mono-brands, such as H&M and Forever 21. For Karabassis, this raises the question of whether Georgetown is at risk of losing its homegrown charm and entrepreneurial spirit.

“We lost our momentum,” he said of Georgetown. “We became old and not innovative anymore.” He attributes this to the restrictions of the neighborhood, including high rents, limited parking and the difficulty in attaining a liquor license, all of which detract people from investing in local businesses.

“Everything starts, and ends, with the level of the investment,” he said, saying that Georgetown needs to attract the attention of innovative minds again and bring novelty back to the neighborhood. “We have to raise the bar.”

With their massive production, the mono-brands and their large, glitzy stores are certainly putting pressure on the market, while displacing more and more of the small boutiques run by creative, self-driven individuals. These small boutiques are what Karabassis believes keep the market interesting.

The neighborhood’s high rents may be one reason for this shift, but it’s also the fault of the consumer, he said. Many people today are looking for fast, disposable fashion — that is, stylish, trendy clothes at low prices. It’s about quickness of production and affordable price points — at the cost of creative quality and attention to detail. But, “the customer likes it, and we have to respect that,” says Karabassis.
Furthermore, the age of e-commerce has revolutionized the shopping experience, making it more convenient than ever for people to purchase their favorite clothes and accessories. Brick-and-mortar shops are suffering because educated, fashion-forward customers know they can shop their favorite brands online at a range of competitive price points, he said.

Even in the malls, Karabassis claims that the fashion factor has faded considerably, replaced by shops filled with teenager clothing, ice cream, cosmetics and Starbucks coffee. “Today, buying clothes is the last thing you think of when you go to the mall,” he said.

He recalled how the mall on M Street, Shops at Georgetown Park, was once “the jewel of Georgetown.” Now, lamentably, he added, it’s been “converted into big boxes.”

As president and CEO of IK Retail Group, Karabassis focuses on international brand management and development in the American marketplace. Over the past three decades, he has grown an impressive, far-reaching business with roots in Georgetown. Yet his familial roots reach far eastward.

Karabassis was born in the picturesque port city of Volos, Greece. After studying and majoring in geology in Italy, he moved to Paris for post-graduate work, where he became involved with the clothing brand United Colors of Benetton. It was there that he was tasked with bringing the brand to the United States.

By 2008, Karabassis had opened more than 100 Benetton stores in the U.S. and Canada. In March 2008, before the last recession, he sold his Benetton operation to the Benetton Group in Italy — an example of both his lifelong relationship with luck, and his ability to grab an opportunity when it presents itself.

Over the years, Karabassis also expanded the luxury Italian brand MaxMara, adding a number of American stores to its portfolio before selling his stake in May 2008.

As these two major sales went through, Karabassis made IK Retail Group the center of his business. He became increasingly focused on consulting for European retailers in the United States, representing different brands while helping to boost sales, control costs and strategically increase exposure nationwide.

“America is very difficult for Europeans to succeed,” said Karabassis with a trace of his Greek accent. “It’s very competitive, and everyone wants to be here.” The entrepreneur, who speaks four languages — Greek, French, Italian and English — is smart and sought after. He has built his career on proven results. If one is looking to enter the U.S. market, he is the man to call.

Karabassis helps clients of all backgrounds looking to penetrate the American market, and he is selective because he can be. With three decades of industry experience and expertise, he has created a reputation among Europe’s fashion community, gaining their trust by proving he’s adept at scouting trends, finding smart locations and making strong contacts that will help them succeed.

With the help of his team at IK Retail Group, including his wife and vice president of retail, Yasmine Karabassis, he is able to select clients with strong potential who need help entering or expanding in the United States. The team strategizes with clients on short- and long-term goals while managing myriad logistics: branding, personnel, store design, marketing, accounting and advertising, plus warehousing and distribution. It’s a complete package.

From 2008 to today, IK Retail Group’s portfolio has been filled with unique brands, from Piazza Sempione to K16, Leghilà, Freddy, Andrew’s Ties and Billionaire Italian Couture. The latter label, the work of two talented businessmen named Angelo Galasso and Flavio Briatore, features handmade, luxury menswear. Though not for everyone, everything in the brand is meticulously made, the aesthetic of which is a mix of Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Tom Ford, according to Karabassis.

Most recently, Karabassis partnered with Kiko Milano, an Italian cosmetics company expanding aggressively here in the U.S. The Greek entrepreneur has been tasked with finding all of their new locations and properly guiding the brand in America; for 2015 alone, Kiko Milano is set to open 30 new stores, totaling 150 by 2017, including one in Tysons Corner.

Though IK Retail Group works mostly through partnerships, it also owns retail concepts outright. One of these is called Emporium DNA, a multi-branded fashion retailer for men and women that has been a successful tool for market testing, with both domestic and international brands. It has three store locations: the Yale University campus in New Haven, the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas and 1666 Connecticut Ave. NW, near Dupont Circle.

In a career that has seen much success, two of the entrepreneur’s greatest accomplishments came with the development of the Collection at Chevy Chase and the Miami-based project, 1111 Lincoln Road. The Chevy Chase endeavor was one of the premier luxury retail developments in the nation, and Karabassis had a central role, as both a consultant, and in developing and leasing out the shops. In Florida, Karabassis worked with the internationally renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron to transform and reimagine a mixed-use development project adjacent to the Lincoln Road Mall in Miami. “It was one of the most exciting moments for me,” Karabassis said of the job. “It’s really one of the top projects in America.”

Another arena in which Karabassis’s entrepreneurial spirit can still be strongly felt and seen is the restaurant industry.

In November 1992, he and Franco Nuschese opened Café Milano on Prospect Street. The celebrity-frequented Italian restaurant is one of the most famous in Washington — to see and be seen.
While Karabassis sold his share of Café Milano to Nuschese in 2012, he continues to flavor D.C.’s fast-growing culinary scene with Sette Osteria, his Italian restaurant located at 1666 Connecticut Ave. NW.

This April, Karabassis opened the second Sette restaurant — the former Café M, at 1634 14th St. NW — under the same name, but with a slightly different look. At a recent tasting dinner at the new location, guests dined on a sampling of creative dishes: creamy burrata with tricolor tomatoes, homemade pastas like spinach gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce, a saffron risotto with juicy beef short ribs and homemade tiramisu — bellissima!

In Italian, Sette translates to the number seven, which is often regarded as the world’s lucky number. Perhaps Karabassis can attribute a small bit of luck and timing to his success, but it’s the methodical, strategic approach to his work that drives his good fortune. His commitment to unique, expressive brands has never wavered, and he’s proven his success in a time of change.
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Take the Plunge Into Karla Colletto’s World

May 22, 2015

You’re on a beach. The sun sparkles on water the deep blue color of lapis lazuli. Palm fronds flap softly in an ocean breeze. These descriptions are the backdrop, but for Vienna, Va.-based swimwear designer Karla Colletto, it’s the women and the swimsuits they wear that bring an idyllic summer setting to life.

Colletto grew up in the town of Wrentham, Massachusetts, on the Rhode Island border. Her grandmother was a seamstress and her grandfather was a tailor. Both inspired her from a young age. She went on to study fashion design, and after graduation was introduced to couture designer Alfred Fiandaca.

“He gave me invaluable hands-on training, taught me the many intricate details that go into creating a couture piece and inspired me to start my own label,” she says. In the beginning, Karla wasn’t drawn directly to swimwear. Rather, she wanted to approach the fashion industry in a smart, progressive way while utilizing the fine dressmaker techniques passed onto her.

In 1981, Karla and Lisa Rovan, her sister and business partner, created a custom design company with pieces ranging from sportswear to bridal gowns. “While I was designing custom pieces for clients, I became intrigued by stretch fabrics and realized that swimwear was overlooked in the world of high fashion.”

Colletto learned to design swimwear through “trial and error,” using the skills of pattern making, grading and sewing to piece a garment together. Rovan had apprenticed with a swimwear contractor in the past, and, together, they honed in on the world of aquatic couture. By 1987, they sold a small collection to Saks Fifth Avenue. The following season, they made additional sales to Bergdorf Goodman.

From the start, Colletto sought to give her designs an innovative edge. Undoubtedly, one of the distinctions of a Karla Colletto swimsuit is the fabric. “Textiles are always evolving,” she says. “Right now there is a push toward 3D digital printing on fabrics to give an illusion of depth and texture.” Colletto has experience with this technique, and with the use of bonded microfiber, laser-cut details and NoSo technologies.

Colletto imports most of her fabrics from Italy. “We are able to buy in smaller quantities, important to our brand since we try to be as ‘green’ as possible by cutting to order and generating little waste,” she says. For 18 years, she has been working with Eurojersey Sensitive microfiber. Combining the best in eco-friendly manufacturing and fabric longevity (not to mention comfort), this fabric offers up to 10 times more chlorine resistance than traditional swim fabrics, plus UV protection and quick-drying fibers. Additionally, many of the fabrics Colletto uses are made with Xtra Life Lycra, a fiber that resists degradation and has notable recovery performance.

“I like to combine fabrics and components in an out-of-the-box way. I pull, stretch, drape and slice the goods to discover unique textures and patterns,” she says of her approach. She adds that technology has revolutionized the industry. “Fiber and textile technology has transformed swimwear fabrics. They are technical, functional and fashionable, making the design possibilities endless.”

Colletto’s design process is an intricate one and her attention to detail and artistic originality has earned her a name in a competitive industry. “I design with a mix of form, function and high fashion in mind,” she says. “For me, the fit of the swimsuit is just as important as the style.”

She starts with inspirations and concepts, then chooses fabrics and the components for each garment before sketching and draping. She does this until she’s entirely satisfied with the garment’s overall concept.

After that, she creates the pattern and the first sample of several is made. “Throughout the process, the swimsuit is constantly evolving. And usually what I initially set out to do transforms into something completely different and even better than what I envisioned at the start,” she says.

After she has approved the samples, they go to production. All Karla Colletto swimsuits are made in-house and rigorously inspected, ensuring the best quality control. Colletto uses dynamic fabrics and tests different patterns and constructions to ensure the best fit, with comfort and durability in mind. “We even continue our quality trend in the smallest pieces of our swimsuits using the best eyelets, underwires, zippers and other components,” she says.

Colletto finds inspiration in myriad places, from modernist paintings to old movies, in classic architecture and the intricate details of a dahlia. Ever the artist, textures and colors in the surrounding world can trigger moments of stimulation and creativity. “It could be a coral dress in a magazine or a piece of coral I find on the beach,” she says. As a Virginia resident working in close proximity to Washington, D.C., Colletto is also inspired by the region’s multicultural landscape and the strong women she designs for.

Who is the Karla Colletto girl? She is “a modern, confident woman who wants to make a fashion statement with her swimwear, whether it’s in her own backyard or while on some exotic getaway,” she says. “She appreciates good quality and is smart when it comes to the best fit for her body.”

Most people abhor the process of bathing suit shopping – that is, magnifying their own bodily insecurities before mirrored walls and fluorescent lights. Colletto aims in her designs to counteract this tendency.

“It is so important for us to make swimwear that women feel absolutely confident in,” she says. “It’s about finding the right swimsuit for your personality and your body. We like to think our swimwear offers the best of both worlds.” The team constructs each garment with progressive patterns and innovative techniques, while incorporating details such as silent underwires and ruching (gathering or pleating) to enhance the silhouette. Over the years, the designer has noticed swimwear’s burgeoning place in women’s wardrobes, a stylish intertwining of swimwear with ready-to-wear.

“My goal with each swimsuit is to create an innovative, fashion-forward piece without degrading the importance of a tailored fit,” she says, adding, “A swimsuit should be more than just a beautiful piece. It should be a reflection of the wearer herself.”

Colletto’s artistic talents are well known, yet she’s also business savvy, with a shrewd awareness of the marketplace that’s changing around her. “Marketing and advertising have changed incalculably over the years, especially with the advent of social media,” she says. “Our social platforms give us a firsthand connection with our admirers.” Though Colletto’s brand is not currently in the e-commerce game, the designer has plans to enter the online market over the next year or two.

“We want to take the time to do it right and ensure any online shopping endeavors match the quality of our brand,” she says. And when that time comes, Colletto believes that people will confidently buy her swimsuits online, even though that means not trying them on in a dressing room. “Because of the consistency of our fit, once the customer knows their size, it’s easy for them to buy online,” she says.

In addition to social media, Colletto uses stylish, retro-chic video campaigns to promote her collections, working with Pum and Jake Lefebure, co-founders of D.C. based Design Army, and the talented director and cinematographer Dean Alexander. “Their input and unique approach is a huge part of our brand success in collaboration with our social media platforms,” she says.

Colletto’s branding has an air of whimsy and nostalgia to it, a faint reminder of the past coupled with a strong sense of the future. Her swimsuits manipulate modern fabrics to achieve silhouettes that are unflinchingly fashion-forward, even when influenced by past designs.
“Although my designs have changed over the years, there are some distinctive Karla Colletto details that make our suits recognizable,” she says. The Colletto design team often looks to their own archives for designs that could be taken in a fresh, contemporary direction.

“I continue to experiment, challenge and innovate,” she says of her process. Colletto has been a pioneer in the swimwear industry, utilizing the best of today’s fabrics and manufacturing processes, while defying the limitations of design. This drive and steadfast commitment to originality has garnered recent attention from Elle, InStyle Spain, Glow Magazine and Trillionaire Magazine, to name a few.

Colletto works with retailers both large and small. She recently designed an exclusive swimsuit for Everything But Water in honor of the retailer’s 30th anniversary. The bold red one-piece, triggered by a 1960s photo of model Peggy Moffitt in Rudi Gernreich, features a plunging V-neck with cutouts, crisscrossing bands and strong structural details.

Like the swimsuit, Colletto’s brand is bold, strong and structural, and there’s much still ahead for the company. In addition to adding e-commerce to the business model, Colletto hopes to expand her brand into active wear and sportswear in the future. In the meantime, however, Karla Colletto’s swimwear offers women everywhere the opportunity to suit up in style this summer. Go ahead – take the plunge. [gallery ids="117765,117782,117778,117773" nav="thumbs"]

Middleburg’s Magnetism


Just 50 miles west of Washington, D.C., sits the historic town of Middleburg, Virginia, celebrated for its horse and hunt country. Driving west, the roads become slimmer as they thread through lush countryside; overhead, the treetops converge into a trellised canopy. Near and far, jagged rock walls and white fences section off sprawling estates.

Virginia’s communal culture prides itself on the state’s land, history and sporting traditions, all of which pervade Middleburg. Visitors and locals alike can enjoy the outdoors by hiking, biking and bird-watching, going to horse races and polo matches, trying local wines and shopping for antiques.”

In an age in which e-commerce and department store giants dominate, Middleburg’s quaint boutiques offer a welcome respite.
At [Foxfire Gallery and Antiques](http://www.foxfireantiques.com/), owner Kathy Alexander sits in a space that is itself a jewel box of precious European antiquities and objets d’art. In the center of the store, open for two years as of this month, a large skylight bathes the treasures below in natural light. Originally from New Orleans, Alexander seeks out these items in France and England: angel statues, heavy tapestries, trumeau mirrors and delicate tiaras, nesting amid old books on a shelf of carved wood.

The shop’s loveliness springs from its contrasts of color and texture: rosemary candles, green topiaries and boxwood wreaths, etched hurricanes and crystal chandeliers. It is a study in chalky whites and dusty blues. In the back, a large wooden armoire filled with Fortuny pillows stands adjacent to a beautiful 1920s French birdcage with white doves cooing inside.

The immensely popular women’s clothing and accessories shop [Lou Lou](http://loulouboutiques.com/) first opened its doors in Middleburg in the summer of 2004. Another town favorite is Crème de la Crème, a classic home-goods store that exudes comfort in the familiarity of its objects, from pretty mirrors and candles to colorful glassware and paperweights.

Crème de la Crème’s small paperie invites rummagers to peruse the walls of cheeky cards, journals, photo albums and coffee table books. Most popular? The store’s array of French linens and Italian pottery.

[J. McLaughlin](http://www.jmclaughlin.com/) is the newest shop to open for business on Middleburg’s charming streets.

For lodging, the [Red Fox Inn](http://www.redfox.com/) in the heart of town is not to be missed. For a more rural, yet luxurious experience, venture a few miles to the [Goodstone Inn](http://goodstone.com/), a country retreat set on 265 acres.

Goodstone’s owner, Mark Betts, a lawyer turned hotelier, bought the estate for his family in 1996. To maintain it, he began renting the property’s existing structures until he was eventually approached about starting a B&B. The inn formally opened in 1999, and their award-winning gourmet restaurant followed in 2005. Restaurant manager Mimi Schneider proudly says that much of the food – from eggs to vegetables and herbs – are culled daily on the property, keeping true to the farm-to-table concept.

“You’ve got to try the omelets here,” said Mark, touting Goodstone’s Sunday brunch. The team has also grown their wine program considerably over the years, with nearly 500 labels now available. Wine dinners are offered every other month. On June 23, the restaurant will host a dinner celebrating the wines of Bourgogne.

The team behind Goodstone Inn just opened a sister property in Costa Rica, an eco-lodge called Playa Cativo.

A short drive from Goodstone is the new Salamander Resort and Spa, a 340-acre equestrian estate in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The interiors are elegant and airy, yet there is a certain whimsicality, evidenced in the life-size chess set that stands on the back lawn. The resort – open since August 2013 – has 168 rooms, a world-class 23,000-square-foot spa, a private dining facility in a 150-year-old stallion barn, the Gold Cup Wine Bar, a full service equestrian center with instructional classes available and an attractive Virginia-themed restaurant called Harrimans.

With a new general manager, Reggie Cooper, [Salamander](http://www.salamanderresort.com/) is prepared for a full summer season. To start it off, every Friday from May 22 to Aug. 21, the resort’s Culinary Garden will host a Farm-To-Wine Summer Music Series with live music and food and wine from local growers.

**Upcoming Events:**

• 56th Annual Hunt Country Stable Tour, May 23-24

• Zip Line Under the Stars with Empower Adventures, May 22-24 and June 5-6

• 162nd Upperville Colt and Horse Show, June 1-7

• Greenhill Wine and Vineyards Concert on the Lawn Series, Fridays from May 8 to Sept. 25

• Great Meadow Polo Club’s Twilight Polo, Saturdays from May 9 to Sept. 19
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Back to the Mediterranean for Evo Bistro

May 21, 2015

With cranes animating the Tysons Corner skyline, the Silver Line extension and a new Hyatt Regency, it’s clear that the area is experiencing a major facelift.

Just three miles away, in McLean, Virginia, another facelift is underway at Evo Bistro. The restaurant, which opened in 2007, has gone through a succession of leadership changes over the years, but the original owner and executive chef, Driss Zahidi, is back, restoring the restaurant’s authentic Mediterranean character.

Zahidi was born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco, a city that exhibits a variety of culinary styles and influences. The oldest of five children, he regularly helped his mother in the kitchen. By the time he was in high school, he landed his first job as a line cook. After college, he got a master’s degree in physics and spent a year working in France as a chemical engineer before returning to his passion for cooking.

In 2000, Zahidi moved to the United States, relocating to Washington, D.C., after a brief stint in New York. He worked in a number of commercial kitchens before co-founding Evo Bistro. Zahidi’s goal since the beginning was to serve elegant, upscale Mediterranean cuisine alongside an extensive wine list, which he did until 2011. At that time, Zahidi left Evo Bistro, which slowly moved away from its Mediterranean roots.

In February of this year, Zahidi’s ambition to restore Evo Bistro to its original concept became a reality when he resumed ownership and the executive chef position. He also continues to operate Le Mediterranean Bistro in Fairfax, a French Moroccan restaurant, which he opened in 2013.

At a recent Evo Bistro lunch, the atmosphere was relaxed and inviting. The open dining room was bathed in natural light and accented with colorful artwork by Buck Nelligan. The menu has shifted back to a Mediterranean montage of dishes influenced by Spanish, French, Italian and Moroccan flavors. Tapas range from garlic shrimp with white wine sauce to lightly fried artichokes with jalapeno aioli, sweet peppers stuffed with wild mushrooms and savory goat cheese and saffron paella.

“Back home we used to have paella weekly,” said Zahidi of his Moroccan upbringing. The restaurant now has three paella dishes to choose from: a vegetable version, rich with piquillo peppers, spring squash and asparagus; a chicken and chorizo rendition with wild mushrooms and peas; and a seafood interpretation with mussels, shrimp and scallops.

The menu’s diverse flavor portfolio complements the diverse wine selection for which Evo is known. In addition to this impressive wine list, Evo Bistro also has a retail wine shop, with every bottle on the list available for purchase either individually or by the case. Guests can call ahead and pick up their order or simply take it home after their lunch or dinner.

Since Zahidi’s return, every day at Evo Bistro is a cause for celebration. Tuesday is Spanish Night, with a variety of paella specials plus 25 percent off Spanish wine bottles. On Thursdays, diners get 50 percent off select Champagne bottles, and on Mondays and Wednesdays until 9 p.m., and Fridays at lunch, guests get 50 percent off featured wines.

Additionally, from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, Evo has happy hour in their bar and lounge that includes $5 and $6 drink specials, plus $6 and $9 tapas. The workweek lunch special is also not to be missed, with three tapas plates for $12.
Evo Bistro sits in the crosshairs of a fast-growing region, and Driss Zahidi’s return helped sharpen the restaurant’s focus while restoring its originality. Evo Bistro has successfully revamped its look and reclaimed its identity as McLean’s premier destination for Mediterranean cuisine.

Evo Bistro, 1313 Old Chain Bridge Rd., McLean, Virginia.