The Berkshires’ First Lady of Fashion: Mikki Brown
If you see a woman wearing a dress this summer that is so exceptionally pretty, quirky or arresting that you have to stop and ask her, “Where’d you get that?” the answer will more than likely be “The Browns.” Located on Water Street in Williamstown, which is the heart of the Williams College campus, The Browns offers a dog-whistle fashion sensibility filtered for the new ruralists: clothes and accessories that are right for everything from openings at Jacob’s Pillow and The Clark to a wedding in a meadow or an outdoor concert in the courtyard of MASS MoCA. When Mikki Brown and her husband, Tom, opened their loft-like shop five years ago, they were refugees from suburban Fairfield County, CT, who’d decided to take a sabbatical from their fashion careers and try living at their weekend house in Hancock, MA. Tom had worked at Mitchell’s in Westport, where hedge-fund guys bought their four-figure suits, and Mikki had a resume that included big jobs at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Issey Miyake and Capezio. They discovered that as much as they loved the simplicity of rural life they were starved for style. They decided to see if they could create a boutique that would synthesize their past and present lives. “My goal was to have unusual things that you could not find in department stores or specialty shops,” says the effervescent Mikki. “Of course, I had no idea what people here actually wore.”
Mikki decided she would stock The Browns with clothes for women (and men) like herself who think that apparel can be art and who are willing to invest in quality clothes with style that supersedes fashion trends (and has very little to do with designer labels.) “That is my biggest challenge,” she explains. “It’s amazing how much people want to buy clothes with labels they recognize from magazines.” Although she carries some clothes by Max Mara, Martin Margiela’s MM6 line, and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, most of the labels on the rack are obscure such as Nuno from Japan and SkifO from St. Louis. “My average dress costs about $265, and most of my T-shirts are $50 - $80,” she says. “Sometimes, we carry luxury items like a $3,500 Max Mara winter coat, but I know my customers well and who might actually buy that coat.”
The Browns is not about what’s in fashion this season. “My goal is to help people find their personal style and mix pieces from many collections,” says Mikki, who dresses that way herself. On a recent weekday, she was wearing an exuberant and youthful outfit: a hand painted silk Heyne Bogut jumper (“made in Philadelphia!”) over layered T-shirts by Beautiful People and Martin Margiela, with French ballet flats by Pataugas and a chunky vintage necklace. “I don’t think age is a factor if you love clothes,” she says.
While some college students shop at The Browns, it is more typically their parents who are the store’s customers. Mikki and Tom tried to sell cutting-edge men’s clothing but the market was too small, so they stick to more traditional lines for guys such as Bill’s Khakis (“made in America!”), French Connection T-shirts, and custom-made Jack Victor suits (“they’re made in Canada, cost about $850 which is ridiculously low for a custom fit, and you get it in four weeks.”) Their customers are a mix of summer tourists, actors from Williamstown Theatre Festival, and year-round regulars from three states. “We have loyal clients from Dorset and Bennington, Vermont, and from Albany and Saratoga, New York, and from Sheffield and Great Barrington, Massachusetts,” she says.
The store even has fans from New York City such as Leslie Milton, the director of major gifts for the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, who has a weekend house in Stockbridge. “I walked into the Browns about two weeks after they opened and from the minute I met Mikki, I knew I could trust her to dress me,” says Milton. “It’s a rare day that I’m not wearing at least one item of clothing from the store, and it’s a very frequent occurrence that one hundred percent of my outfit, including bag and shoes, was hand-picked for me by Mikki. She has the most incredible sense of what will look good on you and she is never wrong. And if all that weren’t enough, everyone who knows her will tell you that she is the most positive, generous, beautiful woman they know. I just adore her.”
16 Water Street, Williamstown, MA; 413.458.1618
Monday - Saturday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.
Sunday 12 - 5 p.m.