State Street is a hodgepodge of mainstream urbanity: Urban
Outfitters, Bivouac, Cosi and Stucchi’s. It’s got
everything you need to feel cool, look cool and act cool.

Laura Wong
Henrietta Fahrenheit carries only independent designers at their boutique. (Christine Stafford/Daily)

However, if you’d rather stand out from the hordes of
Cosmo disciples, Henrietta Fahrenheit, a new boutique located in
Nickels Arcade, is the shop for you. HF, sandwiched between two
other gift stores, lends a hip, alterna-rock vibe to the calm
dignity of the Arcade. The little shop, which recently relocated to
Ann Arbor from Ypsilanti, is painted a vibrant red and announces
itself as “Indie Fashion and Gifts.”

Stacks of Crimewave, Venus and other lesser-known magazines lie
against the back wall; colorful racks of unique, eye-catching
clothing are scattered throughout the store. Zippers, buttons,
bright stitching and creative combinations individualize the
merchandise. Owner Jennifer Albaum, says that her business is
“developed on the independent vibe. I wanted to open a place
where people could get things that were unique and edgy.”

As soon as you enter, the atmosphere hits with mellow,
indescribable music that falls right between soothing and upbeat.
HF carries everything from handbags to T-shirts to jewelry, and the
selection is always changing. The unique thing about HF is that it
stocks only merchandise from independent designers. Its most
mainstream brand is Built by Wendy, an independent clothing line
that is sold in many upscale boutiques as well as Barney’s in
New York. According to Albaum, many people from New York who now
live in Ann Arbor come to her store simply because HF is the only
store in Michigan that carries Built by Wendy.

Otherwise, every item in the store is from an independent
designer — and, often, is handmade. Brands like Who’s
the Freak from Boston and Leroy’s Girl from Philadelphia have
only five or six people working for them. Everything is personally
designed and sewn by hand.

“It’s that D.I.Y. feel and that D.I.Y. mentality. I
think that’s what makes it special, is that you can buy
something from HF and not see it on someone else when you walk down
the street. Plus, everything I get from [those labels] is such
amazingly high quality,” said Albaum.

In addition to the handmade clothing, all the jewelry in the
store comes from metalworkers. She continued, “I feel like
anyone can take some vintage beads and string them together, but it
takes real talent to melt down metal and turn it into something you
can wear, so we only use metal-smithers.” Albaum does not
deal with fashion representatives — she goes directly to the
designer for every piece of merchandise that HF stocks.

When asked about how HF got started, Albaum laughs and explains
that its beginnings lay in the fact that she is a shop-a-holic.
“I have some weird gene in me that just makes me shop. About
five years ago, I was shopping in Ann Arbor and I just
couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, conversation
pieces that were interesting and individual. I thought that if I
was looking for these things, other people must be too, so I
decided to open a shop here in Ann Arbor where people could get
unique items, instead of having to go to New York or Chicago or San
Francisco.

“I came into this as a shopper, really,” she
confessed. “I have absolutely no background in retail, so
everything I chose was based on my own personal taste —
things I would like to buy. This has really helped me out and in
the two and a half years I’ve had the store. I’ve
really developed a sense for what people like. All of my thinking
comes from a shopper’s point of view and I think that really
makes a difference.” Albaum’s emphasis on the
individual is the key factor to the store. In a world of identical
closets, HF provides an eclectic touch that adds extra spice to any
wardrobe.

HF is extremely customer-oriented. Albaum proudly says that her
favorite part of owning HF is making her customers happy. “I
love seeing how excited they get when they find something really
cool and different. I feel like I’m increasing the
independent community and providing a connection to this creative,
individual culture. We’re trying to take the corporateness
out of shopping and we’re promoting the designers as
well.” Those who desire truly distinctive pieces will find HF
a great place to shop. Besides the one-of-a-kind merchandise, the
service is friendly and comfortable. Albaum says happily “I
like to say that our items have attitude, but we don’t.
We’re super friendly.”

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