One thing that I began to lament pre-COVID, was the lack of small luxury fashion boutiques, especially in New York. And, while shopping online has been convenient during the last year, I’m seriously ready for some real personal service, a store with a point of view, and one that surprises me with new finds (hard for a jaded fashion editor). Enter Fivestory. If you live on the UES, you might be thinking, “Fivestory isn’t new,” and you’re right, but the owner is. Karen Murray, a veteran of major fashion companies, wanted a place where she could shop for herself and was ready for the next when the opportunity presented itself. She purchased Fivestory, relocated the store from a side street townhouse to Madison Avenue and signed the lease two days before lockdown. That’s where Karen’s business expertise served her very well, in fact Fivestory is set to open a store in the Southampton on Jobs Lane in April and Palm Beach next fall. Obviously I am not the only one who misses the boutique experience. Here, she shares the names she’s excited for in-store, her career highs and lows and the women who inspire her.
Describe in brief, your career leading up to taking on Fivestory: I’ve been a fashion industry executive for “better” brands, both men’s and women’s for the past 35 years. I’ve always considered myself a brand builder, an operator, managing all facets of the business from sales to marketing, design, product development, merchandising, finance and operations. I’ve worked for major corporations such as Liz Claiborne and VF for the better part of my career.
What made you want to have a brick and mortar luxury boutique now? It’s always been a dream of mine to have a store that I would like to shop in! An experiential luxury store and online platform, curated with fashion from the best as well as new emerging designers, exclusives, footwear, accessories and jewelry with the addition of home, art and a vintage/pre-loved offering. I love mixing old with new, uptown with downtown and was always inspired by Colette of Paris.
You also have some under the radar designers. What newer labels are you most excited about for spring? Dauphinette, Lug Von Siga, JC Obando, Batsheva, Maygel.
You also embrace resale and vintage, how have you added them to your business and why do you think they are important? We carry vintage and preowned on a separate floor in a special space. There are “collectibles” of both preowned and vintage apparel as well as jewelry. This category has become so relevant today and for all different reasons… Some customers appreciate the craftsmanship of the fabrics, silhouettes, and details. Some want Chanel and Dior and may not be able to afford it at full price. I believe many women also love a treasure hunt and to find that special item that speaks to them. It’s now a look, even a staple in women’s wardrobes—and NOT a trend. And last but not least, many care about sustainability.
When you took over Fivestory, what came easiest for you in the beginning? Creating the image and the aesthetic of the store and building that out, working with the team and talking to customers.
Hardest part of starting out that no one warned you about? COVID!!! I closed on the new space on Madison Avenue on March 11 and two days later the store was closed. I was not able to do events, an opening, get new customers, tell old customers we moved….No one cared about a new store and no one cared about an experience because for several months no one walked into a store.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed: First and foremost it’s my sense of style and wanting to share that and work with every customer that comes into the store. Also I’m tenacious!
Three words that describe Fivestory: Discovery, curation and luxury.
Three words that describe you: Extremely passionate about fashion, curious, kind and elegant. (So they say!)
Role model: Successful women in fashion and beauty such as Estee Lauder, Coco Chanel, Prada, Donna Karan. Icons!
Your advice to a new entrepreneur or someone starting out in your field: And the best career advice I’ve received… Do your research, read and stay well informed, utilize consumer insights and then use your gut instincts to build the best business possible. If you do that work, you will always have what your customers want.
What has been your biggest success? In the past it’s just ensuring that each company I have managed is profitable. Outside of business it’s charitable work with several organizations but mostly The Marfan Foundation where we have run successful galas and raise millions for research.
What was your biggest biggest dud and what did you learn from it? At VF we did consumer segmentation work which is very expensive and you learn a lot about your customer based on past performance, but that doesn’t necessarily help to predict the future trends for the business. Fashion is not a perfect science and the future of fashion can’t always be predicted.
What motivates you? The excitement I feel every day especially as I walk to the store and through the front door wondering what the day may bring, who I might meet and help to make their day. Working with customers and helping to style them is the best part of my day.
Life goals: A successful retail store and expansion and building the brand and business. Also being charitable and having a happy and healthy family.
Daily goals: Eat healthy, customer satisfaction, finding and selling beautiful products, and a good night’s sleep.
Favorite inspirational/motivational read: What they didn’t teach you in Harvard business school and that now I am reading, The Alchemist.
Daily rituals: Three meals a day, a little ice cream, talk to my parents, text my son, and merchandise the floor and work with customers. Dinner at home with my husband.
How do you unplug: Travel to our second home in Florida and relax. Shop-that excites me and believe it or not relaxes me, plus a massage or a spa day.
Hidden talent: I used to spin a mean rifle!
Favorite charity: Marfan foundation.
Do you collect anything? Antique or vintage clothes, handbags, and jewelry. Also, Limoges.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: Jewelry. And buying Fivestory!
Favorite small indulgence: Maison du Chocolat chocolate, cookies, ice cream.
Album currently on repeat: The Beatles, Elton John, Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates are still my favorites.
Scent that brings back memories: Patchouli and gardenia.
Lucky charm: Vintage heart jewelry and the heart charms from Muse x Muse, my husband.
Favorite hour of the day: 7 PM. It’s dinner time with my husband and he’s a great cook!
Follow Fivestory: Instagram.