A Touch of Italy in Georgetown

Photo by Greg Powers
Merribel Ayres
Merribel Ayres

"I never knew this was here," said Ellen, a new customer who stumbled across the store with her husband on a walk from their 33rd street home on Saturday morning. 

"We get ladies in all the time who thought that shops catering to them had long since left the Georgetown neighborhood. But we're here to prove otherwise," says Merribel Ayres, owner of the Amina Rubinacci Georgetown boutique. 

Ms. Ayres and her team seek to create an environment where women feel comfortable and at home perusing Italian styles. Think Bergdorf shoe salon meets best friend's closet where women come in pairs to chat, catch up and, when the spirit moves them (as if often does here), to try on beautiful Italian garments.  With a pull of a curtain, the cozy but modern space transforms into a comfortable fitting room. Guests are offered Italian refreshments while husbands grab a seat in the front window, lovingly nicknamed the "gentlemen's bench." Ellen's husband, John, settles in as she pops behind the curtain. 

"We enjoy catering to everyone that comes in", says Jolina Wang, Amina Rubinacci's manager, looking for Ellen's size in a particular jacket. "While we love women to stay and spend time with us, we realize it's not always possible with busy schedules. We certainly get those women who come in between engagements and we work hard to find them something they'll love in a hurry. We really get to know our customers and learn their preferences so that when something new arrives, I know exactly who needs to be notified." 

Jolina Wang (Photo by: Cameron Neal) Jolina Wang

Ellen emerges dressed head to toe in the finest Italian materials-- virgin wool trousers that give a great shape to her legs, the perfect fall shell paired beautifully underneath a patterned wool blazer-- designed to fit more like a sweater than a jacket-- Amina's signature. She looks stunning and husband agrees. Ellen picks out two cashmere sweaters in beautiful shades of indigo and aqua before turning to her husband for advice on the jacket. "You must," he says. "Besides, we never buy you clothes anymore." Ellen confesses she typically hates shopping these days. But today is different. This shop is different. 

The entire experience is curated to mimic an Italian shopping trip-- much like one Ms. Ayres took in Rome when she stumbled across the Rubinacci name ten years ago. From the music playing softly in the background to the little hat boxes of Italian chocolates that customers receive with their purchase, visiting Italy no longer requires a plane ticket. "Many of our customers travel to Italy a couple times a year. They understand the value of a truly 'Made in Italy' garment, and relish the experience of shopping while they're there. They return to Washington and feel like something's missing in that same interaction at a mall or department store. Our shop is here to remind them that shopping can and should be special." 

Jolina tucks a box of chocolates in the shopping bag and promises to keep in touch about new arrivals while exchanging business cards with Ellen. Ellen smiles and sighs, "I've finally found my place," she says, as she and John head back out onto the brick sidewalk to continue their morning stroll through Georgetown.