A pedestrian shuffling past Bar Dogwood in downtown Oakland might not think to look up, but if she did, she would be in for a dazzling surprise. Perched above Telegraph Avenue, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, is Runway Style House, a boutique that features a kaleidoscopic assortment of contemporary, bohemian, locally designed fashion.
Owner Alanna Rayford describes the boutique as a "grassroots version of Anthropologie." She hopes that city-dwellers walking on the street below will be intrigued by the sight of shoppers mingling throughout the studio or by an alluring slice of color in their peripheral vision. "You know that strange feeling when someone is looking at you?" Rayford said. "We want the store to be that for people walking by."
Rayford and her colleague, Shantelle Brumfield, have created a world of visual delights. At night, strings of incandescent lights illuminate the boutique's eclectic collection of modern fashions: vintage wools in warm earth tones, blouses featuring Ugandan tribal patterns, hand-printed fabrics, fashionable flannels, essential black knitwear, and lush scarves in a spectrum of rich shades.
The boutique's handcrafted decor is another source of visual eye candy. In the back of the studio, a mass of clothes hangers that Rayford fashioned into a skirt hangs on a mannequin. The clothing racks are made of tree branches that she salvaged from the streets of Oakland and painted white.
Rayford and Brumfield constructed the studio to have more functionality than your average retail store. "We wanted to create a space where it wasn't just a boutique, but a space where people could have an experience," said Rayford. Indeed, aside from selling clothes, the boutique also features a kitchen, a home section, a seating area, and free wi-fi. Between surfing the Internet, customers can peruse floral-patterned pillows and bars of soap that come in scents such as lemongrass and vanilla coffee. During the boutique's special nighttime events, they can also indulge in crème brûlée.
Runway Style House also offers workshops in sewing, crocheting, and soap-making. "People can come in and have fun and enjoy their lifestyle no matter what it is that they do," said Brumfield. "All the scenes are set for them."
Runway Style House is slowly growing as a platform for independent fashion designers to showcase their work, and soon it will undergo a transformation and rebranding as "Thorn and Thimble." Though it will remain in the same location, it will have a new entrance at 1635 Broadway (the current entrance is at 455 17th Street), which Rayford hopes will make the boutique more accessible. In the meantime, Runway Style House continues to be a source of imagination, artistic collaboration, and innovation in the world of underground Oakland fashion. "It's like Pandora's box," Rayford said. "You go in thinking that it's one thing, and then it's so much more."
Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated the role of Shantelle Brumfield. She is a colleague, not a business partner. This version has been corrected.