Men at Work

As a return to the IRL office heats up, Nancy Pearlstein of Relish re-introduces menswear at her beloved DC boutique.

By Katie Bianco

There is a scene in the original Sex and the City where Carrie, getting ready for what she thinks is her final goodbye to the elusive Mr. Big, greets her newest pair of Manolo Blahniks with an amorous “Hello, Lover.” 

Regardless of what one thinks of how the show has held up through today’s modern lens, it did show that a love affair with fashion can be just as exhilarating as a real-life romance.

Nancy Pearlstein, owner of DC-base boutique Relish, would tend to agree.

She doesn’t want you to come into her store just to shop. “I want you to get romanced by what’s here,” says the Boston native. 

Pearlstein’s boutique–located in Georgetown’s luxury retail destination Cady’s Alley–has been a go-to for Washington women for more than a quarter century. She stocks a range of high-end brands, all classic “with a modern edge” to outfit those in the conservative capital who want to step outside of the Ann Taylor aesthetic. 

“Relish has a very strong point of view and when you walk in the store, it’s very funny, people either look around and don’t like it or don’t get it and walk out,” says Pearlstein. “But there’s a group who come in and they love every single thing about it. It has a point of view and that point of view is their point of view. So there’s enough people out there that can relate to it.”

Through economic ups and downs, fast-fashion trends and even a pandemic that saw the rise of waist-up only dressing for zoom, Pearlstein’s success in the DC fashion market has remained steadfast.

And this fall, she’s introducing (or rather, re-introducing) menswear to her boutique. 

“In the last five years a lot of guys have been coming into the store and asking for [menswear],” explains Pearlstein. “Menswear is my first love and I like the direction menswear is going in right now. I just feel like the timing is correct.”

Pearlstein’s love of menswear runs deep. The daughter of Murray Pearlstein, the proprietor of the famous store, Louis Boston (which had its roots in a hat shop owned by her great grandfather), Pearlstein joined the family business after graduating college.

Despite her family ties, she started in the shipping room and worked her way up to selling men’s suiting. She then launched a women’s division and was later promoted to vice president of merchandising, where she handled mens sportswear for 15 years. 

She later moved on from the family business and worked at Mark Shale in Chicago for a number of years. But her entrepreneurial spirit finally gave in and she decided to go out on her own. At the urging of her brother, who lives in DC, she opened Relish.

The original Relish carried both men’s and women’s clothing. In the 90s–when the suit-and-tie uniform was king among DC’s army of lawyers, lobbyists and politicos–her slightly fashion forward outlook didn’t sell well and she pivoted to a womenswear-only boutique.

But fast forward three decades to a DC that is also home to creatives, tech entrepreneurs and an overall more fashionable scene, and Pearlstein is bringing back her “first love.” 

“I think [menswear] has evolved. When I did it before there was just the beginning of softer suitings, more experimental outerwear,” says Pearlstein. “Now there’s a more utilitarian point of view. Men aren’t going to the office as much. Suiting has a more washed and beat up look, comfortable feel. Colors are more interesting.”

Her newest foray into menswear will include brands like Dries Van Noten, Marni, R13, Songs for the Mute and Sacai. 

Her 6,000-square-foot boutique started carrying men’s options in early October and, like her women’s clothing, Pearlstein sources brands primarily from Milan and Paris (though labels from England, Australia and Japan have also found their way into the store).

And despite a shift to more casual looks, Pearlstein is banking on the fact that “Men deep down still want to look good.”

That, and the vibe her clothing selections offer: “You’ll lust for it. You have to have that lust factor.”

Hello lover, indeed.