MY MOM WAS the ultimate truth teller about lots of things. But in particular, when it came to one of her favorite pastimes — clothes shopping — if she didn’t think something suited me or any of her friends who dared to ask her to accompany them on a trip to, say, Loehmann’s or Saks Fifth Avenue — she didn’t temper her tongue or judgment. “Take it off,” was the phrase she used when what you were trying on was not up to her standards or did you no favors.
Tanya Semsar is several decades younger than my mom was when we used to shop together. She’s 28, but her appointment-only, personal shopping concept for her eight-month-old Refine Boutique appeals to someone like me who knows her own style but appreciates individual attention and an honest opinion. Samar describes her customer as a woman (millennials to retirees), who wants to keep up with the trends, refresh her wardrobe periodically and wear brands of clothing that aren’t available at all the big department stores in town.
Need an outfit for a June graduation or wedding, a gala dinner dance in May, a summer vacation in Portofino or a special date night in August? Tell Semsar and she’ll let you know what new merchandise she expects (new stuff arrives on a monthly basis) and what she thinks will meet your needs. And, oh, if you need to come in before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m, she’ll be there for you.
Semsar likens shopping in the small but light-filled and welcoming space above Cleveland Park’s Cactus Cantina to shopping in a closet — a streamlined and well-organized one. She stocks three lines of denim — the sought-after Frame (doesn’t fade and hits everyone in the right places), as well as jean styles from Mother and McGuire. Her casual wear includes labels Splendid, Velvet and Soft Joie; cocktail dresses (most under $300) come from Yumi Kim and Amanda Uprichard. Also, a variety of always-necessary T-shirts from Nation Ltd. and knits from John & Jenn and Gentle Fawn.
Working for the past seven years at Intermix, Cusp and Hu’s Wear has schooled Semsar in the ways of retail. Aided by her degree in public relations and communications from the University of Maryland, she has built her budding business through word of mouth, social media and participating in events like the Alexandria Warehouse Sale. The website, set to launch soon, will be the third prong of her vision for Refine to be a hybrid of personal shopping and a brick and mortar experience combined with an online component. But it’s her ability to advise on a one-on-one basis and to cater to different personalities and figures that has won me over and made me eager to return.