Where to Shop Now: Sui Generis Womenswear Boutique in the Castro

As seen in this weekend’s San Francisco Chronicle: (Check out the newly expanded glossy version in print every Sunday!)

The men behind the Sui Generis stores, Gabriel Yanez (left) and Miguel Lopez, built a clientele in Guadalajara, Mexico, but yearned to make a splash in San Francisco's fashion scene. Photography by Russell Yip / The Chronicle

It may not seem the most obvious choice to open a high-end womenswear boutique smack dab in the heart of the Castro, but for Miguel Lopez and Gabriel Yanez, going against the grain has always made perfect sense.

Never mind that the ailing economy has shuttered doors of retailers throughout the country. Since their move to the Bay Area in 2000 from Guadalajara, Mexico – where they produced their own men’s and women’s clothing lines, owned two ready-to-wear boutiques and dressed a small cadre of Mexican celebrities – this enterprising couple have had an eye on making their mark on the San Francisco fashion scene.

“We always wanted to open a store together here,” says Lopez, 40, who swiftly worked his way up from the stockroom at Max Mara Union Square to a senior sales associate at the downtown Ralph Lauren flagship, while Yanez, 41, made a business out of buying and selling clothes in the local thrift store market. “But we knew it wouldn’t be very easy.”

In 2008, Lopez and Yanez took the plunge and opened Sui Generis (“unique” in Latin), a small menswear consignment business in a storefront on Church Street, stocked at first with 1,500 pieces amassed from eight of their closest clotheshorse friends.

After growing a loyal following and a stable of about 400 regular consigners based in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Texas and New York, the couple decided to launch Sui Generis Illa, adding a bit of high-end femininity to the Castro retail mix.

Accessories at Sui Generis Ille. Photography by Russell Yip, San Francisco Chronicle.

The new 860-square-foot womenswear boutique in the former men’s space is a virtual jewel box of a shop that sells a curated mix of new, secondhand and vintage ready-to-wear and designer pieces. (The men’s store has since relocated just a few doors down the street with twice the square footage on Market Street.)

“People kept asking us why we would ever want to open a women’s store in the Castro,” says Lopez, whose penchant for classic glamour is inspired by the 1950s Mexican actress María Félix. “But we really love this neighborhood and are hoping to see more women come with their friends to hang out, eat and shop here, too.”

Sui Generis Illa may be just that draw for women the neighborhood needs, with its eclectic assortment of mostly high-end designer clothing and accessories, from a gently worn polka dot silk-chiffon print Christian Dior pleated ball skirt ($920) and a black leather Azzedine Alaia motocross jacket ($840), to a pair of mint-condition leopard print Christian Louboutin tassled mules ($320) and a chunky knit Catherine Malandrino shrug ($160).

As a nod to their Mexican heritage, Lopez and Yanez also carry new, one-of-a-kind cocktail dresses by Guadalajara designers Julia and Renata Franco, who design by draping fabric directly onto the dress form for a frothy, layered effect. Additional pieces from the designers’ spring 2011 collection will roll out in the store in the coming months.

“Fashion is a tough business,” says Lopez, “but what keeps us in (it) is our stylish and classic vision. … We never know what we will get next week in garments – and that keeps it interesting.”
Where to find Sui Generis

Sui Generis Ille: 2231 Market St., S.F.; (415) 437-2231.

Sui Generis Illa: 2265 Market St. S.F.; (415) 437-2265.

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