“I have a lot of great vintage!” gestures Claire excited when I peek into the first closet. “I just got this new piece from my grandmother, you will die!” She grabs one of the hangers and hands me a chocolate fur sports jacket. I do. I die. It’s so thick and luscious I want to bury my face in it! Give me that thing. Let me try it on. (Before you get on your high horse about fur, hear us out. I don’t mind vintage fur. It’s been around the block and back and has kept many a bosoms warm for decades. I suppose it’s been subjected to its fair share of recycling and therefor green. And Claire believes in the organic nature of the world and the hierarchies of man versus animal. “For everything you take, you should make sure to give something back to nature and all creatures.” Anyways…) “I never shop vintage,” she says matter-of-factly. “I get it all from my grandmother. She was one of the most elegant and stylish women around. She was not a crazy shopper but she loved good things and would spend her money on timeless pieces every season. I really try to emulate that in how I dress. And that’s a lot easier to do when you get all her hand-me-downs!!”
For those of you who have shopped at Fivestory on the Upper East Side, 26-year old Claire Distenfeld is a bit of an esthetic guru. You may have read the story about how Claire, then fed up with the art world and in an existential crisis, and her father, then newly retired and bored out of his mind, came up with the idea to build a “little, tiny store of gems and things from all over the world” and bought a beautiful, stately brownstone to start their venture. That was more than two years ago but the airwaves are still buzzing about them. Claire has sublime taste in jewelry – the things I’ve seen there made me wish I was a millionaire – and she sells “clothes that are different, whether it’s brands or just special pieces you won’t find anywhere else.” She’s seen at the fashion IT-parties, hangs out with bloggers like Leandra Medine and street style celebrities like Miroslava Duma and has a customer list flashier than Kanye’s Rolex.
But she’s a modest, soft-spoken girl, with a shy grin and a warm, flushed cheeks. New York Magazine even wondered if she’s not “the Lena Dunham of High End Retail.” She’s lived in the same Noho apartment since college, bought all her furniture on Ebay and antique markets, dresses “totally balanced, never ‘too’ much of anything” and freezes when she’s in front of the camera. “I’m still not that used to the idea of having my picture taken!” she shivers. “It’s all very new to me so I’m always a bit awkward in pictures. I think my resting state reflects that.” Running a store has definitely put some hair on her teeth though. She’s a business woman who wants to please but discreetly educate the uptown customer. She’s learned from her mistakes but didn’t look back once. Her motto: “Never wallow in problems. Always move forward. Be a shark: if he doesn’t keep moving, he’ll die.”
“When do you think we will be done?” she asks me. She’s just picked up her phone for the first time since I got to her place and is texting feverishly. “I’m meeting my girlfriends tonight. I have eight best friends and we’re watching the premiere of Girls together!” They call each other “El Chat Room” because they mainly converse in text messages. “They should be compiled into a novel, it’s absolutely amazing!” she laughs. “We’re all really strong, smart and powerful chicks. One of the girls is getting her masters in both business and law and another will soon be a huge fashion designer. The future of everyone in our crew is very bright and we really push each other to grow!” As for Claire, she’s recently single and enjoying her freedom. “You get the wake up in the morning and ask: what do I want to do today? What makes ME happy? And there is something rewarding in that! Being single is something you only (hopefully!) get to do for a small percentage of your life, so when you are living in it you should always be excited that anything could happen!” With this clear and honest message in mind, I run home to change, because I have a date!