Want all this in your inbox?
Get the Refinery29 Newsletter
You're in for a treat...
Thanks for signing up!
Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.
Owner of Fivestory, 28
With a bachelor's in Fine Art from NYU and a master's in Contemporary Art from Sotheby's, this born-and-bred New Yorker was exposed to art for most of her adult life. But, after getting into the art dealing world and realizing that mixing business with pleasure just wasn't a fit for her, she left. To take her mind off the reality that she was without a job, she wandered into store after store. And, among the uninspired racks of clothes, she found the direction she was looking for: the idea to create Fivestory — a store that puts the experience before the clothes.
The luxury boutique located in the Upper East Side features highly curated items from brands like Olympia Le-Tan, Rosie Assoulin, and Balmain that work with each other to tell vignettes. What's more is that the staff has a laissez-faire approach, giving customers breathing room as they browse around the boutique. Read ahead for more on how Distenfeld turned a void into a major shopping destination for the city's most stylish set.
Rosie Assoulin jumpsuit, Rochas shoes.
Your first love was art — why was that such a passion point for you?
"Growing up, I lived a block away from the Met, two blocks away from the Whitney, and ten blocks away from the Frick. Just having all these things around me as I was walking to school or walking home — you don’t realize it but you're absorbing it all."
Once you left the art world, you went into a very niche market within the retail industry.
"Yeah, I want to create a dialogue between the senses. Stores are so daunting; I didn’t feel like there was a store that felt homey yet decadent. It isn't about stocking Balenciaga, it's about emotion. When I curate the store, I think romantically but practically. I want the customer to feel a certain way, but I also think about how the shopper will approach shopping. I am my own customer, so for example, I'd want this beautiful whatever to be worn 10 different ways."
So, you pitched the store to your dad, who has experience in the luxury skins market. What went into your business plan?
"I didn't really have one — it was much more organic than that. It was a few months of conversation and discussion. We both thought it was gonna be a big project in the beginning, but it just got bigger from there as we were talking about it. And, then came a moment when it was like, 'Do I go all in, or do I not?' I mean, I had no reason to go into his field at all, but he saw that I wasn’t going to let this fail and that I'm going to make this work no matter what."
He financed the store and the rest is well, you know. How did you go about choosing items to stock in the store?
"I was obsessed with learning about the history of art, so when I used to look at pieces of artwork, I would almost get a movie montage of everything I've learned about the artist or other references. Same thing goes with designers. I can see a silhouette and shape and have a five-second montage in my head of all these things I've seen before. And, I’ll be like, 'I get the reference point, I love how you updated it.' It's an innate, 10-second thing for me."
You're always snapping pics of yourself in items that have just come into the store, but what's your personal style?
"I wear pieces that are timeless and have been done before, but I like to add one subtle element of newness and whimsy to it."
Like this book clutch and Tiffany T cuffs?
"Yeah, these new cuffs are a great replacement for my beloved Tiffany bone cuffs, the ones designed by Elsa Peretti. When I was Bat Mitzvahed when I was 13, I received a few of the Return to Tiffany bracelets. But, when I went to Tiffany's on my own, I fell in love with the bone cuffs. My mom bought two of them for me, and I wore them every. single. day. Now, these cuffs are my new favorites, and they're pretty great."
Olympia Le Tan clutch, Gianvito Rossi heels.
You're in such a luxury, niche market, but what happens when more businesses follow your lead? How do you plan on staying ahead?
"Well, my biggest competitor is the Internet, which is hard to beat. But, Fivestory is about the senses, and the Internet will never have that. One major element of Fivestory is our amazing customer service. We can tailor and deliver items. If a customer calls and says she needs a dress that night, we'll send 45 styles — comped — to give her what she needs, and then bring the rest back."
Yet, you have customers buying items you post on Instagram.
"I think in this day and age, every real shopper uses Instagram. My customer is a very vocal and avid Instagram viewer, so, yes, I'll put an Olympia Le-Tan clutch up, and without a doubt, we'll sell one or two. But, the most interesting thing is when I 'gram something while I'm at an appointment six months ahead of a season, and I still get responses from people. On the flip side, you can also put something on Instagram and there'll be crickets — no one’s into it. Instagram is one of the greatest tools a buyer can have."
From the big-time fashion players that frequent your store to your appearance in our 30 Under 30 series, you've accomplished so much in just two years. How does it feel?
"You know, praise — it doesn’t do anything to me. Because in my eyes, I haven’t done anything yet. I see the vision of where I want the store to go, and it’s like a football field away. But, I’m so proud of my Fivestory team, so when people praise me, I think of them. It’s an army of 16 people."
What's your vision for Fivestory?
"I definitely see us going into e-commerce in 2015, even though Fivestory is a destination store. If I mimic it on the Internet, which I can't, why would someone buy something in the store? I need to strengthen the store experience now as much as I can so that it doesn’t matter if you buy items online later. Let's say a customer comes into the store and sees this outfit or necklace. She leaves, but the item sits with her so hard that she's like, 'How did I not buy that before?' So, the Internet is there to give her the easiest way to buy something after she's had the store experience."
Do you have a key takeaway from the whole experience of creating Fivestory that women can apply to their own entreprenurial paths?
"Go all in. If you're creating something that doesn’t exist yet and you're not willing to go all in, then you're not actually going to fill in that void."
Azzedine Alaia top, Rosie Assoulin pants, Gianvito Rossi pumps, Giambattista Valli Couture bag.
Tiffany & Co. Tiffany T Wire Hoop Earrings In 18K Gold, available at Tiffany & Co. in October 2014.