Written by Jena A. Butterfield
On a recent late-winter day that was unseasonably caliente, Greenwich Avenue bustled with short-sleeved shoppers outside the newly opened Montepicaza, the first U.S. outpost of the most recognized fashion brand in Spain.
Inside the shop, owner Ellen Christian-Reid stood amid a curated collection of sportswear staples and polo wear that included transitional items in anticipation of the changing seasons.
“Though there are really only two seasons in Spain,” she quipped.
Christian-Reid believes she has finally found a brand with the blend of craftsmanship and effortlessness that is the trademark of the Greenwich community. “(The clothes at Montepicaza) project a level of polish and luxury that accompany a preppy and fun, country club lifestyle,” she said, “but with an artisanal flair.”
Quilted blazers in blues, purples, greens and reds have that sought-after European fit and the kind of tailoring found in more expensive brands. Christian-Reid held up a garment for closer inspection. “There is a ton of detail on the blazers for women,” she said, admiring the craftsmanship.
Vespa-patterned elbow patches were whimsically juxtaposed with a more traditional plaid. A burgundy scarf patterned with Fiat 500s from Montepicaza’s coordinating label, Mar de Polo, draped the shoulder of a mannequin by the door. Both were playful gestures that denoted the brand’s European perspective — as did the quality of the accessories.
“Their bag is prettier than my Prada purse,” exclaimed Christian-Reid, running her hand over the leather. “It’s just not as heavy or expensive.”
After a career in retail, marketing and fundraising, Christian-Reid decided to follow her dream and open her own retail shop. She found the perfect match to her vision when business partner Victor del Cerro, a dear friend from her university days in Spain, introduced her to Oscar Bermudez, founder of Montepicaza.
Bermudez also had a dream — to revitalize Spain’s artisanal textile industry, a lofty venture in an age where most manufacturers base their production in Asia. Bermudez’s business model worked. Eighteen years, 40 stores and 120 multimarket locations later and all of Montepicaza’s clothes are still made and tailored by artisans in Spain.
Once she saw the clothes, Christian-Reid knew Greenwich would be the ideal place to open the first Montepicaza location in the country. Future plans include expanding the brand to Southampton, Nantucket, Newport, Boston and Palm Beach, relevant markets for a sportswear brand that has been compared to Polo’s Black Label.
Marble floors run throughout the space at 371 Greenwich Ave. and the distinctive horse-patterned wallpaper, which also adorns Montepicaza shops throughout Spain, is a nod to the founder’s love of polo. (Bermudez sponsors two polo teams and one of the biggest equestrian events in the industry, SICAB, the International PRE Horse Trade Fair).
That equestrian influence can be found in Montepicaza’s riding pants and, of course, polo shirts.
“The polo shirts are so well-made,” Christian-Reid said. “(Bermudez) is just a masterful cutter.”
The only items not manufactured in Spain are the colorful belts. “They’re made in Argentina,” she added. “That’s because a lot of (Bermudez’s) polo players are Argentinian and they show up with these cool belts. Everyone wanted them.”
After flying to Spain and meeting with Bermudez in the summer of last year, Christian-Reid walked away with both the distribution rights and the online piece of the business. Her U.S. website will be the first to sell Montepicaza.
After long lease negotiations (she signed the day before Thanksgiving) Christian-Reid scrambled to outfit the space for her Dec. 15 grand opening. “We opened with metal racks,” she said, gesturing to the wall where her built-ins have finally been completed.
Montepicaza is now ready to offer its classic Spanish fashion — with a few tweaks. “Europeans love merino wool but here, if it’s not cashmere, it won’t sell,” Christian-Reid said with a confident knowledge of her market. “I’m a shopper. I instinctively know quality.”
Next up will be Montepicaza’s summer line. Look for bathing suits, pencil skirts and little cotton dresses with patterns reminiscent of Lily Pulitzer, “decidedly classic with a twist,” Christian-Reid said. She is especially excited about the array of women’s summer shoes. “There are these amazing little skimmers with sparkles.”
But her shoppers shouldn’t dawdle if something catches their eye. There is only one of each size for every item. So, “If you like it and it fits you, buy it,” she said. “It’s a guileless way of doing what luxe brands do when trying to create a lot of demand.”
In Montepicaza’s case, it’s not artificial.
“Bermudez is constantly creating,” Christian-Reid said. “He’s so prolific. He designs something, makes it and is on to the next thing.”
But if you didn’t get there quick enough, no problemo. “If you missed out on something,” she added, “just wait until you see what comes next.”
For more, visit montepicazaUSA.com.