Her fashion paragon is Georgia O’Keeffe. And the shop Tiina Laakkonen ran for over a decade from a frame house on Route 27 in Amagansett, N.Y., halfway between East Hampton and Montauk, seems like the sort of place where you could imagine the legendary artist augmenting her chic if austere wardrobe — that is, if Georgia O’Keeffe had been dressed by the Row.
The shop, called Tiina the Store, offered a finely honed selection of minimalist, often eye-poppingly costly, designs for men and women — brands like Toogood, Arts & Science, Arpenteur or Dosa; heritage labels like Bergfabel, Elgin of Scotland and Wommelsdorff; or indies like the cult Italian designer Daniela Gregis. What it also provided was relief from the onslaught of luxury goods that have colonized retail on the storied East End of Long Island.
Come September, Tiina the Store is closing. As Ms. Laakkonen, 59, a former model, stylist (including for The New York Times) and gifted merchant, began to pack up, marking merchandise down by 50 percent, she sat for the edited interview below.
Why close a successful business?
There are a couple of reasons. When I started out, I thought, “I’m going to have a cute little store, sell a few of my favorite things, it’ll be sweet.” But when you open a business and it grows and grows, suddenly that’s all you do. For better or worse, it takes over your life. There was no way to put on the brakes.
And that is a problem how?
Look, it’s a great problem to have. But my life has been these 10-year cycles, whether in fashion or various creative jobs. After 10 years — actually, it’s just over 11 — I felt like I wanted to reboot.
What is a reboot in this context?
In my cycle of creativity — or whatever it is — the only way was to kill this version of the store and take a break. I needed to create a space where I could fine-tune what the next thing will be.
That’s a bit cagey.
This sounds completely mad, but I’d like to do something either way smaller or way bigger — a more highly curated, more highly edited version or else Tiina the Store on a department-store level.
No temptation to go over to the dark side, of fashion editorial?
That world as I knew it doesn’t exist. What we created here in retail struck a chord with a certain type of customer, and I’d like to use that knowledge. I heard all the time from my customers that there’s nowhere for them to shop.
Explain that for someone who has never visited East Hampton, where, as the decorator and lifelong local Tom Scheerer recently said, retail on Main Street once amounted to “musty, rickety floored haberdasheries, a 5-and-10-cent store and Dreesen’s, the butcher” and now resembles the luxury goods level in the Dubai Duty Free mall.
The aspirational retail world has been taken over by big luxury brands. That’s what they’ve done in East Hampton. But my customer is no longer aspirational. They don’t want logos or any of that stuff. They’re done.
Who are we talking about here?
My husband’s family has had a house out here for over 60 years. The Hamptons even 10 years ago was a different place. When we decided to open, I didn’t know any of those people on Further Lane.
Further Lane being Park Place on Monopoly but with hedges.
I had no concept of who those people were or how they dressed. But then people began showing up, and pretty soon you began to realize that, “Oh, this one is a billionaire, this one is a billionaire, and this one also is a billionaire.”
And what has your work as a retail anthropologist revealed?
For one thing, it’s unbelievable how wealthy these people are. They’ll have a huge house with a huge staff, and that $50 million house may be just one of many. They move around from New York to L.A. to Aspen to St. Barts’ — always where life is at its best. Still, what’s great about the Hamptons is that, in a way, you can’t tell who is really rich. We have guys walk in wearing casual shorts and T-shirts, and then you Google them later and, “Well, OK, he’s worth $3.7 billion.”
There’s rich and then there’s rich.
The ultrarich are the ones that need to land their super-big planes in Westhampton because if you have a real plane you don’t land it in East Hampton.
The runway’s too short.
That’s abstract stuff for the average Joe.
I’ve dealt a lot with, I suppose, celebrity and money and fame, but it’s not my world at all. What I’ve discovered is that those people are tired of shopping in stores that are like fashion dictatorships.
Are we veering here into “quiet luxury” territory?
Many of these people have incredible style, yet they don’t want Hermès or Louis Vuitton. Retail in general has lost that feeling of curation and point of view. You can get the same merchandise anywhere in any big city or online. That’s unappealing for customers who can basically have anything. At a certain point it’s just stuff to them.
Clearly they still want stuff or you’d have been out-of-business.
A store like mine appealed because people could discover labels they’d never heard of or seen. It’s a different idea of luxury. My aesthetic is not everybody’s aesthetic, but if you wanted beautiful things pulled from all over the world, this is your store.
Well, the building’s on the market, and the shop is closing in September. But I’ll be back in some form. I’m not emotionally attached to Tiina the Store. Ultimately, the reason for closing is that, rather than tweaking, it’s easier to shut the door. Move on. Chapter done.