By Brett Sholtis York Daily Record, Pa.
Nowadays, clothes shoppers are used to pulling a bunch of sizes off the rack and hoping one will fit.
Boutique owner Hilary Arthur is changing that for her customers, with a line of dresses that are custom fit, cut and sewn in York.
Tailored, locally made clothes may seem new to the generation that grew up buying velour track suits and designer jeans mass produced overseas. But Arthur said that her foray into tailor-made clothes actually hearkens back to fashion's early years.
"It's really a throwback to the way women used to shop," Arthur said, referring to the late 19th century and early 20th century, when Parisian haute couture designs, fabrics and embroidery were sold to independent tailors, who would custom-fit the clothes on demand.
Arthur, 36, grew up in Springettsbury Township, and worked for 14 years in New York City, holding corporate positions at Escada and Calvin Klein Collection. She returned to York in 2009, and in March 2013 opened Arthur & Daughter's boutique on 49 N. Beaver St., naming the store in honor of her two daughters, Eleanor and Violet.
Arthur said the boutique started as a consignment shop for designer labels like Louis Vuitton and Oscar de la Renta and quickly expanded to carry a variety of smaller, U.S.-made labels such as American Trench, Lobo Mau and Meredith Banzhoff.
She said her custom line came about naturally as she learned more about what her customers want.
"My customer is really confident, knows what she loves and loves having choices," Arthur said. "What's great about the dresses we're producing is that they straddle the line between classy and super dressy."
Arthur said she emphasizes special fabrics, sourcing materials such as double wool, pepper wool, suiting fabric and scuba fabric from places like the Garment District in New York and from Philadelphia and Reading.
Patricia Mears, New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology museum deputy director, said that, on a small scale, Arthur's custom designs are part of a reaction to mass-produced clothing.
"People want something unique," Mears said. "We're seeing a real rebirth, or growth, of custom-made."
Los Angeles' Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising instructor Nino Via said that hand-tailored clothes will always be a small market, both because of the cost and the work that goes into individual tailoring.
But Via said, on a small scale, custom-fitting could be very successful.
"There really aren't that many people doing it nowadays," Via said. "That should be her selling point: a good quality garment, but also a custom-made fitting to go along with it."
Arthur said she has produced and sold a few dozen custom pieces since she launched the line in September. The average price is about $225, with leather items going for around $500.
The clothes are made in a small workshop off of Beaver Street, and it's a family-and-friends affair.
Arthur recruited her father, Reed Miller, an engineer and management consultant, to be the pattern-maker.
Charlotte Bader of Manchester Township became the seamstress after hearing about Arthur's project in her rosary group.
Arthur recruited Leah Miller of Jackson Township-- no relation to Reed Miller-- to model the clothes after she walked into Arthur & Daughters one day.
Often, Arthur's younger daughter, Eleanor, accompanies her to the workshop.
Arthur said that, although New York City taught her everything she needed to know for her business, being able to work while surrounded by family and friends is something she could only do in York.
"You can't put a price on being able to have (Eleanor) here with me everyday," she said.