Tucked into an unassuming strip mall in the heart of Cahaba Heights, Manhattan South is a charming boutique bringing a touch of California to the South. Walk into the shop and an adorable miniature pup named Mannie might stop to offer a greeting as she trots around her home away from home. The interior of Manhattan South is clean, bright and airy, with a subtle West Coast vibe. It feels different than other Birmingham boutiques, and that is exactly what Manhattan South’s owner Lesley Decastro-Vedel wants. She is driven to make the shop stand out among Birmingham’s boutiques.
“I used to love going to Manhattan Beach,” says Lesley. “I just love the West Coast style and feel.” And almost all the buying for Manhattan South takes place in Los Angeles, with trips to New York sprinkled throughout. “It makes Manhattan South different and unique, so that our clothing doesn’t look like every other store,” she says.
Growing up, Lesley was never into fashion and claims that she was “awful at putting anything together.” The computer and information sciences Auburn graduate was attending graduate school at Samford when she took a trip to London, and that’s where her lifelong foray into fashion began. The adventurous and curious traveler began exploring and found herself in the affluent Chelsea area, and got lost on cobblestone streets, exploring pint-sized stores that completely transported her. These charming, one-of-a-kind boutiques were a revelation to her. “I was just mesmerized by these little stores,” Lesley explains. “They were so clean and not cluttered. I had never experienced anything like it before.”
And just like that, she knew what she wanted her future to look like. She went back to her entrepreneurship professor and said, “I’m going to open up a shop.” Although her professor and family worried about the travel-inspired ambitions of the 25-year-old, Lesley stayed true to her vision and committed to making it happen. She began researching in 2005 and spent two years turning that constant research and hard work into a reality. In 2007, she opened the doors of Manhattan South and has been there ever since.
The boutique features looks for all types of events. Cocktail dresses, structured skirts and elegant blouses are accompanied by luxurious fur coats and vests. Move a bit further into the store and you’ll find a pant of every variety from black jeans to high-waisted trousers, as well as a vast selection of comfortable, top quality t-shirts, lounge wear and basics. Sparkling earrings, necklaces and bracelets adorn the counters and tabletops of the boutique with clutches and handbags artistically propped on shelves. Lastly, a selection of sunglasses that range from classic aviator to brightly colored specs catch the eye as they reflect the boutique lights.
There is no typical Manhattan South client, a fact that Lesley embraces as it allows her to constantly think outside of the box as she curates the boutique’s collection. The store is always looking for ways to cater to each client’s personal style, including special ordering and shopping with specific clients in mind. Some clients even sit down with her, look through the books for that season’s collections and pick what they want. Lesley has formed personal relationships with designers, whom she will call upon to create customized looks for her clients.
With fall right around the corner, Lesley is gearing up to offer new labels that will bring a more structured, elevated style into the mix. Expect beautiful crisp, white, tailored blouses made from Italian cottons and silks, and contemporary art-forward looks with bold asymmetrical cuts. Lesley is delighted to showcase a new line from Australia called TY-LR, a contemporary, streamlined look that is altogether sophisticated and ultra-modern, as well as ARYN GLASSER‘s premiere fashion line, which features a pant that Lesley says “is great quality and fits just right.”
One of Lesley’s favorite things to do — and main source of creative inspiration and fashion finds — is traveling. She jokes that she has to travel at least once a month, but her best work is done when she’s discovering new styles that one only sees on the streets of Europe, in the back alleys of Greece or even on Manhattan Beach in California. And thus, one lady’s travel obsession becomes another lady’s wardrobe inspiration.
Manhattan South is located at 3122 Heights Village in Cahaba Heights. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (205) 977-3871 or visit stores.manhattansouth.net.
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