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Friday, November 16 , 2018, 10:02 pm | Fair 51º


Judy Foreman: Rebecca McKinney Blair Whistling a Happy Tune with Opening of New Boutique

The Whistle Club in Santa Barbara's Paseo Nuevo finds its niche as part designer clothing store and part espresso bar

"You just put your lips together and blow."Lauren Bacall, describing how to whistle To Have and Have Not

I don’t know exactly when Thursdays became the new Fridays (maybe around the same time that age 60 became the new 40), but this day of the week has definitely become the most popular night in Santa Barbara to hold an event. First Thursdays, which have become a staple for the downtown merchants, has turned out to be a great success in getting locals out of their homes and into the restaurants, galleries and stores.

A recent Thursday was no exception. Rebecca McKinney Blair, owner of Santa Barbara’s newest lifestyle boutique, held the grand opening celebration for her store, Whistle Club, on Oct. 23.

Located in the Paseo Nuevo Shopping Center near the Nordstrom corridor, Blair has taken her time since opening late last March with apparel to put the finishing touches on her space. Since then, she’s created a hybrid boutique combo that’s part designer clothing store and part espresso bar.

One addition features craft coffee by Stumptown Coffee Roasters based in Portland, Ore., true industry standard-setters for craft coffee. The bar creates a warm and dynamic environment where people can sip a comforting cappuccino or cold-brewed coffee while they shop the store. For the grand opening, Whistle Club also partnered with Alchemy Arts Center, which generously donated a half-day spa retreat to give away to one lucky shopper.

On opening night, Whistle Club was filled with a stylish crowd of men and women, checking out the carefully curated selection of au currant apparel and accessories, including hats, watches, handbags, shoes, sunglasses, jewelry, candles, nail polish and chocolate.

Some of Blair’s favorite lines include Rachel Comey, Band of Outsiders, A.L.C., Closed, Thakoon Addition, Zimmermann and Heidi Merrick.

It’s clear she’s drawn to an intelligent sense of design and further inspired by the soul behind the merchandise. For example, woven baseball caps with leather brims by Wax+Cruz, she explains, is a brand founded by NYC stylist Lauren Austin Wood, who collects fabric while she travels the world on photo shoots, so no two hats are exactly the same.

The espresso bar was open for business, and a Shinola trunk show featuring handcrafted watches from Detroit was in full swing. Shinola Brand coordinator Carlos Munoz was present to share the Shinola story and to show a beautiful selection of what fashion magazines and watch aficionados consider being the first American-made wristwatch that has to potential to be passed on to future generations. Photo flipbooks were available by Nick Andrews of Open Air Photobooth, and selfies were in abundance.

A percentage of sales from the entire day was donated to AHA! of Santa Barbara, which develops youth programs and a teen community that celebrates diversity and creativity.

Assisting Blair in greeting guests were Andrea Schwartz (an image and wardrobe consultant), Stephanie Fraser (visual merchandise manager) and William Warner (lead barista). Young Montecito native Caitlyn Morton had also worked tirelessly behind the scenes earlier in the day to ensure the evening event was smooth sailing.

whistle club
Shinola Brand coordinator Carlos Munoz. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo)

Blair was born in Fort Worth, Texas , grew up in Oklahoma and came to Santa Barbara in 2001 to earn a bachelor of arts degree in communication at UCSB. Post grad life, she moved to Manhattan to attend Parsons The New School for Design, from which she graduated with a degree in fashion marketing. Her first job after Parsons was with online fashion uber retailer Gilt Groupe. It was there that she found a niche for herself in buying casual and contemporary ready-to-wear. In addition to her work at Gilt, she added to her resume editor and consultant with The Doneger Group, where she transformed emerging fashion and lifestyle trends into profit-driven business opportunities for large retailers both domestically and abroad.

After years of East Coast winters, Blair found her way back to Santa Barbara with her new husband, architect James Blair of Thompson Naylor Architects. He gave her the final nudge of encouragement that propelled her into launching the store to physically building all of the clothing racks. Looking around the local women’s retail landscape, Blair decided to open her own store that would reflect the advanced contemporary and entry-level designer markets she fell in love with in New York.

Interior designer friend Laura Fink from Ligne Roset in NYC was instrumental in helping layout the 700-square-foot double space store and in shaping the interior blueprint of Whistle Club. The cowhide chairs and pendant lamps are both from Ligne Roset. Brothers of Industry, also owned by some of Santa Barbara’s new wave of young entrepreneurs, Andrew and Peter Hernandez, used reclaimed wood for the large center display table and repurposed old hardwood flooring for the cash wrap. Their fixtures reflect clean contemporary lines that nicely complement the apparel.

Blair felt in merchandising her store that “the right mix of brands can work together nicely and perform well in Santa Barbara. I want Whistle Club to showcase a distinctive collection of emerging designers and fashion industry favorites that offer and an East meets West Coast design sensibility, which is reflected in the architectural ambience of the store.”

The name of the store was certainly something that I was curious about.

“Having worked in the corporate fashion world in Manhattan, I learned all to well that sometimes the industry can take take itself a little too seriously ... when at the end of the day, we are selling pretty clothes," Blair said. "So I wanted to select a name that had a carefree charm to it. The act of whistling encapsulates that lighthearted and happy spirit I was searching for in a name.

“At the same time, I know much of the industry is smoke and mirrors, about maintaining a degree of exclusivity, and ultimately, about making people feel special. Thus, I liked the concept so naming the store a club of sorts ... and a ‘whistle club’ seemed to strike the right note for me. I am always thinking about the experience I want to create for our customers. People shop as much for the experience as they do for the product itself, so why not give them the best of both?"

The Whistle Club also partnered locally with ADASA.com to test e-commerce in a small capacity before it is ready to undertake the project internally. As they’re in the fashion x tech space and are also a startup, the store will be hosting an intimate event, open to the public on Thursday, to introduce community members to its business model and potential investment opportunities.

The Whistle Club is located at 819 State St. Suites A and B. Its hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. For more information, click here or call 805.965.7782.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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