Design

A visit with fashion expert Fern Penn

New York City boutique Rosebud attracts women from around the world with its unique collection.

The gold hand embroidery on this dress is both elegant and fun. The dress, which has a flattering silhouette is designed by Miriam Givon of Israel.The gold hand embroidery on this dress is both elegant and fun. The dress, which has a flattering silhouette is designed by Miriam Givon of Israel.The gold hand embroidery on this dress is both elegant and fun. The dress, which has a flattering silhouette is designed by Miriam Givon of Israel. (Photo: Lindsay E. Brown)

Claire Danes, Whoopi Goldberg and Bebe Neuwirth are among the celebrities that frequent Fern Penn’s boutique clothing store, Rosebud, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. But Penn, who opened her store 12 years ago, says Rosebud has something for everyone.

She’s kept her customers coming back through the years for her finely curated collection of timeless clothing and accessories. Rosebud is unique to neighboring clothing stores on Madison Avenue, and New York City, in that it only sells Israeli-made products.

Claire Danes (left), Bebe Neuwirth (center) and Whoopi Goldberg (right) are among Fern Penn's celebrity clientele.Claire Danes (left), Bebe Neuwirth (center) and Whoopi Goldberg (right) are among Fern Penn's celebrity clientele. (Photo: Getty Images)

Penn didn’t hatch the concept for a store that would sell Israeli-made fashion overnight. She and her husband, Leslie, frequently visit family and friends in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. On one such trip back in 2002, she bought several hats from boutiques and began wearing them back at home in Manhattan. “The hats were so beautiful and people kept saying to me, ‘Where did you get that?’” says Penn. “I started thinking to myself, ‘Maybe this is something I should pursue.’”

Penn started buying hats from designers in Israel to sell in New York. “My husband kept saying to me, ‘What are you going to do with all of these hats?’ I said, ‘We’ll figure it out!”

Penn began hosting hat parties at friends' homes all across Manhattan, and before long, she was selling hundreds of hats to women all over New York and New Jersey. The hat makers in Israel needed to hire more staff just to keep up with the demand.

Like all successful entrepreneurs, Penn kept innovating. She began building relationships with Israeli designers and buying clothing to share with women in New York City.

This elegant white top is by Israeli designer Dorin Frankfurt.This elegant white top is by Israeli designer Dorin Frankfurt. (Photo: Lindsay E. Brown)

It was a role that came easy to her. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), Penn started her career as a buyer at Macy’s for many years before becoming the merchandise manager for all of women’s ready-to-wear for the parent company of Lord & Taylor at the time.

Penn’s growing business quickly took over her Greenwich Village apartment and, with some encouragement, she decided it was time to make a move. “My husband and friends kept saying to me, ‘You love fashion, you love Israel, just combine the two and just do it,’” Penn tells From The Grapevine while giving us a tour.

Rosebud, named after the tiny rosebuds Penn would place on the hat boxes she sold, opened its doors in Soho in October of 2003.

Penn wanted Rosebud to be a lifestyle store, and modeled Rosebud after the Colette in Paris who pioneered the idea of the concept store at the time. “I wanted to use that same concept but in New York City with only Israeli fashion,” says Penn. She began selling a wide selection of merchandise from Israel, including home furnishings, jewelry, handbags, CDs, magazines and clothing.

Before long, Penn developed a taste for vintage Israeli fashion, and would scour vintage clothing stores and flea markets during her trips to Israel. Penn eventually dedicated an area at Rosebud to her vintage finds. “It was a big hit,” says Penn. “People loved seeing the old Gottex, Maskit and Rikma.”

This form-fitting black wrap top by Israeli designer Anat Friedman is a popular item.This form-fitting black wrap top by Israeli designer Anat Friedman is a popular item. (Photo: Lindsay E. Brown)

In 2008, Penn showcased her love of vintage fashion with a retrospective dedicated to Israeli fashion, featuring vintage clothing from the past century. While she no longer sells vintage fashion at Rosebud, Penn has amassed an enviable personal collection. When she travels back to Israel to scout new designers and replenish stock, she finds time to add to her long-lived collection.

Rosebud was in Soho for 10 years until rents became prohibitive. Longtime friend Puck Meunier offered to share her Madison Avenue boutique Koos with Penn. “I’m a shop within a shop now,” says Penn. “And it’s lovely, and thank goodness my customers are still coming to me from all over the city, all over the country and all over the world.”

Since 2003, Rosebud has worked with more than 200 Israeli designers. Penn says she’s currently doing business with designers including Ronen Chen, Dorin Frankfurt, Kadem Sasson, Alembika and several younger Israeli designers, such as Adi Benjo, who she met at Tel Aviv Fashion Week in 2014. “I saw this girl wearing this fabulous coat and I ran after her and tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘Excuse me, where’d you get that coat?’ She said, ‘I made it, I’m a student.’ I said we have to talk.” Penn has been working with her ever since, and Benjo is now working on a mini collection exclusively for Rosebud while she’s still at the Shenkar design school in Israel. “I keep needing to replenish the items I get from her,” says Penn.

Penn’s goal is to continue to outfit women of all sizes with pieces that will stand the test of time. She’d eventually like to open a larger store where she can still maintain creative control and offer customers the Rosebud experience they’ve come to love.

“People have things from me that they bought eight years ago that still look fresh and current today,” says Penn. “I’ve always felt that fashion is not about being trendy; fashion is about looking stylish.”

For more from Fern Penn, read her tips about purchasing vintage fashion.

Fern Penn, owner of Rosebud in New York City, is on the pulse of Israeli fashion. Fern Penn, owner of Rosebud in New York City, is on the pulse of Israeli fashion. (Photo: Lindsay E. Brown)

Lindsay E. Brown is the managing editor of Eco-Chick, the web’s first ethical fashion, beauty and travel site for women. She has written for Whole Living Magazine, Edible, and Cottages & Gardens. Lindsay has been featured as a fashion and beauty expert on the Veria Living Network. Lindsay holds a BS in Global Business Studies and Marketing from Manhattan College, and received the 2012 Honors Award at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

The opinions expressed in blogs and reader comments are those of the writers and do not reflect the opinions of FromtheGrapevine.com. While we have reviewed the content to ensure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, From the Grapevine is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information.

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