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SCARLET FEVER

British designer brings hot style to Atlantic Avenue’s antique row

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She greets her Atlantic Avenue neighbors in an animal print jacket by Vestite Y Andate, open to reveal a rather naughty swath of exposed skin. Perhaps window shoppers are distracted by her fabulous Glenda Gies leopard print handbag, and don’t notice that, on this day, she’s opted to wear a scarf rather than a blouse.

That’s Scarlet Ginger for you. Always looking for attention.

The blonde mannequin and the boutique over which she holds court are named for Scarlet O’Hara and Ginger Rogers, "two classic, beautiful ladies," explains Scarlet Ginger’s owner and in-house designer, Charlie Smith.

Luckily for Brooklyn, when Smith, 33, moved from London to New York with her family, she felt at home on Atlantic Avenue and it was here that she opened her boutique full of colorful clothing, accessories and lingerie, which will soon add party dress rentals to its list of amenities.

"I have a favorite spot [in London], New Kings Road," Smith told GO Brooklyn. "I used to work in Chelsea, in interior design, so I felt very at home being on the street. l love anything to do with antiques and interior design."

Smith’s six-month-old shop is quite spacious when compared to other boutiques offering "indie" clothing labels. There is actually more than one rack of clothes, an array of leather belts with bold buckles from Argentina, and an eclectic mix of handbags ranging from Jackie O-inspired Glenda Gies purses made of vintage fabrics to Jamie Skolfield’s fun "sushi rock" handbag with chopsticks for handles. In fact, Smith says she has found so much success with her vibrant mix of casual wear and cocktail dresses - produced in very limited quantities - that the square footage has doubled and tripled in size since she first opened with "a few handbags and panties."

Smith says a friend labeled Scarlet Ginger as "trad chic."

"My style is a real eclectic mix of old and new, traditional with a cheeky, chic-y edge. I put a bit of fun into it," says Smith. Her color palette, which eschews black, plays a large part in adding levity to her collection.

"There’s too much black in the world," says Smith. "We want people to walk in here and smile rather than be depressed. It’s a colorful store. Everyone who comes in says what a positive vibe and energy there is. We want people to come in and hang out and feel welcome, to chat and read a magazine [on the couch]. We want them to stay and leave with something."

Smith calls most of her inventory "one-offs," meaning if you like it, you’ll have to try it on and see if it fits, because there’s only one of that item. This leads to what Smith calls "aerobic buying," as her customers jump in and out of a lot of pieces.

For fall, Smith will augment her colorful stock with hand-painted corduroy jackets and ski jackets as well as cowboy boots from Spain’s Sendra.

Not content to leave well enough alone, by the end of September, the enterprising designer plans to rent party dresses, shoes and accessories. Just as tuxedos are rented by men for special occasions, Smith will offer a similar service to women, styling them from head to toe.

In a city where closet space is rare, local fashionistas may embrace the idea of leaving the storage of the frocks and dry cleaning to Scarlet Ginger. Smith says the cost of renting will be just one-third of the price she estimates it would cost a customer to buy the same ensemble.

"You come in, and we’ll style you," explained Smith. "You’ll walk out with the whole shebang [from handbags, to dresses to shoes to jewelry]." The fee will range from $80 to $150, "depending on what you’re taking - dress or whole outfit."

The dresses for rent "will be varied," says Smith.

"I’m remodeling vintage dresses. There will be some new, some real classic movie star dresses and some plain black - depending on the look you want. We’ll have a wide range - from fancy to very plain but stylish, classic dresses."

Smith has had some experience with dress rentals in London, but concedes that this new element of her business is an example of educated risk-taking.

"I did it for two years in London and it was an amazingly busy business," she says, "but I don’t know what the ethic is in New York. But I’ll give it a go."

The busy entrepreneur lives in Carroll Gardens with her husband, Jonathan Knott, and their two children, Max, 3, and Molly, 5. Smith says that she has even drafted Knott, who works in information technology, into being a consultant for Scarlet Ginger men’s shirt line which will debut in November.

"When we moved here, he couldn’t find any nice shirts that weren’t $250 or a pile of crap," says Smith. "So we’ll make our own. They’ll be wild and wacky or plain and boring. I’m designing my own hand-printed fabric for everything from workshirts to fancy evening."

It’s clear that charismatic Scarlet Ginger has plenty of intrigue to keep us coming back for more throughout the 2003 fall fashion season.

 

Scarlet Ginger is located at 376 Atlantic Ave. between Hoyt and Bond streets in Boerum Hill. Custom-made consultations are by appointment only. For more information, call (718) 852-8205.

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