Friday, May 16, 2008

Madison's Hottest Shopping Websites

We all know the virtues of shopping online—it’s easy, you can do it in your pajamas, et cetera. Shopping locally, here are what I think are the best designed and most navigable sites right now. (Above: Lauren Merkin "Eve" clutch from JC Madison)

Co-owners and denim connoisseurs Sam and Ben Parker and Ryan Huber have gained quite a reputation for the most coveted and exclusive denim selection around—and in the world, in some cases. Huber pointed out a pair to me the last time I was in the shop that is exclusive to Context (the only other store carrying the brand was its flagship store). Also check out the website’s “Eco-Denim” tab featuring Nudie Denim and Apolis Activism tees.

Fair Indigo
Four former Lands’ End execs are the founders of Fair Indigo: Bill Bass, Elizabeth Ragone, Don Hughes and Rob Behnke. This site is particularly exciting because shoppers can get to know the people behind their purchases, like Gladys from Montevideo, Uruguay who makes the brand’s seasonless sweaters. Or check out the new eco-friendly baby line which features recycled fleece and organic cotton. I also like the close-up feature that lets web browsers hold their clicker over a garment and it shows a close-up of the fabric weave and detail of the item.

The Guild
The crème de la crème of a beautifully designed art website. Originally started by Toni Sikes as a website to market artists’ work to designers and architects, Sikes decided to open up the business to regular old art lovers via The Artful Home catalog. The website followed. More than ten thousand items like glasswork, paintings, jewelry and furniture are available from 1,200 different artists. The Guild is the leading retailer of original art and craft in the country.,

JC Madison
Owner Jenny Condon moved her storefront in Greenway Station to a smaller storefront in the Greenway Industrial Park in September. The reason? To focus on the website end of her business. Condon's new space has a smaller showroom, but offers more storage space for packing up web orders and storing inventory. Condon says the web aspect of the company has been doing incredibly well. Some of that could be chalked up to mentions in Lucky, People, Marie Claire and, well, Madison Magazine.

J LaMore

First of all, I’ve got to commend Jennifer LaMore, owner of J LaMore, for the website’s denim selection. Many pairs retail for—gasp!—under one hundred dollars. With a tight economy and more importantly, tight wallets, that’s good for shoppers. LaMore’s site goes one step further and incorporates a “friends blog” into the website where shoppers can connect and discuss their favorite styles and designers. Women can also “pick a friend” from the friends blog and friends are from all over—Birmingham, Ala., Hartford, Conn., Milwaukee, London, Paris and yes, even Madison.

Lands’ End
I would think the site’s most popular feature is the swim finder. Find mix and match separates, slenderizing suits, plus-size suits … the list goes on. It’s all there. Men will also find expanded swim options this summer with inseam length choices and more patterns and styles of shorts. Plus did you know that most of the swim stuff has UPF 50 sun protection? That’s right, kid’s, women’s and men’s swimwear all have built-in protection to block the sun’s harmful rays. Of course the site’s ever-popular casual and workwear clothing continues to be a hit.
Admit it: you loved your college years. Now relive them with Sconnie Nation’s printed T-shirts, mugs, knit hats, hoodies and much more. Plus you can custom design your own gear whether it’s for that upcoming college reunion, family reunion or work party.

This one’s a no-brainer. It’s gotten kudos from national pubs (Lucky, InStyle, etc. etc), plus, a few retailers here and there have mentioned it to me as a site they look to for stellar web design. It doesn’t hurt that this site features the uber-trendiest, of-the-moment looks by Marc Jacobs, McQ–Alexander McQueen, Theory, Loeffler Randalleven Lauren Conrad. Seriously, they’ve got so many brands it’s overwhelming. Check out the lookbook that literally builds outfits for you and lets shoppers buy the entire look (how easy is that??), bolster your wardrobe with “Bop Basics” and view the “Top Sellers” tab to keep up with what’s flying off the site.
Another shop that’s got a stronghold on high fashion and the latest cool brands (Tory Burch, rag & bone, Gryson) in the city. Twigs has refocused a lot of their energies on their website, and it shows. Shoppers can pick an item (I chose Rock & Republic jeans) and check out up-close views of the item as well as a top or another item that’s paired with it. The website’s clean, uncluttered look is another bonus for me.

Other intriguing, locally owned stores’ websites:—This modern global furnishings store was started by Lands’ End alum Natasha Vora. Her web savvy is evident with an attractive, easy to navigate website.—Based out of Evansville, founder Amelia Royko Maurer sends out e-newsletters with “Green Tips of the Week.” Her eco-friendly website’s got kitchen goods, apparel, baby stuff and more.—Your Scandinavian furnishings headquarters. Perfect for those who love the iconic and sinuous “Le Klint” hanging pendant lamp or the utilitarian, clean look of Nordic furnishings.

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