Rue St. Denis, Longtime Outfitter to TV and Chic People, Is Closing

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Once, a man’s suit stood for something — and stood for it practically upright.

“The structure of a suit back in the ’80s, the ’70s, the ’60s, the ’50s, is amazing,” said Jean-Paul Buthier, a founder of Rue St. Denis, a vintage store that has been a destination on Avenue B in East Village of Manhattan for 25 years. “The fabrics, the weight of them, you can’t compare it. Today, there’s a sense of clothing being more comfortable. We don’t want to suffer for fashion as much as we used to. But we are giving up so much for that comfort.”

Such sacrifices aren’t made in the narrow corridor of Rue St. Denis, where Mr. Buthier, 55, and his partner, Riccardo Bonechi, 59, have been selling pristine vintage and dead stock since the neighborhood was less known for brunch and glassy condos than for drug dealers.

“Right on the corner, by the lamppost,” Mr. Bonechi said. “They’d sell and then they’d come in the shop. Anything that glittered, they’d say, ‘I want that! I want that!’”

There is plenty that still glitters, but Rue St. Denis will soon be turning out the lights. On Monday it began a final sale, offering its clothes for up to 75 percent off. Within a few weeks, it will shut its doors.

‘I’m Stockpiling’

At a goodbye party for friends last week, the store was choked with fans buying up things. Charlotte McKee, a young actress, was considering a Céline-esque pantsuit; Bara de Cabrol, a longtime customer (and a daughter of the singer Petula Clark), was browsing with her husband, Roger.

“If it’s good, I like it, and if it’s not good, I don’t like it,” Ms. de Cabrol said, inspecting her reflection in a puffed-out black dress she initially had slipped into backward. “I don’t care about a label.” The dress turned out to be by Claude Montana.

Nearby was Tom Broecker, a costume designer for “Saturday Night Live,” arms full. “I’m stockpiling for any possible idea that could ever come my way,” he said.

Mr. Buthier and Mr. Bonechi, partners in life as well as in vintage, met in London 34 years ago; Mr. Buthier was from outside Paris, Mr. Bonechi from outside Florence. Together they came to New York where, “like good Europeans, we were waiters,” Mr. Buthier said. He waited tables at Le Relais, the 1980s power spot on Madison Avenue favored by young socialites and expatriates (“everyone my age and everyone from Europe,” Cornelia Guest said recently).

They had both been charmed by vintage and shopping at thrift stores as kids — “Against my mother’s wishes,” Mr. Bonechi said — and eventually set up a stand at the Columbus Avenue flea market in 1988. That stand became an Amsterdam Avenue store and, eventually, the Avenue B shop: a present-proofed, seven-day-a-week refuge from the current moment.

In Rue St. Denis, the ’90s were no more than a whisper. The millennium was in the far distance. Athleisure never infiltrated here, and designer sneakers held no court. Suits, dresses, coats and even decades-old bathing suits hung perfectly preserved, their hems unaltered, their original tags attached.

Mr. Buthier oversaw the collection, going on buying trips across America and France and ferrying goods back and forth to a warehouse in Philadelphia where he keeps and catalogs (mostly by memory) 40,000 pieces. Mr. Bonechi ruled the store, sizing up customers with a glance.

Though there are famous names here and there, most of the stock is not designer. Mr. Buthier and Mr. Bonechi prefer to leave that business more to specialty shops like Resurrection.

Rue St. Denis traffics in the everyday goods of an earlier era, purchased mostly from retired store owners and wholesalers, whose shingles have been taken down but whose stock often sits in attics and shuttered storefronts. (The children of these retired shopkeepers, Mr. Buthier finds, are easier to negotiate with than their parents, who are parting with their legacy.)

Outfitting ‘The Americans’

There are those who still dress like the swans and swains time forgot, but some of Rue St. Denis’s most devoted customers are professionals. Fashion designers and their teams are regulars, searching for inspiration.

Kris Van Assche, the artistic director of Berluti (and formerly Dior Homme), came for the men’s suits, Mr. Bonechi said; a team of designers from Lacoste recently took over the shop for a private appointment.

Even more devoted are the costume designers of the film and television industry, where period pieces require period clothes, in pristine condition and often in multiples. “If someone gets killed, you need a double or a triple,” said Anna Terrazas, a costume designer who has worked on gritty period dramas like “The Deuce,” where fake-blood spatter is not unheard-of.

“Honestly, I don’t know how we would have done the show without them,” said Katie Irish, a costume designer who worked on several seasons of “The Americans,” in a phone interview. “The majority of men’s suits you see on ‘The Americans’ were purchased from Rue St. Denis. We spend a lot of time with the F.B.I. Those suits have to come from somewhere.”

They may still come from Mr. Buthier and Mr. Bonechi, who will continue working directly with the trade. They are quick to note they are closing the store for a change of pace, not because of rising rents or declining sales.

But they are nonetheless part of a wave of vintage-shop closures, in part because of the rise of eBay, Etsy and other online platforms that enable dealing without much overhead. “It’s an epidemic,” said Mr. Broecker, who used Rue St. Denis to create the wardrobe of Robert Mapplethorpe in the biopic “Mapplethorpe,” which just had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and in many “S.N.L.” skits.

“Every store that closes is one less we can go to,” he said. “As designers, we want to build these relationships. The interactions in the store are so important.”

But on Thursday, it was a night for celebration, not sadness. Mr. Bonechi, in an Italian suit from 1972, was showing off a brown suede pair of Gucci boots in their original box, searching for a slim-ankled princess who could fit into them.

“Everything’s Cinderella in here,” Mr. Bonechi said with a laugh. “When it fits, it’s a Cinderella story.”

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