A few weeks ago, our favorite thrifter Sammy Davis invited us to the opening of her friend Lesley Ware’s Art to Ware pop-up launch at the Oculus in Tribeca. Sammy clearly gets us, because the store was everything we could ever want a store to be. It’s a collection of clothes, accessories and books picked out by Lesley, all from an impressive variety of young, New York based designers working in upcycled fashion. One of a kind (or sometimes very limited edition) garments fill up the space. The place itself gives the feeling of being at a couture exhibit, where the pieces are as much works of art as they are clothes.
And Lesley sees her stores more like a wearable art galleries than anything else. When I asked how she came up with the concept, she shared that she previously co-owned a Brooklyn art gallery called Warehouse. Between the gallery and working in retail for over a decade Lesley always dreamed of having her own store. When she launched the first Art To Ware (A2W for short) in the West Village in 2021, she managed to fuse these two skill sets together, and people took notice. The Oculus location will be A2W’s fourth, after finding success at her inaugural West Village, Chelsea, and Port Authority – the latter, by the way, ran its scheduled pop-up course but remains open just because it’s so popular.
So what’s the secret to the store’s success? My first instinct is to say Lesley’s eye – this woman clearly has taste. She, however, had a much more inspiring answer – that it’s an exciting concept that is easy to get behind. It’s positive change with fashion.
The label has become a talent incubator. It fosters a community that supports and bolsters emerging designers in a game that’s traditionally been defined by exclusion. A2W’s approach of working with so many different designers is the antithesis of this, and the reason its audience just keeps on growing.
The eclectic array features hand painted garments, crocheted hats, and sculpted dresses from the likes of Hansel Clothing, JRat, Alexa Stark, Ooh Baby, Gianni Lee, Parron Allen, and Project Runway alum Epperson – to name a few. The space is drenched in creative talent and it’s an inspiration to see the works up close.
There’s something very special about experiencing fashion in real life. COVID reminded us of this when it took that privilege away. The sad reality is that post-pandemic, a lot of stores have gone permanently virtual. A2W isn’t immune to this challenge, but it has overcome it with the help of Chashama, the New York foundation that partners with property owners to transform unused real estate into artist / creative spaces. The brainchild of Anita Durst, Chashama has worked to secure free / discounted space for artists to create and present their oeuvres since 1995. Their storefront start-up program provides the infrastructure to businesses, so they can focus on growing their product, not their debt.
The partnership that brought this to fruition reminds me that there’s still a lot of love for artistry in the city. I’m so used to hearing lamentations of the bygone days of NYC – that real estate prices have driven out the creative community, that corporate culture has robbed the city of its spirit. While these challenges are real, so are the people standing up to them – and the work that Chashama does strengthens the creative community.
“The point of this is to re-establish that New York City’s soul is with creatives and creators” shared publicist Nathalie Levey
If that’s the point, then Art to Ware is the case in it – this enterprise is proof the creative soul of the city is doing just fine.
Because the Oculus is basically a gigantic spaceship, the store is a little tricky to find – but so worth it. Located on the lower level, it’s right near the PATH entrance of the mall. If you need a reminder as to what makes NYC the place that it is, or if you just, you know, like nice things, then a trip to A2W is a must.