A Berlins girl is many things. “The girl who shops here can be 20 or 75,” says Kristin Williams, the buyer for Berlins for Women. “She is looking to elevate her existing wardrobe. She wants something special and unique to add to it.”
When you walk into Berlins, with its exposed brick, designer lighting and cozy boutique vibe, you easily get a feel for Williams’ discriminating taste. Just two to three articles of each design hang on the racks that line the walls. Each piece has a little something interesting about it.
The collections include recognized names, like Rachel Zoe, Shoshanna, Nicole Miller, Equipment and Badgley Mischka. But it’s the ones-to-watch that are the specialty here. Introducing customers to on-the-rise designers is at the core of the store’s philosophy.
“We’re known for carrying the lesser-known designers,” says shop owner Ellen Berlin, “particularly American ones. We work very closely with several small designers, often helping to shape and refine their collections based on customer reviews.”
“Our job is to move forward and make sure our customers move forward, too,” says Williams. “We encourage them to try on new things that tweak their current style.”
A favorite is Jonathan Simkhai, a 2015 winner of the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund. Vogue magazine recently called his style “romantic hot,” an “ultra-femme mix of ‘vixenish’ and ‘ethereal.’” Williams pulls a few of his pieces, pointing out the edgy yet elegant touches on a studded cotton blouse and office-to-cocktails dress.
“From a beautiful shirt to wear with jeans to the most intricately embroidered evening gowns, he’s got it covered,” says Williams. “All can be worn for years to come.”
Petersyn is a “hot new name to look for,” she continues, describing the line as “elevated prep.” “It features classic fabrics and color combinations with a fresh spin.” Pieces by Tanya Taylor, sought after by celebrities, including Michelle Obama, add bursts of color to the racks. “I love the way she incorporates her own custom prints into her designs,” says Williams. “She has a great eye for mixing color and coming up with designs that are equally perfect for running errands, going out to dinner or a cocktail party.”
A buyer for 18 years (past gigs include Neiman Marcus), Williams buys with intuition. “I have to feel it, to sense it,” she says. “I look at runway shows but not trends. I’m very visual and know immediately if an item or designer will work with our mix. I constantly research outlets to determine what will influence the next new look.”
Berlins Clothing has been a family-owned landmark at the corner of King and Broad streets since 1883, and it remains a destination for fashionable women some 140 years later because of its fashion-forward style and revered personalized service.
“We create bonds with our clients from childbirth to marriage, through divorce and death, the good and not-sogood times,” says Berlin.
This year the store rolled out its new online shopping service. “In today’s fashion industry, there is no downtime; one collection rolls out after another, and it’s ‘see now, buy now, wear now.’ Some of our clients don’t have time to physically come into the shop. They want to see it online, order and receive it within days,” says Williams.
“We are moving forward with that,” agrees Berlin. “We are available at the click of a button.”
Customers can see and shop clothing and accessories, and chat with the Berlins team via the app. “It will be as if you are in the store. You will be speaking with one of us in the store,” says Williams. “It’s the new way to shop.”
M.S. Lawrence is a Charlestonbased writer.