I t’s been said that it’s better to look good than feel good, but in Westville, a woman doesn’t have to choose just one. Where Whalley Avenue meets Blake Street, a pair of mom-and-pop—indeed, husband-and-wife—businesses, connected at the hip, are designed to help women do both.
We’re talking about Soho Hair Group Day & Medi Spa, a fixture in this neighborhood since 1980, and its next-door neighbor Odeon Boutique, now celebrating its 30th year. Whereas Soho, the brainchild of Pat Sabatasso, does the hairdressing (and much more, from skin-nourishing seaweed wraps to therapeutic massages), Odeon, the domain of Lyn Sabatasso, Pat’s wife, does the dressing, using the capes, sweaters, denim, handbags, costume jewelry, footwear, eyewear and plenty more that fill the shop’s neat, modern layout.
With fall fashion upon us, it’s the right time to discuss trends with Lyn, who’s been fascinated with couture since her childhood in the late 1960s—most of which, she confesses, was spent in Catholic school uniforms. “But my mother was a fantastic dresser, who took me to New York City a lot,” she says. After a professional detour into law (she’s no longer a practicing attorney), she jumped at the chance to return to her original passion. “I love texture and design, whether you’re applying it to clothing, a window or a room.”
In its early years, Odeon—which takes its name from the famed cinemas in England, and has since gotten heaps of annual “best of” awards from publications around town—devoted itself to spotlighting London imports. “But as styles changed, and the emphasis shifted to natural fibers and relaxed fit, the shop’s inventory became more American,” Sabatasso says. Now, California labels predominate; in particular, the Lithuanian linen jackets, slacks, dresses and skirts of San Francisco’s ever popular Flax Designs. “We’ve been a Flax retailer since the company first emerged,” she says. Odeon was the first shop in New Haven County, she adds, to sell Crocs and Uggs. “The first couple of years we carried Uggs, we had to reduce them to half-off. No one knew what they were. I didn’t get them at first, either.” Still, she remained loyal—this is the 21st year she’ll have them in stock.
Other current favorites include dresses by Italy’s Patrizia Luca and New York’s Lynn Ritchie, colorful and easy-to-wear clogs by Dansko of Pennsylvania and Odeon’s top-selling slacks, made by Lisette of Montréal—a staple of Oprah Winfrey’s wardrobe. “Their fit and wash-and-wearability can’t be beat,” says Sabatasso. “You can wear them three times a week for five years and they’ll still look the same as when you bought them. What else can you say that about?”
In reviewing the racks at Odeon, a number of themes emerge:
Mixed media. One big fall trend is garments that mix elements and textures, combining—for example—faux leather with soft stretch fabrics. “That began in the Asian market; they’re crazy with it,” Sabatasso says. “Now, it’s everywhere.” Many of these items feature subtle and sophisticated zipper detailing. “Any kind of texture-mixing is huge,” she adds, “not just tactile but visual, too.”
Convertible designs. Like that patterned dress, jacket, pair of slacks? Well, turn it inside out for a new look in the same garment, whether it’s a solid color on the inside or the same pattern inverted. “I think this idea is driven by the economy,” Sabatasso says. “It’s like having two items for the price of one, which really stretches your dollar.”
Faux is fundamental. “No one uses real leather anymore,” Sabatasso says. “They make faux leather so expertly these days that you honestly wouldn’t know the difference.” Rejoice, vegans: the handbags and wallets Odeon stocks, made by companies like Sharileah and Vieta, never contain any animal skins, which may explain why their price tags seem so reasonable. “I try to keep the price of the bags I sell down to $100, even $80.”
Statement accessories. Bold is beautiful these days: colorful flowing scarves, whether bulky or silky; extra-wide bangle bracelets; large patterned bags; and “boho” necklaces—collars with a fringe of seed beads in autumn colors. “The latter are very big in L.A. right now,” Sabatasso says. “You can find them in Nordstrom, but nobody wants to spend $75 on this look.” Odeon features a small selection available for $30 and under, she says, “so that you can afford something that’s right on target.”
Looking ahead to spring, I’m told we can anticipate cinched waists, wide belts, a growth in popularity of spring coats and plenty of pastels, especially pink. Sabatasso points out that you may find all of these in big department stores, but not the kind of personal attention she and her trusted senior sales associate Sofia Beaudoin provide. “Customers always compare us to the small shops they love in Boston or Key West. When a shop owner is doing the buying, you can feel it.” She loves helping them pick the perfect ensemble—“I have an eye for what looks good.”
Just don’t expect to find much in red, a piece of the spectrum that’s largely absent from Odeon’s inventory. “It’s the only color I don’t really like; I’m not sure why,” she says. “Maybe it’s because it’s the only color that wears you—first, you notice the red garment, then you notice the woman. But if anyone wanted me to special-order it, I certainly would.”
These are difficult economic times for all small businesses, and the shops in Westville are no exception. But she’s grateful to have an anchor in Soho, her husband’s business, which takes great pride its staff of rare master hair colorists, and is currently undergoing a renovation to add its own private bridal “prep” room. “We’re into our third generation of customers there,” she says, “and a lot of them support Odeon. They get their hair done, get made up and come in here for a new outfit. That works terrifically for me.”
918 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Written by Patricia Grandjean. Photographed by Dan Mims; image depicts, from left to right, Lyn Sabatasso and Sofia Beaudoin.