Cindy Gambrell has loved clothing all her life. “I’ve always been involved in fashion,” says this longtime Memphian and owner of haute couture clothier Kittie Kyle. In her early career, Cindy worked as a sales associate and buyer for Memphis fashion retailers. She first came to Kittie Kyle, which opened in 1983 and got its name from the great aunt of the two sisters who founded the shop, not as an employee, but as a customer. “And in 2000, I bought it,” Cindy says. She found her calling that day and hasn’t looked back.
What’s been your biggest challenge in owning a haute couture boutique?
Really, just keeping it fresh. I spend a lot of time in New York seeking out new, undiscovered designers.
Who are your go-to designers for your own wardrobe?
I really like a lot of designers, and I like to combine different designers. One of my favorites right now is California designer Raquel Allegra, and I also like Elm by Matthildur, an Icelandic company. Carol Peretz is my go-to designer for formal wear. And my favorite jewelry designer is my friend Saundra Messinger. She’s based in New York, but she’s a native Memphian. She’s in stores all over the country, and her jewelry has been on the cover of Vogue. And on October 29, 30 and 31, we’re doing a trunk show with her.
How would you describe Kittie Kyle?
We say that we feel like—and this is the way Saundra describes Kittie Kyle—that women with different styles can find themselves at Kittie Kyle. We talk a lot about timeless and individual style.
It’s the greatest compliment when a customer comes in and says, “I bought this dress 15 years ago and it’s still in my closet and I still wear it.” We try to keep on the edge of fashion, but also in a way that it becomes timeless. We have a lot of artists, interior designers and really creative, confident people who are our customers.
How have you seen fashion change in Memphis throughout the years?
I think it’s certainly evolved from when I first came to Memphis in the early ’70s, from being more regional to really more global. With the Internet, you can look beyond your neighborhood for style inspiration.
What’s the one item every woman should have in her closet this fall?
Based on last winter, a great coat and a fabulous scarf. And a cashmere sweater.
Wearing white after Labor Day: Yes or no?
I like the idea of breaking the fashion rules, so I think it’s a great idea. You wouldn’t wear it the same way in winter as you wear it in the summer, but white’s great any time.
What are your hobbies, and how do you unwind?
At the moment, I’m helping my son and his fiancée plan a wedding, and that pretty much takes up most of my time. It will be next spring, so I’ve got a lot of time to obsess over every detail.
Where’s the first place you take an out-of-towner when they come to visit you in Memphis?
Any of our great restaurants. There are so many! We just had some designers in town, and I took them to Ecco on Overton Park.
What one word best describes you?
I asked a friend of mine, and she said “positive.”
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
Be yourself! Do what you love!
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Wine and good food. And, of course, clothes.
A huge thanks to Micki Martin for the images of Cindy and her shop.