With three stores now open on Christopher Street, Kyung Lee has pretty much cornered the West Village market. Her first shop, Albertine, still carries the same special party dresses it became known for years ago, while Claudine, located just a few doors down, specializes in more casual pieces by up-and-coming designers. Her latest shop, Albertine General, is a mix of vintage home goods and jewelry, providing the same memorable experience as her fashion outposts. We sat down with Lee to chat about the return of the waistline, her teenage punk years, and a love of designer Gary Graham.
How did you decide to open a store?
I started a webzine years ago called ArcadeProject that featured young designers, artists, and writers. I met so many great talents that opening a store to showcase them seemed like the natural next step.
Albertine General is your latest venture — what inspired you to branch away from fashion?
Timing. It felt right to offer something like the general store right now. There are items of all prices, from hand-collaged envelopes made out of vintage wallpaper for $2 to antique diamond engagement rings that cost over $2,000. But, really, I just wanted a place where I could throw my impromptu bourbon gatherings!
What type of woman shops at your stores?
A woman who doesn’t want to wear what everyone else is wearing, the kind of girl that isn’t afraid to mix high and low fashion. I encourage my clients to mix and match what they already have in their closets.
Describe your favorite piece in stock right now at any one of the shops.
Oohhh, that’s a hard one. If I have to choose, it’s a Gary Graham harness belt that goes over the arms and wraps around the waist three times. When worn, it functions as a modern corset and looks great over sweaters and jackets.
What was the first designer item you wore?
A tight, Lycra, floral Betsey Johnson minidress with puff sleeves. I rocked that number with Doc Martens and I used to get very unhappy looks from the headmaster.
Who were some of your favorite designers growing up?
Growing up, my look was kind of preppy punk. I mixed lots of Betsey Johnson with Ralph Lauren, and my mother had a huge closet that I would raid. I remember loving some of her old YSL and Celine from the seventies, but I just kind of mixed it with things that I bought at the mall. It drove her crazy, because stuff would always end up in someone else’s closet — I would dress all my friends and never ask for it back.
How about now?
I’m excited by Gary Graham. I always pack his stuff when I travel, because even if it wrinkles, it looks great and put-together. I’m kind of obsessed with A Détacher — she makes everyday classics that are so chic. I also still love Chanel. I have a good collection of the quilted classic bags, and I’ll buy another!
Where do you shop most?
Anna in the East Village for staples. Kiki de Montparnasse, especially for slips. La Maison du Chocolat, for my sweets cravings! Lately, I’ve been taking lots of road trips for vintage and antiques to get the oddities I carry at Albertine General.
Any items you are dying to own right now?
Anything by Haider Ackermann, a diamond dome ring by Kathryn Bentley, and an antique English locket by Cave Canem.
What trends do you like for fall?
I love that women are showing their waistlines again with sharper silhouettes and big belts.
Any trends you wish would go away?
What’s something every woman should have in her closet?
A well-fitting vest and blazer — they are so classic and flattering.
Finish this sentence: I never leave the house without …
A piece of statement jewelry. Even when I’m wearing sweatpants.