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A force in fashion

A'Maree's is a noteworthy clothing boutique that's become an 'international fashion force.' It has stayed family owned.

November 15, 2010|From Latimes.com
  • Roughly 40 miles south of Los Angeles, A'Maree's boutique has become a fashion force. Now that the store has moved into new digs on the water in Newport Beach, a space being compared to Peggy Guggenheim's Palazzo in Venice.
Roughly 40 miles south of Los Angeles, A'Maree's… (Kirk McKoy, Los…)

NEWPORT BEACH — Every pocket of affluence in this country seems to have one stellar independent designer boutique, and in Newport Beach it's A'Maree's.

Over the last 35 years, the family-owned business has grown into an international fashion force, showcasing cutting-edge labels such as Celine, Balenciaga, Azzedine Alaia, Dries Van Noten and the Row.

And now that it has moved to a new location at Newport Harbor, a waterfront space inviting comparisons to Peggy Guggenheim's palazzo in Venice, Italy, A'Maree's is also one of the most beautiful boutiques in the retail universe. Boasting soaring arched windows and glass portholes in the floor to allow views of the fish swimming below, it even has its own boat slip for those who want to dock and shop.

As the yachts float gently by, sunlight pours over cases of sparkling jewelry by Irene Neuwirth, Aurora Lopez and Lanvin. Racks are filled with lace-trimmed Sacai sweaters, asymmetrical Junya Watanabe military jackets and wispy Dosa dresses.

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The Modernist building was designed in 1961 by Pasadena architects Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey, who would go on to design the Norton Simon Museum. Formerly occupied by the Windows on the Bay, Stuft Shirt and Cano's restaurants, the space had been vacant for 13 years before the store's owners leased it nearly a year ago.

The business has been a labor of love for family matriarch Nancy Brown since 1971, when she bought into the clothing boutique after a divorce. Back then, A'Maree's was on Eastbluff Drive and was a destination for conservative togs from the likes of JG Hook.

But almost immediately, Brown's three daughters — Dawn Klohs, Denise Schaefer and Apryl Schaefer — began to change all that.

"If we didn't like something in the store, we'd hide it," said Denise, who was a teenager at the time.

Nancy took her daughters out of school to go on buying trips.

"I learned so much from them," she said. "Even as little kids they wouldn't clean their rooms, they would arrange them. They were already merchandising."

Self-described "low maintenance girls who don't wear makeup," they have a point of view that is less about fashion than it is about being comfortable and casual.

"It's the lifestyle here in Newport," Denise said.

Over the years, they introduced Newport to new designers such as Marni, Byblos, Moschino and Peter Cohen. At night, Nancy would bake chocolate chip cookies for customers to enjoy. She also did all the alterations.

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