Dayton boutique is about more than clothes

Elan boutique

3117 Far Hills Ave, Dayton, OH 45429

(937) 298-0098

Judy Koehler’s official reason for stopping by the Elan boutique in Kettering was “just to check out the new things to freshen my wardrobe.”

It was early September, the air had turned crisp, and so many new things filled Elan’s racks: luxe lambskins by Brit designer Nigel Preston, cashmere sweaters by Sarah Pacini — “the Italian Donna Karan” — and boots from Belle by Sigerson Morrison.

Koehler likes to touch the fabrics and try on things and spin in the center of the three big mirrors in Elan’s dressing area. You can’t do that shopping online.

You also can’t catch up with your friend of 20-something years, who also happens to be your personal shopper. Penny Spiegel, one of the “Elanettes” at Elan, has steered and styled Koehler’s wardrobe choices for decades.

Spiegel knows what Koehler likes. She knows her life and how her wardrobe must fit into it. She knows the big occasions that are worth shelling out $1,500 or so for a head-to-toe, head-turning look.

Most importantly, she knows: Elan is so much more than clothes.

“It’s family,” says Julie Shone-Baker, who now owns the boutique her late mother, LaVerne Shone, started 35 years ago.

Let Cincinnati have Saks and Cleveland have Neiman’s. Dayton has Elan, where Shone-Baker has assembled special collections for the most important days in the lives of Dayton’s doyennes.

“They want to wear what’s current — but only if it also walks on the streets of Dayton,” she says.

She sells brands you can’t find at chain stores — top-quality and pricey clothing from Italy, France, Germany and Britain.

The hand-tanned, embellished English lamb jackets by Nigel Preston will cost you $2,000 or so — but if you don’t need that for the mortgage payment, you’re buying a true piece of art.

A 35-year-old boutique with in-shop tailoring and head-to-toe styling is as rare as a lady’s maid these days. How Shone-Baker has stayed in business in Dayton for so long — “when young women don’t know there’s anything other than ‘made in China’” — is something of a retail miracle.

Like the other specialty boutiques along Far Hills Avenue, she targets Baby Boomer women, who spend more at boutiques than any other demographic. (Americans in their 50s and 60s spend $1 trillion more than people 18 to 34.)

This is why Chico’s thrives along Oakwood’s main shopping drag, alongside shops such as Gamine — Leigh LeBoeuf’s 9-year-old boutique, which has a fresh, hip vibe, with top brands like Calypso and Theory — and Get Dressed, Tracey Schumann’s shop for women she calls “the New Traditionals.” They want to look classy, but they add personality to a blazer and black pants with, say, a $457 gold necklace made in Bali.

Fashion designer Cathy Hardwick was right when she once said: “When the product is a bit worn, the packaging must be perfect.”

Shone-Baker and the Elanettes focus on the total package.

“My clients travel the world, and they buy their Jimmy Choo shoes and their Chanel bags, and they still come back to me to put them all together,” Shone-Baker says.

The last few years have been tough, she admits, with the rise of throw-away fashion and a generation used to paying $39 for pants at Forever 21.

Can a specialized boutique like hers last for another generation?

“This is the question — will young girls want quality?” she asks.

She’s done her part to start a youth movement — her daughter, Erin, 19, now works at the boutique. She brought more color to the store and started a Facebook page.

But mother and daughter knows their success depends on a connection beyond clothes, a trust that keeps Boomers like Koehler coming back.

She’s got a few more decades of shopping in her, Shone-Baker figures, since some of her customers are pushing 100.

“Trust me, we have some knockout 90-year-olds!”

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