by Sally Mitani
"Everybody just loved it. I got so many compliments on it, it was insane. I used it as a coat one day and a blazer the next," says one of the customers Johnny Vaughn "dresses," who dropped into the newly opened Johnny in Nickels Arcade just to say hello.
"That coat with the tie thing? It's adorable. Yay! That just makes me happy," beams Vaughn.
What storeowner wouldn't be happy with that kind of unsolicited testimonial? Despite the campus location, Vaughn crisply and emphatically says his new store, Johnny--like its sister store, Wendy, across the arcade--is not for students. It's for grown women with an evolved sense of style, who know how to judge quality in clothing and are willing to pay for it.
Vaughn and his business partner, Wendy Chapman, opened Wendy a year ago. Store Wendy focuses heavily on Eileen Fisher, a pricey brand for middle-aged women that manages to be simultaneously hip and age appropriate. It was such a success that they took out a year's lease on the small vacant space across the hall.
Store Johnny is stocked with Comfy USA and a related brand, Sun Kim. These are edgier labels than Eileen Fisher. The spare racks of mainly black, white, and gray pieces, enlivened by a few oranges and acid greens, look as if they belong in a big city warehouse-district design studio. And like the Eileen Fishers across the hall, they're serious clothes, not one-season throwaways: "You cannot work for this company unless you have ten years of sewing experience," Vaughn says of Comfy USA's impeccable craftsmanship, "and they use amazing fabrics--crinkle tissue, rayon, linen."
Vaughn, forty, is a painter who has always worked in retail to pay the bills. ("No, my paintings aren't in here. They're very loud, abstract, and they tend to freak people out.") Chapman, forty-nine, has a day job as a commercial real estate appraiser. "People call me her gay husband," he says, describing their relationship. It's a bittersweet joke. Chapman's husband died of cancer in December, and Vaughn helped care for him. In addition to being business partners, Vaughn says he and Chapman are "soul mates and best friends. We live three blocks apart and have dinner together four or five nights a week."
Johnny, 8 Nickels Arcade, 327-9001 (Store Wendy's phone; Johnny has no phone). Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.
[Originally published in June, 2012.]
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