Gail Freda made her early career in the music business when rock n’roll was omnipresent and psychedelic. The field was as unstable as the era, however, and by the mid 80s, she decided to move on. Becoming a retailer was completely serendipitous. A native of the Upper West Side—Gail remembers when Bruce Willis bar tended at Café Central—she requented a consignment shop at 77th and Amsterdam. Its owner spoke of giving up the business. Gail wanted to be her own boss and, despite a complete lack of experience, took over the location 1986. “I thought of all these hippie names, but in the end, called it Willow.”“If you make a mistake doing your own thing, nobody knows but you. I just learned as I went.” From the beginning, the shop has had a very distinctive point of view. Gail admittedly styles for herself. “I like interesting, a bit funky, not trendy.” Clothing is not clingy but often has darts or skims the body. The look is comfortable and, for the most part, easy care. Colors are natural, muted or jewel, patterns are varied and fun. The shop excels in separates. Willow has two seasons. Gail believes in layering when it gets cold and rarely carries wool.
A sample what’s currently on the floor includes: Perennially best selling tencel shirts by Tianello ranging from $125-$145, tailored but soft, which come is a wide variety of prints and are washable; crinkled polyester shirt jackets in nuanced colors which pack particularly well always looking fresh; Amy Brill’s loosely woven sweaters with artful fastenings-these give a relaxed but architectural shape to any ensemble; structured linen pieces with something of an Asian feel; elastic waist pants with an avant-garde silhouette- extra wide legs and low, narrow pockets-like gently structured harem pants without ankle fastening; and vintage-looking, a-line, tea length day dresses. Gail buys from smaller companies. She prefers doing business with them and is aware one is less likely to see oneself coming and going.
A great line of the lightest, reversible raincoats and rain jackets is a staple here. I own one of these. It comes in a pouch and is indispensable when travelling as well as the only thing bearably worn in serious heat $200- $250. The longer ones double as evening coats. House slippers by Goody Goody can also always be found. These are brightly patterned fabric festooned with flowers, and trims, perfect for playing hostess or simply wafting around with a half smile. A great gift. $45.
Willow also carries accessories- a few bags, seasonal hats and scarves- colorful, $60.00 silk oblongs decorate the area behind a counter at the moment- and jewelry. “I’ve been buying from the same jewelry resources for a long time.” Nature based pieces by Michael Michaud for Silver Seasons feature delicate eucalyptus designs and berries. Coeur de Lion (formerly Rossellini) is composed of fun and funky, brightly colored metallic shapes. Ayala Bar’s designs look like a contemporary take on baroque. (There’s more.)
Willow has a devoted clientele of women and men who buy gifts. They box simply with a pretty ribbon and ship when requested. At holiday time, husbands and boyfriends often secure multiples for the women in their lives. The shop has a familiar, neighborhood vibe- something increasingly difficult to find. Fall models will start “dribbling in” mid August.
353 Amsterdam Avenue at 77th Street.
212 496 7764