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There’s a certain type of store that’s guaranteed placement on any fashion-focused city guide. Known for their curatorial cool and, just as often, their Instagram feeds, these boutiques present a formidable (and formidably consistent) aesthetic that’s as much for sale as any of their physical offerings. Which is to say: You can picture them even if you’ve never been to them. (Think: San Francisco’s General Store, The Webster in Miami, New York’s Kirna Zabete.) The worst of these are intimidating and obscenely priced, but the best are as welcoming as they are edited.
Pilot & Powell, a three-month-old boutique in New Orleans’ lush Garden District, is the latter. Opened by longtime friends Coeli Hilferty and Kathryn Bullock and carrying a mix of upscale designer brands like 3.1 Phillip Lim, Ellery, and Rachel Comey, plus contemporary denim, statement accessories, and use-your-fingers beauty products, Pilot & Powell offers a particular brand of warmth and indulgence that feels right at home in the Crescent City, even as it serves a savvy business purpose.
“We wanted it to feel like you could sit down, have a conversation, and hang out there all day,” Bullock explains. “The longer someone is in our space, the more likely it is that they're going to find something they love and feel like they can't leave without having it.”
Hilferty and Bullock originally met through mutual friends and bonded over their love of fashion. (In a scene out of a platonic comedy, the pair, who got engaged eight months apart, had a moment of panic upon realizing they’d both, separately, chosen non-bridal J. Mendel dresses for the big day. A frantic search through their respective iPhoto revealed all was well: Coeli’s was a structured silk faille, Kathryn’s dove gray and ethereal.)
Seven year later, Pilot & Powell was born. That the store took the maiden names of its owners’ maternal grandmothers is a fitting twist on tradition for a city as steeped in it as New Orleans. “I can say this because I’m from here, but New Orleanians are kind of resistant to change,” Bullock explains. “And there’s been such an influx of non-New Orleanians to this city. The post-Katrina landscape is very different. We have a lot of New Yorkers and a lot of people from LA here now, people that love the slower pace and the culture of New Orleans but are used to certain amenities and a style of shopping that was accessible to them in these larger cities.”
Indeed, there are a lot of reasons to go to New Orleans — music, Mardi Gras, food, the fact that you can get your drink in a to-go cup at bars — but shopping generally hasn’t been one of them. “If you were looking for brands that weren’t your typical logo-driven Louis Vuitton or Chanel, there weren't many options,” says Bullock.
“There is a huge opportunity for growth here,” Hilferty, a Philadelphia native who moved to New Orleans from New York City in 2009, adds. “There could be three more stores like us and people would still be excited. We have so many contemporary shops, so many college girl ‘going-out’ stores and old-guard interior design stores. But there was a call for a fresher and more refined aesthetic.”
That aesthetic — feminine and architectural with mixed textures, muted pinks, and sun-lit grays — is thanks, in part, to Logan Killen Interiors, an all-female design firm that also and conveniently recently opened its own retail outpost, Sunday Shop, just down the street. That spirit of small business collaboration is what also places Pilot & Powell at the center of New Orleans’ retail evolution.
But opening a brick-and-mortar boutique in the age of e-commerce is no small feat, though Hilferty and Bullock are quick to point out that they’re as digitally-minded as anyone. In fact, that’s precisely what sets Pilot & Powell apart from your average independent retailer. “Coeli and I both are obsessive Instagram stalkers, and that's one of the main ways we discover new brands. It's funny when you have that moment where a bunch of people you follow all hit on something at the same time.” That’s how they discovered Rejina Pyo, a Korean designer based in the UK who now sits alongside Marni and Proenza Schouler inside the store. (Bullock isn’t exaggerating when she says “obsessive;” when asked for a “few” examples of accounts they follow for inspiration, the pair sent along a list of 26 names.)
Their responsiveness is what also allows them to compete with retail giants both on the ground and digitally. “We’re a tiny team,” Hilferty points out. “We see something we like, we find the designer, and we’ll make an appointment the next day. We don’t have to go through some huge vetting process. That makes us really efficient and gives us the ability to stay not only on top of trends but things we think are exciting while they're still exciting. Larger stores can’t do that.”
On that note, the two have big plans to expand their digital footprint beyond their Instagram feed (an already worthwhile follow) and newly-launched Farfetch store. “We want the site to always feel fresh and current and not just like a landing page for our store,” Hilferty says. “We want it to be an extension of our brand.”