Getting dressed is rarely just about wearing clothes. It’s about what we want to show and what we want to obscure—what we choose to say out loud and what we’d rather leave unspoken. Downtown’s Le Lieu addresses those needs and more with a precise edit of sophisticated-but-fun clothing and accessories and a genuine sense of duty to the customer. Look for investment outerwear and shoes, premium denim, jewelry, and even statement headbands from Lele Sadoughi that channel 1940s-era turbans. “They’re a lotta look,” says Merchandising Manager Melissa Ohntrup. “And everyone says, Oh my gosh, I love it, but I could never pull it off. And I say, Really? Put it on.”
Ohntrup worked closely with owner Chuck Hellman (who also owns Hellman Clothiers across the way) to open the shop in the Carew Tower arcade last November, and has since set up one of the loveliest corners of the Central Business District with impeccably dressed windows flanking Race and Fifth streets. Le Lieu glows with soft-focus light, gold and white finishes, and oversized floral arrangements. The dressing room is draped with velvet fern-green curtains and papered with rosy Gucci wallpaper painted with white swans.
“Le Lieu” translates to “the place,” and the shop’s location adjacent to this particular stretch of Fourth Street—in this particular Art Deco pile—is no accident. The surrounding blocks functioned in their early-20th-century heyday as a kind of Queen City garment district: Major department stores like McAlpin’s, Pogue’s, and Mabley & Carew held court along Fourth Street, attracting visitors from all over for a day of fancy shopping. As people migrated out of downtown after World War II, retail decamped with them to suburban malls and the downtown destination buying experience was never the same (long live Saks Fifth Avenue!).
Ohntrup hopes to be part of the new generation of Historic Fourth Street retail, and takes seriously the experience that she provides: Personalized, low-key shopping in a beautiful setting, where customers come with a specific goal and leave with clothes that enhance their wardrobe rather than just wasting closet space. The point is intention, turning away from over-consumption and focusing on quality pieces. “Fast fashion has this dismissive attitude toward clothes and it’s really bad,” says Ohntrup, “because nobody really thinks about where they end up. They just get dumped in landfills. I want the clothing that you buy here to be something you can keep for years.”
Le Lieu, 441 Vine St., (513) 381-3702