Talking shop: Debi Greenberg of Louis Boston
Debi Greenberg sagely sits at the helm of Boston’s most iconic store: the four-generations-old, beyond adored Louis. What started in the 1800s as a pawnshop is now the ninth-largest independent specialty store in the country.
Greenberg and her forebears had style and savvy in spades—at times Debi’s particular wisdom appears governed by wanderlust, ancient texts and British Vogue. The success of the store’s new waterfront location speaks to the incredible vision, innovation and decisiveness that runs in those veins.
On any given day, you can find Greenberg and her daughter, Sam, maintaining the impeccably curated showroom and smiling at the easy gait of their affable dog, Bowie, in the store’s expansive space. TOB stopped by to talk to Debi about her inspirations and what it’s like running one of the coolest places in the city.
What’s your favorite city?
Paris. It always makes me happy. It’s such a beautiful city. Just walking it is such a wonderful feeling. There’s so much to see, so much beauty, so much art. You can walk it forever. I don’t care if it’s raining. I don’t care if it’s cold. It just always makes me happy. I think at some other time, in another life, I lived in Paris.
How do you use fashion in your daily life?
You’re on this earth for a very short period of time and I do believe that the way you present yourself is the one form of expression that you can reinvent. It’s the one thing you can do of interest. Make yourself new, renew yourself. You can change yourself every season, every year—transform yourself into something other than what you are. And that is a freedom that I just love. I am a woman of change. Some people hate change. I thrive on it. That’s my business.
What’s your favorite article of clothing? Are there any treasured items in your closet? What are their stories?
I have a treasure trove of those. I tend to buy five, six, seven things a season that I absolutely love and I wear them and wear them and wear them. I tend to use my wardrobe quite a bit. People at the store will tell you I wear things that are six- or seven-years-old. There are shoes. There are skirts that I will just never give up. I have these old Dries boots that I constantly wear. It’s just a military boot, but it has the right height, the right nose, the right heel—it works with everything.
What are you wearing today?
Well, these charms are called good luck cookies.
Have they brought your luck?
I think so. I think I have a very lucky life. I’ve been wearing the charms for seven or eight years. I like mixing things. These Devon Page McCleary bracelets are spiritual to me and I always wear them. You’re supposed to always wear them in odd numbers—I guess I am a superstitious person.
Who and what influence you in your life or in your work?
I like innovators. I like risk takers that think so far out of the box. I mean, if I ever met Steve Jobs… this guy is so right-there and to me. You’re put on this earth for a reason—it seems like such a waste of time to not create. I think as a population we tend to follow others instead of saying, “Wait a minute, there’s got to be another way to do this.” And the way he does it is brilliant. He never does a focus group. He never asks twenty people what they think so he can bring it down to the common denominator. He hears what they want or he hears what their habits and needs are, and then he creates things that would rock their world.
My father is an influencer. He taught me how to think like that. For Louis, I am the 4th generation. Louis, my grandfather, had a pawnshop—he’d take clothing from Jewish immigrants and turn them inside out and re-stitch them. He became the place for people to go to buy these clothes. Then his sons decided to have something different, something better, so they re-created it into a custom-made suit store. My father had the off-the-rack store. That was the first time—it started in the ‘50s—that they had off-the-rack clothing instead of made-to-measure.
To me, it was about a whole lifestyle. It’s not just about buying the clothes, it’s about the feeling of having the lifestyle that you’re living. For me, the customer has to be somebody but somebody who wants to create a modern look for themselves that nobody else has. Again, innovation.
What inspires your personal style?
I’m not afraid to wear color or to wear print, I like that. If it’s beautiful, it works. I love to work with proportions. I have the type of body—at least the height—to do that and I’m always looking to change it up. In the beginning of every season I pick out things that I like and then I start working with the proportions.
What’s your favorite item in the store right now?
It’s a long dress made by a woman named Alessandra Rich. She applied this beautiful lace, but what she’s done is hand-dipped the lace so that it fades to a color. She’s amazing. She’s very talented and she’s exploring all of these different things that no one’s ever done before and that’s why I like it.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
British Vogue, Teen Vogue and I’m reading this book The Paris Wife, it’s about Hemmingway’s first wife.
What did you get for Mother’s day?
I got a watch. I kept borrowing my husband’s watch and I said to him, “I want my own watch!” and he got me a watch. I got flowers from my daughter—they were my favorite: peonies and lilacs. Very fragrant flowers.
Best thing anyone’s ever gotten for you?
[Looks at her daughter Sam] Well, she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I had several miscarriages and I gave up and then—this thing popped out. She’s just the sweetest. It’s the thing I work the hardest at. A gift? (shows ring) My husband gave me this ring for our 25th wedding anniversary and told me wanted to marry me all over again—that’s one of my favorite gifts.
Did you cry?
Absolutely! Although I appreciate things, they don’t mean everything to me. It’s the meaning behind it, I guess. And it’s the adventure. When I find a line, looking for it, researching, trekking out to wherever to find it—that’s the fun. That’s the meaning behind it. Watching people buy it and enjoy it, that’s another meaning altogether that’s so rewarding. I’m not very good in the dressing room but if I sit and watch them in the dressing room and I see these women and they look stunning, I think “Oh my god, it’s even better than what I imagined it would look like.”
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