When I arrived at the locked store on 24th Street Friday morning, owner Irene Hernandez-Feiks rushed to the door looking impossibly glamorous in an asymmetrical gray mini and thigh-high stiletto boots. “I have to vacuum,” she said as she turned to do just that. It was a good thing, because in no time Wonderland SF filled with artists, designers and customers.
There’s no sign outside the store. But people know. Since May of this year, they’ve come to browse billowy dresses patchworked from antique handkerchiefs, sunglasses with chic bamboo frames, erotic tunics collaged from fleece and see-through lace.
“We’re creating a platform where you truly give a chance to designers and artists who are so talented, but maybe they don’t know how to sell themselves,” said Hernandez-Feiks, who owns the store with her husband Houston Berry. “They don’t have connections. In publications I see, all they write about is the same designers, the same artists, just because they already have a name. But I think it’s important to support the ones that nobody knows about, and are just as good.”
When she opened in May, Hernandez-Feiks had a natural clientele from the large, devoted following of her giant Chillin’ Productions shows. For dozens of artists, designers and DJs, the Chillin’ events were the first of their kind in the city, “and still to this day we don’t charge any money for designers to vend. We don’t take commissions from art sales,” said Hernandez-Feiks. The next one is on December 4 at 444 Jessie Street.
Other Wonderland SF customers are tech professionals and hipsters who live and work in the Mission. “I feel that the Latina families are the ones that are really not walking in, even though I’m Mexican,” she said. “A lot of the families are struggling, and they don’t understand how a pair of earrings that is not even gold or silver can be $150. It’s the last thing they’re concerned about now; it’s insignificant to them. But I see them peek their heads in.”
It’s those wished-for non-customers who raise for the owner and promoter the essential conundrum of fashion: Is it insignificant and frivolous in a time and place where all too many people are struggling just to survive? And if so, why do so many of us, in the words of Hernandez-Feiks, “just looooove it”?
She refused to rationalize the fascination of fashion. “I think it’s just really, truly how passionate people are about their work, and I really just believe in them. Even though the economy is hard and I get discouraged sometimes, when somebody brings me something new, I truly enjoy it. I see things and I get excited.”
Do customers come to support local designers? “I think 80 percent, yeah,” she said, but added, “If they love it, they love it, and they don’t really care.”
For Berry, the things in the store are not just any fashion but “wearable art” — unique, creative pieces. To illustrate his point, he showed me “this amazing hat,” styled like an early 20th-century flying helmet and made of animal skin dyed electric blue.
So what makes San Francisco fashion special? “It doesn’t follow a lot of trends,” Hernandez-Feiks said. “We take more risks. In New York, you know, the really tight jeans with the boots is a uniform.”
I managed to stop myself from asking if she hasn’t noticed the all-pervasiveness of this uniform in our “trendless” city. But if you are beginning to feel that skinny jeans and boots are just a little too clichéd, and if you want to support local designers, then peek in at Wonderland SF.