Louisa Ellis: Two Stores of Her Own
By Dale Stewart
For thirteen years, Melissa Bigarel travelled the country fixing corporate retail chain stores in trouble. She did it in New York, Boston and Madison, New Jersey, all the while dreaming of one she wouldn’t have to fix—her own.
Styling was in her blood and she put her time in. “I’ve been working in retail since I was twenty. I always knew I wanted a shop of my own.” All she had to do was figure out where to set up stakes. “My husband, Mark, discovered Great Barrington after friends bought an inn in town.” He came home to Bigarel and said, ‘I’ve found the most perfect town.’ And that was pretty much it.”
Louisa Ellis opened in 2011 on Main Street in Great Barrington and to date carries nearly 20 different lines of contemporary women’s ready-to-wear clothing. There were plans to open another space on Hudson’s Warren Street, but it wasn’t until 2012 that things were going well enough to do so. “We didn’t want to open Hudson until we had a good feel here. But now, Hudson is our showcase store. The town feels different because it changes so much. It always feels fresh and energetic. Collections live longer in Great Barrington—there’s more space for it.” In Great Barrington, Bigarel is known for her store windows; she’s sort of a small-town Simon Doonan. “Our latest window is a little bookworm and a little geek chic!” she says, referring to the library theme of her current display.
“A lot of these designers are ones I’ve been following for years. We also have lines you can’t find everywhere. Who wouldn’t want to wear a photo of flowers on taffeta?” She’s speaking of a full skirt from Pink Tartan ($375). Bigarel spins around her store in three-inch heels, pointing out a range of designers, such as Shoshanna. “She fits women with curves so well, her dresses are amazing.” Bigarel gleefully catches design details many would miss: “And look at this blouse, there’s a little nod to the poplin style, but you don’t have to commit. And look at this Milly dress. She really took a moment and thought about the back of this dress.”
Louisa Ellis has a decidedly feminine take on style, favoring flirty blouses from Plenty by Tracy Reese ($118), cocktail dresses from Nanette Lepore ($198), hip boyfriend sweaters from Rebecca Taylor ($195), and those figure-flattering dresses from Shoshanna ($295). It’s like stepping into a Barney’s in the Berkshires, a Harrods of the Hudson Valley. The shop receives a new collection every month, which hits Hudson first then rolls over to Great Barrington, and ranges from from work-appropriate pantsuits to casual day and evening dresses and, in late September, occasion dresses, which will fill in a larger role in the Great Barrington store.
Smart and studied, Bigarel is a voracious reader, so much so that she named her store “Louisa Ellis” after a character in one of her favorite novels, A New England Nun. Written in the late 1800s by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman, the book is based on a woman who decides to remain independent and not marry, a scandal in its day. If Louisa Ellis were an actual person, she’d be a confident, sophisticated, and fun thirty-something, like Bigarel herself.
Bigarel has created exclusive relationships with top-notch vendors like Delman—she worked with them on an iridescent winter white patent pump, creating a specially made beaded camouflage clutch. And there’s plenty available for those looking for non-apparel items like Alexandra Ferguson‘s “Be Nice or Leave” felt applique pillows—made from 100% post consumer recycled materials, costume jewelry by Elizabeth Cole (as seen in Zac Posen’s 2012 Resort collection), to colorful scarves and candles by Lollia. Bigarel also has her own nail-polish line, Berkshine, something she did as a side project and plans on re-vamping and re-launching in the near future.
For now, the Massachusetts native and her husband rent a church parsonage in Salisbury, Connecticut with their shop dog, a Japanese Chin named Steinbeck, another ode to Bigarel’s literary side. They still haven’t figured out where they’re going to land, but it will definitely be somewhere convenient to the two stores. “We were pleased that the place we wanted to work is also the place we wanted to live,” she says. “We have the life we’ve imagined for ourselves.”
307 Main Street
Great Barrington, MA 01230
Monday through Thursday 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Friday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Sunday 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
426 Warren Street
Hudson, NY 12534
Friday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Sunday 12:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.