November 2009

TAFFETA: The Art of Fashion

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Put Yourself In The Picture At Taffeta

If flipping through style magazines has you befuddled about what to wear, you are not alone. Unless you are over-tall, under-age and under-weight, chances are what you see on the printed page will not fit your body or your lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention.

According to Taffeta co-owners, mother/daughter team, Gianna Landwehr and Sonia Hunt, fashion photos are a form of art and are not necessarily intended as everyday street looks. “The Europeans—the Italian and the French—have a knack for putting art into the photo to fantasize for the people,” said Gianna. “It’s un-wearable, but the fantasy is a calling that attracts you to a particular designer.”

“A person may like what she sees in a magazine, but she may not be able to walk out in purple leggings and a yellow hat,” continued Sonia. “The everyday [significance] comes from wanting something special and not wanting to look like every other person you see. It’s a matter of mixing the art with the person,” she explained.

The making of a style maven

Helping customers interpret fashion and “put themselves in the picture” is what Gianna and Sonia do best— and they seem to come by it naturally. Originally from Rimini, Italy, Gianna describes growing up in a culture where fashion is important business. “It is their living,” she said, pointing out the quality, durability and longevity of the clothing. “The French and Italians see the fashion, but they don’t see it as ‘only for now, and next year you have to throw it away.’ They are dealing with fashion, but it transcends,” she said.

Gianna attributes her personal panache to the environment in which she was reared and to her stylish mother. There’s no denying she has an artistic flair all her own, as does her daughter.

“We’re all surrounded by art,” said Sonia, who holds a master’s degree in art from Chapel Hill. Like her mother, she has a sharp eye for design, a strong sense of personal style and an air of relaxed confidence. Her fashion savvy is due, in part, to her art background, she says, but she also credits her cultural experiences and upbringing. “Being from Europe, you’re always used to a new trend. For me it’s very comfortable. But I see how people are not. They have a desire to wear it, but for them, it’s new and different and they’re terrified.”

Easing customers’ fears and inspiring their style and confidence is Sonia’s specialty. “I’ve worked with women my whole life [as a garden designer, teacher and mentor],” she said, “so it’s always been sort of part of who I am. For me, the transition to retail fashion was kind of a natural understanding.”

The birth of a boutique

Prior to moving to Hilton Head Island, Gianna lived in England and Bermuda before moving back to Italy in the 1970s to start a business (a 33-room hotel) with her Swiss husband, Peter. “At that time there was lots of socialism and Red Brigades—all this kind of nonsense. I was not used to it,” said Gianna. “I saw those things and I really didn’t like it.”

Taking advantage of a special visa made available to them as U.S. business investors, the Landwehrs packed up and moved to Hilton Head Island. Opening a restaurant in 1980 (The Cookery, which was located in Heritage Plaza), they later invested in a second restaurant, Little Venice, at Shelter Cove Harbour, which Peter still owns today. But at that time, he had a partner who opted out, leaving Gianna no choice but to run it while Peter managed the original restaurant.

“After four years, I said, ‘this is crazy,’” said Gianna. It was always her dream to own a fashion boutique, and opportunity was poised to knock. One evening, as she closed Little Venice, she noticed a corner shop, abandoned by its former tenants, its windows wrapped up in paper, like a gift she was destined to open. She immediately called the landlord to reserve the 650-square-foot space.

In spite of the doubters, including her husband who predicted she would be bankrupt in no time, Gianna was determined to succeed. She went to the shows and sought advice from the owner of her favorite boutique in Italy. “I was kind of scared, because I had never done this before,” she said. But her friend helped guide her. “She opened the door for me with some good Italian lines. There was a French company that used to sell in Italy, and I went to them. I never went to New York, because I wanted to be something very different,” said Gianna.

She quickly learned the ropes. “The key is to sell something every day,” she said. “And I did—even if I had to be blue in my face at the end of the day.”

Indomitable spirit

But the challenges of business ownership would pale in light of what was to come. Less than a year after opening Taffeta, Gianna was faced with a devastating cancer diagnosis. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I have to close. The doctor told me I had two years of living, maybe,” she said. Determined to survive, she asked God to give her five years so that she could see her children go to college. Meanwhile, she underwent a series of experimental treatments and, at the same time, subscribed to every natural remedy she could find. “I tried everything,” she said. “I went on, and at the end of five years, I said, ‘God, thank you for the five years; now do whatever you want.”

It has been 19 years since her diagnosis, and Gianna is still fighting, both in body and spirit. She compares her battle to that of the spruce in her yard. About the same time that her chance of recovery was deemed hopeless, there was a sick plant in her garden, she said. “There was a little green shoot. I said, ‘Come on. You are like me—dying. If I water you, maybe…’”

It’s still there. Enormous.

Like the tree, Gianna not only survived, but thrived. In 2004, she took over the space next door, expanding her store to 1,750 square feet. This year, as she prepares to pass the baton to Sonia, she reflects on the joy she has experienced. “I have done my own little show. I did what I liked most, and I enjoyed every day of my 20 years that I spent there.”

Working with the fashion brings her great satisfaction, she said. But equally exciting are the relationships she has formed with customers, from all over the U.S., who return regularly to shop in her unique boutique.

Discover your style

If fashion is a fantasy, its soul is style, and that’s what you’re after. From casual wear to evening wear, in sizes equivalent to U.S. 2-16, Taffeta truly has something for everyone. Be sure to ask about the world’s most wearable pants. Peek inside the jewelry case and experience the art that elevates your outfit and completes your look.

Put yourself in the picture. Stop by today and let Sonia and her staff show you how to wear beautiful European fashions—your way, every day—with confidence and élan.

Taffeta is a European boutique, located on the corner, just to the right of the
Neptune statue at Shelter Cove Harbour. For directions or more information,
call (843) 842-6767.

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