Boutique Brigade: Mink
July 08, 2008
By Vanessa Anthony
A five-year-old Carla Mink started her career as a fashionista in the unlikeliest of places — a goat farm. “I used to rummage through my mom and grandma’s stuff and dig out the fake furs. When you look at picture of me when I was young, everyone else is in coveralls and I’m in a big fur coat and diva sunglasses,” she explains.
From those humble roots came her self-titled boutique, Mink. Originally located at SE 43rd and Hawthorne, the shop relocated this past February (about nine months after its original opening) to the hubbub at 34th. The space is twice the size of their old location, with approximately three to four times the inventory.
“I managed a boutique in college, and every job I’ve had since has been in retail management,” says Carla, who previously worked for Buffalo Exchange and Anthropologie before starting her own shop.
Armed with a degree in English literature and inspired by the novels of Edith Wharton and Henry James and Sophia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette, Carla has turned out a boutique that feels a bit gilded, like old money.
When you walk through the doors there are (welcome) contradictions everywhere. Housed in a sleek new modern building with simple, clean lines, the shop is doused in Carla’s opulent personality. The ceiling, air ducts, frames and mirrors are all painted gold and the floor is a stunning red with a touch of magenta. Vintage-style dressing tables covered in tiny mirrors fill the store and antique bird cages, tea pots and wrought iron fans hang all about. The décor brings to mind the Palace at Versailles or some romantic New Orleans mansion replete with swaying willow trees.
The clothes are casual, made with soft, comfortable fabrics — modern but utterly sensual. The jewelry, predominately made by Portland artists (like Paper Treasures and Remix) from recycled and antique materials, is romantic, like an heirloom piece handed down through the generations, with craftsmanship not often in seen in modern pieces. Mink also carries purses, belts and gorgeous scarves, and is the exclusive West Coast carrier of Kristen Aronsson’s line of leather handbags.
On a nearby dressing table sits an array of Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s-style sunglasses and a hat rack brimming with fun summer finds. But what really hits you first, beyond the sparkling chandeliers, is the scent. The shop smells like one might envision Marilyn Monroe’s vanity did in the old Chanel No.5 ads — a mix of powder, cold cream, perfume and candles — intoxicatingly feminine.
Mink’s sensory experience can make a modern gal dream of being the kind of lady your grandmother was: dressed demurely in a tailored pencil skirt, flowing silk shirt and carrying a golden compact and tube of ruby red lipstick next to pristine white gloves in a pocketbook that perfectly matches your shoes.
But Mink is better than that: Like Wharton’s character, Lily Bart, in the House of Mirth, the beauty of the store is the retention of the ultra-girly aesthetic mixed with the independent spirit of a thoroughly modern-minded woman. The tunes played here are fresh and hip, but not pop by any means, and the clothes are made for real women to move and bend and stretch with ease.
Stylish and comfortable, Mink carries brands like XCVI, Velvet and Weston Wear and local designers like Kelly Lane and Woolies. The shop is brimming with comfy t-shirts, gathered skirts, flowing dresses in lush prints, sexy jeans in a variety of cuts and updated retro designs like sailor pants and flowy-legged capris with big buttons. Sizes range from zero to 16.
To top it all off, the clothes here are lovingly styled for movement, comfort and flattery by the staff, who, instructed by Carla herself, have been trained to have an eye for fit.
“We are patterned after an old-fashioned dress shop, so our customer service is much more hands on. We talk with our customers about their style and take in to consideration their body types and put together things that will look great on them, are fashionable and that work with their personal style,” says Carla. “We know cut really well and we buy for every single body type, so that means we can get any woman into the most flattering fit for her body.”
One might think that all this aesthetic, service and selection comes at a steep price, but not so at Mink. Everything is affordably priced with nothing over $250. “People are always surprised — they say things like, ‘When I saw your store I thought there was no way I could afford to shop here.’ Just because we have these big crystal chandeliers and stuff [they think that], but our price points are really reasonable and not on the higher end of the boutique margin at all.”