When Amara Felice opened Fifth Avenue clothing boutique Eidolon in October of 1999, she came with an idea that was thoroughly Park Slope. It began as a co-op, with four partners who filled the store with their own handmade wares and merchandise from other independent designers. It was a celebration of local craftsmanship.
“We were the first boutique like this on Fifth Avenue,” Amara says. “So everyone was really excited, when we were getting the place ready, to see what was going to be in here. Things were kind of quiet around here but we knew that it was going to be changing a lot.”
For Amara’s part, she was mostly interested in hats and accessories at the beginning. She moved from San Francisco in 1994 to attend FIT’s accessories program, where she became skilled in millinery. After a few years experimenting in the accessory world– crochet bags, cocktail hats, and vintage screen-printed linens before such a thing became trendy– she decided to stop selling in other shops and act on her dream to open her own.
“I was just kind of keeping my eye out for spots on Fifth Avenue for a while, as it was getting nicer,” she says. “And the rent was so cheap back then! This space was $850 when I moved in.”
The partners have gradually gone their separate ways since the opening, and, as of the summer of 2012, Eidolon belongs to Amara alone. Her dedication to artistry continues.
“It’s been hard, and my overhead’s gone up a lot,” she says. “I’m making all the decisions myself now.”
One of those decisions was to bring shoes back into the shop. Eidolon had a bit of a reputation for having a quality collection of comfortable shoes, and this year Amara’s stocked the store with a Spanish line, called Art, of strappy flat and platform sandals.
Amara also keeps the shop stocked with plenty of beautiful jewelry and accessories. Much of the jewelry is made by Amara herself, using simple rhinestones in dainty and delicate designs reminiscent of the flapper style.
And of course there is the clothing, all of which is designed and produced by Amara, her employees, or independent designers found locally or through Etsy.
“We tend to stay very classic,” Amara says when I ask if she can recall any favorite trends in her years in the Slope. “We use silhouettes and clothes that are flattering, things people can wear year after year after year.”
We browse through the racks as she points out common themes: A-line skirts, empire waists, lace overlays, draping necklines. Since she tends to stay away from the changing trends and focuses more on comfort and classic shapes, she’s developed a distinct clientele.
“One of the things about Eidolon is that it’s a store that women who are over a certain age can feel comfortable [shopping in]. We sell to all ages, but we get a lot of women in the 40-60 range who just want a dress, or anything, but they don’t want to feel like the shop only has stuff for younger women. It feels good to have that store.”
Some of Amara’s most popular projects are her custom- and hand-made bathing suits. Every year near Memorial Day weekend, Amara brings in samples of different sizes, styles (one- and two-piece), and up to 30 fabrics. Then she invites customers to try them on and see what they like.
“I have a ton of different vintage retro print fabrics,” she says. “I do a few solids, sometimes black, but mostly it’s the prints that are kind of different from what you’ll find anywhere else. And then I do fittings. We can adjust; I can put padding in for support or to add some shape. It’s nice, and it’s fun. People can try on different styles, and then they get the perfect fit in the fabric they like.”
It’s a perfect alternative to a process that can often become more stressful than fun. Each suit is given Amara’s special attention, and is usually ready within two weeks. Her suits have been noticed by New York Magazine, and they were featured in the 2007 I Heart Brooklyn Girls pinup calendar as well as lifestyle blog The Family Groove. Amara’s also designed for actress (and former Park Sloper) Jennifer Connelly.
“That’s the whole idea of our shop,” Amara says. “People like choices. If you don’t see it in your size, you can order it. If I don’t have a top in a fabric that maybe I have a skirt in, someone can order it. I’m a fabric addict, so when I see a lot of prints I just buy them all.”
And while the transition into solo ownership has been tough– Amara mentions that her desire to fill the shop with her designs often spreads her pretty thin– it’s something she still thoroughly enjoys.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and I still want to do it,” she says. “I’m a creative person, and I like making stuff, and I like selling it to the community. I’m not burned out.”
Eidolon is located at 233 Fifth Avenue between President and Carroll Streets, (718) 638-8194, open 12 – 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 12 – 7 p.m. Sunday. Keep up with the store on Facebook, and check out Amara’s designs on Etsy here and here.
Photo of bathing suit via NY Magazine