Montrose House Becomes Beloved Women Entrepreneurs’ New Store
Inside Universal Standards' Welcoming New MeccaBY Heather Staible // 10.31.19
The house Universal Standard took over on Hawthorne Street offers flexible spaces for things like yoga.
Universal Standard offers elemental wardrobe options.
Polina Veksler and Alexandra Waldman.
Universal Standard sizing ranges from 00 to 40.
Universal Standard denim is offered in a variety of styles and washes.
The Universal Standard collection includes denim, as well as skirts, dresses and sweaters.
Cool, welcoming tones and comfortable furniture encourage community and conversation.
Dressing rooms are spacious and filled with light.
Artist Noriko Shinohara.
Universal Standard’s new Houston location is tucked away on a tree-lined Montrose street, but for Houston fans of this inclusive, high quality brand, the secret’s been out for quite a while.
Universal Standard has come a long way in a short amount of time. The brand is rooted in friendship and two women’s mutual love of shopping. Except when Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler went shopping together for a business event, Waldman, a size 20, was relegated to one rack of uninspired clothing hidden in the housewares department.
Veksler had the whole store at her fingertips and asked the question:”Why can’t we shop at the same stores?”
Waldman, a former fashion journalist, and Veksler, a senior executive at major financial and technology firms, answered the question, investing their own money in the company in 2015. The duo sold a six-piece capsule collection of wardrobe-building basics out of Waldman’s New York apartment in record time, and knew they were on the cusp of a fashion revolution.
There’s no straight size/plus size language found on the website. Instead, Universal Standard lives up to its name with sizing ranging from 00 to 40. The clothing isn’t flashy or fast, either.
The collection offers a wealth of pieces that are elemental to every woman’s wardrobe. Skirts, sweaters, ponte pants, joggers, dresses, lounge wear, athletic apparel and denim comprise the Universal Standard playbook, with an emphasis on quality fabrics. With the exception of a python print, most of the offerings are solid colors, easily mixed with other things. That was, after all, the point of the brand.
“These are elevated essentials that aren’t insanely trendy, but are also pieces that evolve with you,” says Angela Brugioni, Universal Standard’s head of retail and experience. “You can create a beautiful wardrobe that every woman deserves but can’t always be found.”
Universal Standard Embraces Actual Stores
In a time when most brick-and-mortar stores are shuttering, Universal Standard is bucking the trend, opening innovative and welcoming spaces across the country. It was clear from online purchasing that Houston was a strong market for the brand — No. 3 in the nation — so opening a location in the booming city was a no-brainer. The headscratcher was finding just the right place that allowed Universal Standard to continue the philosophy of 1:1 spaces.
“We have to have a place where they can experience the brand, the product and community. This is definitely a different concept when it comes to retail. It can be forgettable,” Brugioni says. “For us, it was really about how can you make it emotional and make it memorable. We want to cultivate an environment that’s about authentic connections.”
Over the span of a year, the Universal Standard team found what they were looking for, based on feedback from Houston shoppers and the brand’s own sense of self. A two-story home in Montrose (with plenty of designated parking) fit the bill, and met Veksler’s desire for the Houston location to be an actual house.
“Polina wants people to come in and take off your shoes, and come and be our friend,” Brugioni says. “This house just struck the chord.”
The result is a welcoming space that only hints at being an actual boutique. High ceilings, natural light and greenery welcome customers who can shop from copper racks lining the walls of the downstairs rooms.
Inclusivity is found in furniture that accommodates a wide range of body types, wide doorways and a first-floor dressing room. Whole rooms are converted to dressing rooms, with comfy, eclectic furniture and shelving that showcases clothing and shoes.
The Universal Standard sales model allows for an intimate shopping experience, so the preference is for customers to make an appointment so they have unlimited time with a stylist. However, Brugioni said if someone walks in, they will do their best to accommodate them. The boutique is open seven days a week.
Brugioni is sincere about Universal Standard approaching retail differently. The house on Hawthorne Street is available to customers who want to host luncheons, donor thank you parties and other appropriate events.
“We want to give back and say thank you,” Brugioni says.
The company reached into the Houston art community, working with the Deborah Colton Art Gallery for the interior decor, as well as Noriko Shinohara, for local color and personality. The house feels like a breath of fresh air, wrapped in the sunset hues.
“Every corner you take, there’s something new,” Brugioni says. Just like with Universal Standard.