Fotografiska New York Member Ina Bernstein founded and curated the first designer consignment store in New York City – INA – and grew it into a multi-location business throughout Manhattan. Ina shared some fantastic stories with us about her years in the fashion industry and her love of art and photography.
How did you come up with the idea for INA?
When I opened our store in SoHo, INA was the first curated designer consignment store.
Before INA, I had a showroom in SoHo in the late ‘70’s where I represented small designers for 20 years. After I closed that showroom and my kids were grown up, I was walking down Thompson Street one day and saw a store for rent. I thought about all of the clothes I had collected over the years and realized I could sell them. I borrowed $10,000 from friends to renovate and open the store and called the editors, stylists, and models that I knew and told them, “I’ll sell your clothes for you,” and I came up with the idea of a designer consignment store.
One month later, I was lucky to get a write up in the New York Times Sunday paper. I walked to my store on a rainy Sunday and saw 40 – 50 people waiting in line to come in! I called some friends and asked them to come and help me at the store that day because there were so many people waiting to shop. The next day I hired my first employee.
Have any of the INA locations reopened?
Like everyone else, we closed all of our stores in March after being in business for 30 years in different locations in New York, and now we’re slowly seeing what’s viable.
We opened our Nolita store a week after the 4th of July and last week we reopened our Chelsea store. People were so happy to touch clothes again and were hungry for the social interaction that comes with shopping. That is something that online shopping just cannot replace.
I can tell you that fashion is not dead. Like everything else, we’re in an adjustment period, but we’re all going to adapt and come back again. After almost 6 months of wearing sweatpants and t-shirts, people want to find one-of-a-kind items, to dress with individuality and personality again, to experience ‘the thrill of the hunt,’ and to shop sustainably.
Tell us more about your passion for art, culture, and photography.
Spending a lot of my spare time in museums and galleries has given me great pleasure. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have a lot of artists as customers.
For example, Mary Ellen Mark, the documentary photographer, was a very good friend and mentor to me. She was a customer of mine and we started doing a trade – clothes for photographs. She got me interested in photography and I took many workshops with her over a period of 15 years in Oaxaca, Mexico and Iceland. Since then, I still do a lot of photography and use a film camera.
How did you find out about Fotografiska?
My friend knew the founders from Sweden. She brought me to Fotografiska and I joined right away.
I have always been a downtown person, and that’s also why I like Fotografiska – it’s a great location and you have that fabulous restaurant! I’d come up Park Avenue when I would visit our store near Union Square to have a cup of coffee, wander the galleries, and browse The Shop. I really like that it’s an unexpected and eclectic way of showing photographs and there is a contrast and mix of works through the floors. It feels like an intimate space even when it’s busy, as opposed to an overwhelming museum experience. I also like that I was introduced to photographers’ work that I never knew about – it’s nice to go to a place where you’re not constantly thinking, “I know that name, I know that name.” I was very taken with Tawny Chatmon and found the series about caretakers (TIME x Fotografiska, Anastasia Taylor-Lind) very interesting. I am really excited for you to reopen soon.
I also enjoyed events, like The Times of Bill Cunningham film screening. I attended with Patricia Field, who became my friend because she was the costume designer for Sex and the City. She shopped at all our stores from the beginning of the first season to find clothes for the four girls.
The girls from Sex and the City were wearing clothes from INA?!
When they were done filming the series, we had the opportunity to purchase the remaining clothes kept at Silvercup Studios. So, we went out to Silvercup Studios and there was a room filled with clothes. We negotiated a price with HBO, got a van to pick up all of these clothes, and we had a “Sex and the City” sale at our Nolita store. The line was wrapped around the block, and we sold everything we bought in one day! People that couldn’t make it sent their mothers shopping for them.No one tried anything on, they just had to have a piece of Sex and the City history.
I love that story.
Me too. It was a small moment of history at our store.
It must feel so good to have some of your stores open again. We’re excited to finally be reopening this week too.
It’s a big hole in everyone’s life to not be able to go to a cultural institution. There’s so much online and we’re lucky we have that, but on the other hand it can’t replace the in-person experience.
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