When mentally flicking through the Rolodex of quirky design-led concept shops in New York City, Harlem isn’t usually a neighbourhood that pops to mind. So I was especially intrigued to hear about Swing – “a boutique like no other” as they sell it – located right smack in the middle of bustling Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard on Manhattan’s upper Upper West Side. I liked the sound of the shop’s eclectic offerings and stylish proprietress, and was spurred on to make the trek uptown. I was not disappointed.
I was greeted by Swing’s owner – tastemaker Helena Greene. She can often be found working on the shopfloor, sharing her encyclopedic knowledge of emerging artists, and welcoming shoppers to her secret treasure trove. Helena explained that Swing is an acronym that relates to curated areas of the shop: “S” stands for Signature fashion; “W” for Wonderland – items geared towards kids; “I” for Icon – an area that includes natural beauty products; “N” is the Nest section that is bursting with everything related to the home; and “G” is for Groove, in other words everything music, arts and culture related. What I found was a gorgeously edited collection of clothing, objects, books and edible delights personally sourced by Helena from around the globe.
Drawing on her design background, as well as a childhood spent in India and years living in the UK, Italy and Belgium, Greene has created a very special ambiance that is full of unique, extraordinary finds and curiosities – and is just plain fun to ricochet around in, soaking up the atmosphere and making delicious impulse buys.
While fashion fanatics will appreciate Swing’s selection of Rick Owens Lilies separates ($150-$600), I especially loved being introduced to niche brands such as Raquel Allegra’s hand-dyed tops ($90-$250) and Cristina Bomba’s collection of tactile scarves, chunky sweaters and coats ($265-$500), made from the finest lightweight Loro Piana fabrics. There are also hard-to-find lines such as Brogden from Florence – its fine leather jackets with cloth detailing ($680) are unlike anything I’ve found elsewhere.
The Wonder area’s cool kids brands include Sweden’s Mini Rodini (Berlin Baby jeans; $79) and France’s Finger in the Nose (denim shirts; $84). They are, says Greene, “stylish in a hip, express yourself kind of way” versus being pretentious or over the top. In the “Icon” display space I found a selection of Greene’s favoured Sphatika range (second picture), a 100 per cent natural skincare regimen for both men and women that includes Facial Cleansing ($58) and Vitamin A Night Creams ($150) and a daily moisturiser ($85) made of edible ingredients from Germany, Italy and the US. One dab of that moisturiser and I was, literally, sold.
Other gems I was thrilled to discover were eco-wax candles by Parisian Marianna Guedin ($62) and handmade, one-off ceramics by London-based designer Reiko Kaneko (cups, saucers, mugs – first picture; $26-$45), including her tea cups with gilded paint drippings running down from the rim. Glass and tabletop objets by the likes of L’Anverre (from $385) and Christian Tortu (from $65) feed into Swing’s Hindu-inspired space, and the overall effect is a complete breath of fresh air in the midst of this busy city.
If you’re on the hunt for original gifts, or seek stylish attire that’s a little bit different, and love the sound of a lively chat about the latest in international design, I can’t urge you enough to head uptown and explore Swing and this vibrant part of Harlem.