I’ve come to The Resort Shop at Freshfields Village on Kiawah Island to learn more about what makes this boutique so special to locals and travelers alike. What I found out will surprise you.
South Carolina native Leanna Boatwright, the youthful buyer and vice president of the store, is giving me a tour of the spacious boutique. My first hint of the shop’s secret to success comes when I spot the Eileen Fisher collection. Eileen Fisher is one of the few designers who knows how to dress women well. I mean, actual women—the kind who want to feel beautiful but have reasonable budgets and imaginary problem areas to contend with (as opposed to the kind you see in magazines, who throw their Diors on the floor then collapse into bed with a bottle of champagne). Fisher is famous for comfortable, classic separates that, collected over time, become part of a wardrobe of quality foundation pieces. If you’re traveling to Venice and you see a well-dressed woman breezing into the Hotel Danieli with just a carry on, you can bet she’s an Eileen Fisher disciple.
As I wander through the well-curated collections of designers that include always- popular Vince, colorful Trina Turk, and edgy Bailey 44, I pick up a featherweight, long-sleeved hooded blouse. Looking around, I see other lightweight long-sleeved T-shirts and blouses. I raise an eyebrow at Boatwright. “Your store is full of long sleeves,” I say to her. She smiles. “I like long sleeves,” she says. I do, too, and so does every woman I know in Charleston. The problem is we can’t find them here. If you’re from up North and expect that, in our warmer climate, we’d prefer to expose more skin, let me explain: On the coast, long sleeves protect you from the sun, from mosquitos, from cool evenings and sea breezes that can be chilly even in August. When we find fashionable lightweight shirts or blouses that aren’t just men’s shirts with nipped waists, we buy them two at a time and care for them like rare orchids.
As I look around, I realize it’s not just the long sleeves that make this boutique different. Boatwright has amassed an entire store full of clothing that is functional, flattering, affordable, unique, ageless and geared for the way Charleston women really live. “What’s your background in fashion?” I ask, trying not to sound like I’m interrogating her, which I am. She lowers the boom with trademark grace. “I’ve worked in fashion my whole life,” she says. “But I lived in New York City and worked for Oscar de la Renta before I moved back to Charleston. That had a big impact on me.”
There it is, the secret sauce. To study in the House of de la Renta is to put a woman’s feelings at the heart of every drape, stitch and hem. The result is profound and transformative in the way that de la Renta’s designs for Jackie Kennedy remain legendary. Boatwright lives by that principle when she buys clothing for the shop, which is why everything in the store works, even on days when you ate too much ice cream.
“Charleston women have a unique lifestyle. The lines are blurred between the restaurant and the beach,” she says. “They want to look good, even in 100 percent humidity. For us, there’s something so wonderful about helping women find an outfit that makes them feel beautiful.” The “us” is the rest of the staff, including manager Kathryn Sturgis and sales associates Martha, Helen, Bonnie, Lori and Katherine, to whom she attributes a great deal of the shop’s popularity. “We have such a great atmosphere because the people who work here are friends. And they all love building relationships with our customers,” she says.
This family-like customer service is important to Boatwright, who with her parents Walt and Deborah Leonard, bought the store from the previous owners in 2013. Since then, she’s made sure that the boutique caters to women of all ages, another principle that is likely responsible for her “classic with a twist” collections. Boatwright’s vision is clearly working as they’re about to open a second location in Charleston Place on the first of June.
All of the pieces Boatwright selects have another elusive element in common: They look great even when you take them out of Charleston. When I mention it, she whispers: “Come here. I want to show you something.” She leads me to a rack of pants. But these aren’t just any pants; these are THE pants—legendary, comfortable, wrinkle-free pants that are the perfect travel companion. “We get calls from all over for these. We have a wait list!” she says. The store also carries Adriano Goldschmied, known widely as the most comfortable jeans ever in the whole wide world. AG jeans are also a rare find, but for now, they’re waiting for you. Feel free to shout an amen.
As we walk through the rest of the store, Boatwright adds that both Charleston women and women who just love Charleston want to dress in a way that expresses a sense of place. To that end, the boutique carries the beloved local line of shoes from Charleston Shoe Company, clothing from native designer Lilla P. and gorgeous nature- and sea-inspired jewelry from local designers Jenny Thompson (Theodosia) and Christina Jervey. Everything Boatwright chooses for the store has beautiful details, total functionality and is cut to flatter. “The things you buy here will be your favorite things,” she says. “They’ll be the classic pieces you wear over and over for years. And we’ll always have long sleeves.”
Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.