DEBBIE DANIELSON WAS WORKING at the Department of Health and Human Services (formerly Health, Education and Welfare) in the 1970s when she decided (naively, she admits) to get control of her life by opening a store. She had no retail experience, but with the encouragement of friends who liked her taste and frequently sought her shopping advice, Forecast made its debut in March 1978.
She started selling shoes and accessories in a 500-square-foot space on Seventh Street SE, across from the Eastern Market. “I figured I’d learn on the job and my mistakes would be tiny,” Danielson says. Location no doubt played a big part, but Danielson was quick to catch on and doubled her sales within three years. She bought the Capitol Hill building she was renting in. Success comes from being a good editor, she says. She can go to a manufacturer and quickly pick out the 20 pieces she wants from a line. Among her selection is invariably the designer’s best seller.
Although she’s located on the Hill, her customer base skews older than the neighborhood’s young demographic. Women in their 40s, 50s, 60s and older, whether searching for an updated look for the office or a vacation wardrobe, are the ones who gravitate from all D.C.-area neighborhoods and around the country to her 3,500-square-foot, two-story boutique.
“My mainstay is women who are not shoppers. They don’t know how to pull the pieces together, but they want to look modern,” Danielson says. Sometimes the clothing of the most talented and smartest people doesn’t send the message they intend, she adds. Much like personal shoppers who zero on in their clients’ needs, Danielson and her staff of five work to create and tailor looks for customers with options to choose from depending on the occasion.
“We constantly are editing what we buy,” she says. Still, she has remained loyal to two brands–Eileen Fisher and Lafayette 148, both of which have evolved over time, replacing loose-fitting items with more shapely things in general and slimmer-fitting pants. With the large stateside brands she carries, she likes to mix small European lines, including Munich-based Oska and the Danish Ilse Jacobsen. In the summer Danielson says she always carries lots of dresses because of the D.C. heat, and she much prefers wash-and-wear over what has to be sent to the dry cleaner. “Rather than dry clean something, I go with the European approach of airing clothing out.”
“I keep out of China when possible,” Danielson says, referring to the source of so much inexpensive stuff for sale in this country. The gift-oriented section of the boutique features as many products as she can find made in the United States. So, there are felted soap balls from Rochester, Minnesota, chocolate from Missouri and Utah and handmade botanical candles filled with fruit, shells and spices from a Colorado company that hires handicapped workers to box them. In line with her eco-friendly principles, she carries the Laundress collection of gentle, non-toxic detergents, created by the owners to avoid dry cleaning.
Forecast has carried lots of color in deference to the trend for jewel-tones for the past few seasons. Danielson herself has never met a neutral she doesn’t like. She says she doesn’t want her clothes to attract the attention; she wants people to say she looks good, not to remark on what’s she’s wearing. This spring, the trends will align with Danielson’s fashion sense: She plans to show a “huge” black and white section featuring her favorite Lafayette 148 and Eileen Fisher.
What’s your beauty secret?
Who me? Okay, drinking lots of water and good posture.
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
Montmartre and my own kitchen
218 Seventh Street NE
Washington, D.C. 20002