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BY BOB KRASNER | In the fashion world the next thing is always the best thing, unless it’s so retro that it’s cool. Mariann Marlowe, proprietor of the East Village clothing shop Enz’s, has been at both ends of the spectrum.
She started out selling Vivienne Westwood’s punk designs in the West Village when that was the cutting edge in 1974. Today, she is currently selling a mix of her own rockabilly- and burlesque-inspired fashions, as well as others, in her Second Ave. location, having made stops in between on St. Mark’s Place, the Hamptons and a brief detour into the world of body piercing.
Her original shop, at 49 Grove St., was “the first punk rock store in New York City,” she said in a recent interview. Shopping trips to London kept the store stocked with the threads that New York punk rockers couldn’t get anywhere else. Those were the days when Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Joey Ramone and Andy Warhol would drop by. The Internet didn’t exist, so there was no way to do a Google search for “punk rock clothing.” Sid and Nancy were alive (if not exactly well) and the East Village looked like a war zone. Marlowe survived, where many did not, in part because she kept her focus.
“I was a wild child,” she said, “but I was responsible. And I didn’t do drugs.”
The city has since changed and just being a survivor of the ’70s is a badge of honor; the fact that Marlowe still has a store is a minor miracle. It was a “mom and pop” store back then, but the husband that Marlowe started the business with is an ex and N.Y.U. has done its best to populate the neighborhood with squeaky-clean college kids. The racks that once sported ripped up T-shirts held together by safety pins now hold ’50s-inspired cocktail dresses, polka-dot swimsuits and leopard skin gloves.
Helen Mirren and Norah Jones have stepped in as the celebrity clientele, and the chaotic soundtrack of punk — The Clash, the Ramones, the New York Dolls — has been replaced by the upbeat rockabilly of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys. But Marlowe is one of the reasons that the East Village still has character. She runs the store from her heart — corporate entities like the nearby Bettie Page store just don’t have the soul that fills her tiny shop.
She continues to look to the future, with an eye on possibly opening a new store in Williamsburg. Inspiration continues as well: A vision of cherries and skulls that came to her in her kitchen is on its way to becoming an original outfit that’s been made by hand in America, rather than the outsourced norm. If you’re looking for copies of Marlowe’s style you might just see them around: People regularly sneak photos in the shop (not allowed, of course) in an effort to duplicate her template.
While the imitators may manage to replicate a design or two, there’s one thing that can’t be copied.
“People always ask me what my formula is,” Marlowe said. “I have no formula. My life is my formula.”
Enz’s is located at 125 Second Ave., between St. Mark’s Place and E. Seventh St., and online at http://www.enzsnyc.com/ .