After expanding Bird’s footprint with multiple Brooklyn branches, an L.A. outpost, and online shopping, Mankins helped bring the brownstone Brooklyn aesthetic—admittedly a very privileged slice of it, given the prices—into the national conversation. She describes the look as “sort of twofold. It’s a really joyful and fun approach to fashion—it’s long gone, the stereotype of New Yorkers wearing all black, but we were the opposite of that: color and prints and textures and patterns and beautiful fabrics, and interesting details.” The other part of the equation was intelligence. Bird, she says, offered “thoughtful clothes for thinking people.”
Mankins got in on the ground floor with labels like Rag & Bone and Acne. (Of the latter, she says, “I saw when it was three pairs of jeans and some newsprint T-shirts in a hotel room in Midtown.”) But not everything she sold had a designer tag attached. A $20 pair of handmade leather sandals she found on a trip to Argentina could sit alongside $800 brand-name shoes. “We’re going to treat the celebrity or the rich fashion person who comes in exactly the same as the kids from Parsons and FIT who are going to come in just for inspiration,” she recalls telling her staff. “I wanted it to be a friendly, nice place. We weren’t snobby. We weren’t exclusive.”
The rise of the cool Cobble Hill mom formula—start with a printed sack dress or a fun jumpsuit; add clogs—dovetailed with a larger movement in fashion, one that placed comfort and accessibility over constriction and fussiness. It didn’t require the wearer to be a mother or over 30, but it was an aesthetic that was, blissfully, not so shackled to youth as its predecessors. It marked a cultural shift, as Gen X women with creative careers came of age and settled into their identities, while simultaneously enjoying more disposable income than their Boomer predecessors. You could see this effect everywhere from the high end (Phoebe Philo at Celine) to the mass market (Jenna Lyons’s take on J. Crew) to politics (Michelle Obama’s wardrobe of well-cut sportswear from young American designers.) Even spring 2021’s parade of clogs owes something to that archetype. “My take on fashion was always that it should be in service to the wearer, and not the other way around,” Mankins says. It was, ultimately, fashion that didn’t get in its own way. You could wear these clothes “whether you were taking your kids to school, running to the subway, riding your bike, or going to the green market. I never wanted people to have the feeling of, ‘I would do that if I weren’t wearing this dress or these shoes.’ ”
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