As North Shore retailer Kelly Golden celebrates the 10-year anniversary of Neapolitan Collection, Sheridan Road sits down with the boutique owner to discuss how she shops the collections, why “investment” isn’t just a word for bankers, and what one item can change your entire look.
It’s Monday morning in Paris, and despite the jet lag, Neapolitan owner Kelly Golden is up early to grab a fresh croissant and a strong café before beginning a day jam-packed full of meetings, with every meal and even every drink shared with a fashion designer pitching his or her line. Actually attending a fashion show is a luxury—Golden will be lucky if she’s able to squeeze in one or two shows before she heads to bed around 2 a.m. “I do more in one day at Fashion Week than most people do in a week,” Golden admits. “But I’m trying to see 30 to 40 people in just five days, because I don’t want to be away from my family for two weeks. People say I’m the fastest buyer they’ve ever seen, but I know what works for us and what doesn’t.”
It’s that innate decisiveness and impressive discipline that is the driving force behind Neapolitan Collection, which recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, something Golden doesn’t take lightly. “We saw a lot of shops close in 2009, because of the economy, so we feel really fortunate to be here and thriving. We owe that to all our clients who supported us and continue to support us.”
Initially, it was a stretch to ever think that a small boutique in Winnetka could end up becoming a sought-after fashion destination, much less on the level of a handful of influential luxury boutiques across the country. “People here had to get used to the idea that they didn’t have to go to Chicago or New York for that matter, that Neapolitan in Winnetka had what they were looking for,” Golden says.
And what they’re looking for, according to Golden, is exclusive brands and one-of-a-kind products that can’t be found elsewhere. Neapolitan is the only store on the North Shore to carry Christian Dior, Marni, J. Mendel, Victoria Beckham, and Haider Ackermann, and the only store in the Chicago area to carry Andrew Gn, Loewe, Jonathan Saunders. With price points that start at $50 for a Mott 50 T-shirt (the fashion line that offers UPF sun protection in every garment) to upwards of tens of thousands of dollars for a piece of fine jewelry, the boutique offers something for everyone. “We’re not necessarily about a high price point,” Golden says. “What we’re really about is uncovering those special pieces you’ll treasure for years to come. There’s a lot of product out there, but what we sell, you often can’t even find online.”
For that reason, jewelry—and surprisingly enough, swimsuits—have been extremely successful areas for Neapolitan. The first store in the U.S. to carry the French jewelry brand Eternamé, Neapolitan also carries such sought-after lines as House of Lavande (vintage costume jewelry from Dior, YSL, Saint Laurent, and Chanel), Karry’O (Parisian vintage), Jamie Wolf, Jennifer Meyer, Irene Neuwirth, and Kimberly McDonald. “I’m a huge believer in accessorizing,” says Golden, who is especially fond of vintage jewelry. “You just can’t find costume jewelry today the way it was made decades ago. Owning a great vintage pendant, cocktail ring, or piece of vintage jewelry can change your whole look.”
The demand for Neapolitan’s swimsuits and beachwear (Heidi Klein, Miguelina, Gucci, ERES, Manuel Canovas, Pret-a-Surf) has been so strong that the store now operates a separate resortwear shop. “You wouldn’t think people on the North Shore would be buying swimsuits in December, but they do,” Golden says. “People are traveling more, and between holiday vacations, spring break, and summer, the demand for resortwear is always there. There are very few stores that carry it year-round like us.”
But more than just offering swimsuits in December and other hard-to-find products, Neapolitan prides itself on its superb customer service. “I’ve packed clients’ suitcases for their vacations,” Golden says. “We go into their closets all the time to assess what they have, what they’re missing, and what doesn’t fit anymore. We have an exceptional seamstress who does incredible things and can alter any garment to make it work.” In the end, says Golden, it’s all about understanding her clients’ lifestyles.
In that sense, Neapolitan is a quintessentially North Shore boutique, with an aesthetic that North Shore women can relate to: elegant, understated, modern, but totally timeless.
“Investment” is a word Golden uses a lot. “When I look at different collections, I always think about value. My clients are smart, and I want to make sure they’re getting a bang for their buck. I want them to buy something they will wear and wear, something they will love for years and years.”
Selecting the right designers is a complicated process, and for Golden, a long-term commitment. “I like to build relationships with lines and designers, and really invest in them. We’re not trend-driven, so before we take on a new brand, we make sure it not only has the creative talent, but also the financial backing behind it. If we’re pushing a line, we’re investing not only money, but also PR, marketing, and real estate at our store.”
Part and parcel of the deal is access to the designers and their lines. “Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus can’t pick up the phone and call Wes Gordon and ask for a navy dress in pink,” she says. “But we can. When they’re buying, they’re buying for the entire country. When we’re buying, we’re shopping for our clients, and ordering specific pieces with them in mind.”
For Winnetka customer Jennifer Martay, who discovered Neapolitan seven years ago when she was still living in the city, it’s that kind of personal touch that makes all the difference. “They really get to know you, and know what looks good on you,” Martay says. “I’ll walk in, and they’ll say, ‘We just got this in, and we think it will be great on you.’ It might be something I’d probably never think of trying myself, but then I try it on, and it looks great, and I end up loving it. They even give things to my husband to give me as a gift, and it all fits perfectly—that’s how well they know me.”
Among Martay’s favorite pieces from Neapolitan are several Wes Gordon dresses and a black leather Derek Lam top that she pairs with skirts and jeans. Aside from the compliments she gets whenever she wears them, Martay feels a personal connection to the pieces, primarily because she’s met both designers at Neapolitan. “I’ve met Derek, Wes, Lela [Rose]—it’s really interesting to meet people who are so creative.”
The feeling is mutual. “I love my trunk show stops at Neapolitan!” says Wes Gordon. “As a young designer, having the opportunity to meet the women who buy and wear my clothes is so enlightening. Working directly with clients, I’m able to have a woman in mind when I’m back in my studio sketching.”
Golden, who’s carried Gordon’s collection since his very first season as a designer, was one of the first retailers in the Chicago area to discover the talented young designer. “Kelly is an incredible advocate of fashion and designers,” Gordon says. She’s done a great job helping to promote me and my young collection throughout the Chicago area,” he says.
It is perhaps surprising to learn that prior to opening Neapolitan, Golden never worked in fashion. “After I graduated from business school, I knew I wanted to open my own business. I wanted to wake up every day and love what I do.” After reading a number of self help books, Golden realized she wanted to open a clothing boutique. Her mother thought she was throwing her business degree away. “She would call my fiancé at the time, and say, ‘Has she lost her mind?’ It was a definitely a big risk.”
While not every working mother finds herself in Paris meeting with fashion designers, certainly many are familiar with the concept of juggling—something Golden does exceptionally well. When she’s not traveling, she’s up early to fix her three kids (ages 4, 6, and 7) breakfast, pack up their lunches, drop them off at school, and swing back home to shower before heading in to work. Her day is filled with clients, designers, trunk shows, and events, but she still finds time most days to shuttle the kids to an afternoon activity. “There’s a lot of time management, juggling schedules and play dates, but what’s nice for me is to have everything so close my house,” Golden says.
Unless of course, she’s in Paris, in which case she has to contend with people who are far less organized than she. “Everyone’s always late,” Golden says. “Unfortunately, they just don’t have the same sense of urgency over there that we do.” Luckily, for us, that won’t stop Kelly Golden. She’s more committed than ever to bringing the best of Paris, Milan, and New York right to our North Shore doorstep.”
Kelly’s Fashion Must-Haves:
A great coat wardrobe.
“You can never have too many coats in Chicago. You can run to Starbucks with PJs on, but if you have a good coat on, no one will know the difference.”
A classic leather pump
“A pointed-toe pump is timeless and elegant.”
A navy dress
“I’m a big fan of navy instead of black, which can look harsh. In a sea of black dresses, navy will make you stand out, and it’s just as slimming as black.”
Jewelry to wear every day
“I love costume jewelry—it can make such an impact!”
A great pair of jeans
“We carry MiH jeans, and they literally work for women of all shapes and sizes.”
A great handbag
“We’re not a big logo-driven store—we think understated is best.”