Brooke just opened her new store JUDITH in Portland’s Old Port. In many ways, it feels like an art gallery: white walls, minimal displays, swaths of space for the eye to rest, clothes hang on the walls like paintings. And it is art, made by skilled craftsmen and designers to be worn and enjoyed. Brooke has curated a collection of sophisticated, earthy, creative pieces that feel like clothes meant to be worn by artists. I imagine Frida Kahlo in her courtyard, wearing the woven fringe dress or Georgia O’Keefe watching a thunderstorm from under the wide-brimmed white hat. Good clothes, like good art, never go out of style. Maine has always been known for its artists, its writers, and –increasingly– its chefs. Brooke’s new store is part of an effort to put Maine on the map for fashion.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR STORE. WHEN YOU EXPLAIN IT TO A STRANGER, HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE IT?
I’m interested in creating a sense of community and inclusivity around a shared aesthetic and an interest in making considered, thoughtful choices about what you wear and use in your daily life. JUDITH is a concept shop focusing on women’s contemporary clothing and special objects. We offer a full range of women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories, as well as a small selection of home goods, art, furniture and children’s clothing.
TELL ME ABOUT JUDITH’S ORIGIN
I suppose the seed for JUDITH was first planted when I began working retail in college. After graduating and trying a few different things, I was back in school for design and working retail again, as the first employee of two women who had just realized their own dreams of opening a women’s clothing store. I loved the excitement of seeing their business grow and succeed, working with clients to find them things that made them happy and confident, and knew that one day I wanted to create that for myself. I wanted to be the one curating their experience and encouraging people to try new things.
I went on to design clothing in New York for about nine years. When my husband and I decided that we wanted to move to a smaller city, we loved the feel and energy of Portland and thought it would be the right place and the right time for me to take a stab at store ownership. I had been designing the store in my mind and with friends over the phone, over drinks and through email for a while, but when the financial and other logistical pieces began to fall in to place, it was all about refining and editing the aesthetic towards what JUDITH would ultimately become. While it’s definitely still a work in progress, one that I’ll be continually refining and editing, I’m really pleased with the outcome. I feel extremely fortunate to be here, doing this.
WHAT DOES FASHION, OR CLOTHING, MEAN TO YOU?
It’s fun. It’s expressive. Obviously one can convey a lot of information about their values and perspective via their fashion choices. It’s also a means to an end as it’s been my business for a while now.
HOW DO YOU FIND THE PIECES YOU CARRY? DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL STORIES ABOUT AN ITEM OR A SALE THAT HAS STUCK WITH YOU?
The labels I carry are largely designers I’ve known as people or admired or owned for myself, and I feel lucky to have had them available for me to buy for the store. I do the buying at tradeshows and in showrooms during the market weeks for each season in New York. Other artists I buy from in various ways, different times of year, as I can, need, or discover them. When I’m putting together the collection for each season, I kind of develop a little narrative in my head about the woman who wears the clothes and her life and needs. The designers I carry and the pieces I carry all speak to me as a woman. They are all things I would wear, and they represent the various facets of my own personal style.
Since I bought three collections for the store without ever meeting a single one of my customers, it will be interesting to see how my process changes moving forward. If you’ve ever been to the store, you know that I am openly quite passionate about the designers I carry, and while I love selling a woman something that makes her look and feel amazing, if you buy one of my very favorites – styles or designers – you hear about it. It makes me really happy. I love it when someone discovers a new label or style or just a specific edit from a collection that they haven’t encountered before. And that makes them just as happy as it makes me.
TELL ME ABOUT TAKING ON THE ROLE OF ENTREPRENEUR
It’s scary and exciting. And fun! Putting myself out there doesn’t come naturally to me. But working really hard for something that is all mine, for better or for worse, is extremely rewarding.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Authenticity. A strong point of view. Work ethic. Loyalty and family, both human and animal. Friends. Health.
WHAT IS A LESSON YOU ARE LEARNING OR HAVE LEARNED RECENTLY?
I’m learning a lot about patience this year, by way of both my baby who is about to turn one and working to fulfill my dream with JUDITH. A close friend of mine reminds me: “Dreams are short on details.” They can get messy as they become reality. Baby-raising can get messy, too. And even the best laid plans can get blown up. Patience is important.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST GIFT OR BLESSING IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
My husband. Unequivocally. Without him, none of this would be possible. His support has made all the difference between me pursuing JUDITH versus me being someone who, years down the road, “would have liked to open a store at some point.” This will embarrass him terribly, but it’s true. I also feel really lucky for the rest of my family and their support, and for my healthy baby boy. I have to stop myself from listing things, because there are a lot of greatest gifts in my life right now.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST STRUGGLE IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
Balance. There’s a lot to be done, always. And I’m lucky to have a lot of loves in my life and a lot of ways I want to spend my time. Also a lot of ways I need to spend my time in order to keep things afloat. So, finding a balance is hard. Also, it’s tough to have this summer weather and not being able to be out in it as much as I’d like. Not such bad things to struggle with, really!
IF YOU HAD A MOTTO OR MANTRA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. It’s true.
WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
Going in to get my son out of bed in the morning! My husband and I fight over it even when it’s outrageously early. His hair is going a million different directions and he’s always smiling like a maniac and making sweet little experimental noises. It’s the best.