Known for her cult swimsuits and resort wear, fashion designer Mara Hoffman and her team were considering the Hamptons for her brand’s first-ever retail pop-up this summer. But instead of the beach, they ultimately chose Hudson, New York, where a younger, hipper group of city-dwellers have fled during the pandemic.
“We had an open mind. We were going to look at the Hamptons, we were going to look at Miami, we were going to look upstate,” said Macarena Cifuentes, commercial vp of Mara Hoffman. “We were spending a lot of time upstate and seeing the influx of New Yorkers coming to the area,” she said. “There was definitely a customer there.”
Even prior to the pandemic in 2019, the Hudson Valley was described by the New York Times as “the new Hamptons” due to a flood of vacation home buyers from New York City. That trend has only accelerated as city professionals flocking to Hudson made it one of the “Zoom towns” that have emerged in vacation spots across the country. They’ve also included Aspen, Colorado and Bozeman, Montana. Real estate prices in Columbia County, where Hudson is located, increased by 40% in 2020.
And now, the retailers have followed. While the Hamptons has long been a hotspot for summer retail pop-ups, Hudson has welcomed more fashion and beauty brands catering to the moneyed clientele in the area. The city’s Warren Street has been growing more upscale over the past several years, and the pandemic crowds have especially piqued newer retailers’ interest.
“I don’t think there’s any available storefronts at the moment,” said Cifuentes. “I remember being there last summer and definitely seeing a lot more open ones.”
The location has paid off for retailers. Hudson-based fragrance brand Source Adage, for example, had “its best year ever” since opening in 2015, said its co-founder Christopher Draghi. Sales have nearly doubled thanks to the rise of new homebuyers or second homeowners making their upstate house a permanent base.
“In 2019, mid-week was really quiet,” he said of store foot traffic. “There’s a lot more activity because people have moved up [here]. People haven’t returned the office.” Among other retailers in Hudson, “everyone has had the same story of how their retail sales last year were their highest ever.”
The Mara Hoffman pop-up splits a space with fashion retailer Wylde, which was opened by Brand Assembly founder Hillary France in the summer of 2020. France moved from the city to her Hudson vacation house full-time during the pandemic and operates the shared summer pop-up, as well as a standalone boutique, a weekend market and a cafe. The boutique sells indie fashion favorites such as Rachel Comey, Dôen and Ajaie Alaie.
A number of designers are making upstate New York their home base. Hoffman has an upstate home south of Hudson. She is joined by new transplants Nikki Chasin, who also has a Hudson boutique, Ty McBride of Intentionally Blank and Shaina Mote of her namesake brand. These brands are sold at Wylde, and Intentionally Blank also has its own Hudson boutique.
Over the past decade, Hudson’s shopping scene had been known primarily for its antique shops, but those are now making way for a widening array of high-fashion choices. At boutique Kasuri, for example, visitors can find labels such as Comme des Garçons, Eckhaus Latta and Rick Owens.
The burgeoning upstate fashion scene is joined by beauty. The Mara Hoffman pop-up sells Tata Harper, and The Quiet Botanist boutique offers products by Osea, Furtuna Skin, upstate-based Alder New York and Mount Lai. Wylde features a range of local brands like “farm-to-face” brand Apis Apotheca, along with a wider range of indie beauty labels including Noto Botanics and Curie. In August 2020, the founders of Fresh Beauty, Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg, opened boutique hotel The Maker in downtown Hudson.
Still, the Hamptons retain their crown as the New York vacation destination for luxury brands, which quickly followed clients fleeing the city during the pandemic. In 2021, Gucci opened a permanent Easthampton store in May, while Manolo Blahnik, Tod’s, Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino are a few of the brands with Hamptons summer pop-ups. For now, Hudson’s retail scene has a distinctly different vibe.
“If we’re talking luxury — the big brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci or Celine — I don’t want to say ever, but in the near future, I don’t see that ever really infiltrating the Hudson Valley,” said France. “I don’t think it’s the mentality.” According to her, the people that make their homes upstate “want to support small, purpose-driven brands. They want to find their hidden gems.”
The Mara Hoffman pop-up, for example, was decorated to be “something that is welcoming,” with furniture from Hoffman’s Brooklyn apartment, artwork and plants, said Cifuentes. “I feel like when you walk into the space, it feels warm.” Currently, the brand’s plan is to keep its upstate pop-up open through October 31 and open a physical store in downtown Manhattan in the fall.
With real estate prices climbing, yet still more affordable than the Hamptons, Hudson’s new city transplants tend to be the “younger creative generation,” said France. “One person told me that upstate New York is for creativity, and the Hamptons is for consumption. That’s kind of true.”
With more creatives in town, the social scene in Hudson remains “very easygoing,” said Draghi. While the Hamptons tend to be associated with glamorous parties to see and be seen, in Hudson, “no one ever leads with who they are or what they do, or what their resume is,” he said. “No one seems to care to impress.”
“There’s still something a bit raw about it, which I think is really appealing, especially for people in the creative field,” said Draghi of Hudson. “That said, there are Lamborghini SUVs outside, too.”