UPDATE: This story was originally published on November 8.
The experience of stepping through the doors of Marlene Hu Aldaba's two Georgetown boutiques is universal – something akin to lust, envy, instantaneous desire, or a combination of all three. Maybe it's the new Isabel Marant booties that get your heart pounding, or the Lanvin dress that sends your pulse rate through the roof. If you crave a wardrobe edited down to only the most luxurious essentials, this is the lady who can help you get there — just take a look at her everyday getups if you need proof.
The former graphic designer started the Hu's empire with her partner of 11 years, Eric, and together, they've expanded D.C.'s footprint in the luxury market, catering to chic locals and celeb clients, hosting stellar designers, and stocking some incredibly hard-to-find scores (Céline, anyone?). We got lucky enough to snag a day with Marlene, where we jetted around town to some of her favorite hangouts and got to know her funny, more-than-just-fashionable side. Ahead, an itinerary for spending a super-stylish day in the District.
Photographed by Marshall Johnson
Describe your sense of style in a few words.
"I couldn’t categorize my look as any one type. I love an easy, layered look, but I also like to get a bit dolled up for the right occasion."
Marlene took us to the Hirshhorn, one of her favorite local museums, to catch the Ai Weiwei exhibition.
Givenchy jacket and dress, Brian Atwood boots.
You've described yourself as a shoe fanatic. How did you develop a love for shoes?
"Good style starts from the ground up! I began my career as a graphic designer and have always been compelled by the shapes, silhouettes, and graphic nature of designer shoes. Shoes are an emotional item — no matter how you’re feeling about your body, your job, your relationships, putting a beautiful pair of shoes on somehow makes life a little easier."
How many pairs of shoes are in your personal collection?
"More than a few, but never enough."
You're a big fan of the Hirshhorn's Ai Wei Wei exhibition — why is that?
"My mother grew up in China and moved to Taiwan as a young woman. She saw the cultural revolution and lived through some pretty hard times. She and I traveled back to China a few years ago, and what I found most striking (aside from the really good food) was the lack of historic preservation in the name of development — a pervasive theme in Ai Weiwei’s work."
Any other places you like to go in D.C. for art, or a quick hit of culture?
and the Portrait Gallery
. I’m also a big fan of Heiner Contemporary
on Wisconsin Avenue. She curates some really interesting and thought-provoking artists."
What do you like best about living in D.C.?
"It’s so livable — I love how green, how accessible, how friendly, how smart, how caring this city is."
What are your biggest pet peeves about the city?
"My biggest pet peeve is how concerned people can be about what others think of them, especially when it comes to fashion. 'Oh, I can’t wear that' is my least favorite (yet most opportunistic) phrase."
We're smitten with the faux-shark-tooth detailing on her Givenchy shirtdress.
Tempted to try thigh-high boots? Marlene shows how to rock them with equal parts class and cool.
The next step for you is a restaurant — tell us about your inspiration for it.
"We really wanted to try something that’s more stressful than and equally unprofitable to retail! Seriously, Eric, my partner, is really into food and wine. And the opportunity presented itself to try something exciting in Georgetown right around the corner from the clothing store, so we jumped on it."
Big Bear Cafe in Bloomingdale's is one of Marlene's favorite haunts, thanks to the vegetarian-friendly menu.
Aside from Big Bear, do you have any other favorite places to eat in D.C.?
"I love Tosca
for a grown-up meal. China Bistro
in Rockville for homemade dumplings. I’m a vegetarian, so my choices are a bit limited here. However, I’m grateful that more and more restaurants are offering vegetarian options other than pasta primavera!"
Michael Angel dress, Bottega Veneta heels.
How long have you lived in this area, and how did you end up here?
"I’ve been here long enough to see three presidents — so, I consider myself a local now. I'm from the Midwest originally. I lived in Taipei for a couple of years, then grew up in Virginia Beach, and moved here after attending Virginia Tech."
Vintage watch and ring, Jessica Biales bracelet.
A perfect cup of coffee awaits at Big Bear.
Photo: Courtesy of Big Bear
Where do you shop for your non-fashion essentials?
"Morgan’s Pharmacy in Georgetown for bath products. I love Contemporaria
for modern pieces, and Weschler’s
auction house for oddities and vintage pieces. Insight
has phenomenal specs and sunglasses from designers like Gold & Wood and Cutler and Gross."
We love Ginger! What are some of your favorite dog-friendly places in D.C.?
"I love taking her to the Shirlington dog park. She loves the water and corralling the bigger dogs (or so she thinks)."
Raquel Allegra cardigan, NSF blouse and sweatpants, Balenciaga sneakers.
Marlene does cozy-casual like a pro, with an ultra-soft sweater and the chicest sweatpants we've ever seen.
Proenza Schouler PS1 bag.
Georgetown's C&O Canal is a favorite spot for walks with Ginger, a familiar face at Hu's Wear. We couldn't resist snagging some doggy treats for her from Baked & Wired during our shoot.
What has been the biggest challenge of having not one, but two small businesses in Washington?
"The biggest challenge is not being able to be at both stores at once. However, we’ve been blessed with a great staff who are passionate about the industry and care greatly about our customers. I think our customers really appreciate the familial atmosphere at our stores, especially as the retail scene becomes so homogenized with national stores."
A peek inside Hu's Shoes, Marlene's first entrepreneurial venture in D.C.
How does your own sense of style factor into the aesthetic you've developed at Hu's Shoes and Hu's Wear?
"I try to synthesize what I’m attracted to with what’s on trend. When I view collections, I apply this thinking, all the while making sure the looks translate into real life."
Proenza Schouler dress, Lanvin pin, Robert Clergerie boots.
Some wild new options from Nicholas Kirkwood at Hu's Shoes.
From Chloé to Isabel Marant to Fendi, the options for fabulous footwear are basically endless.