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Sick of COVID-19 sweatpants and tees, Beth Buccini designs her own line of clothing

‘Comfortable is not going to go away’ as people continue to work from home. Buccini said. ‘We’re all going to want to be comfortable.’

Frustrated by not being able to find the kind of casual clothes she wanted while months in  Zoom meetings stretched on, Beth Buccini designed her first collection of clothing.

The Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, resident’s line of dresses, T-shirts and masks will be sold in Kirna Zabête, her chic chain of four dress shops that stretch from Soho in New York City to Palm Beach, Florida, as well as online.

“It really started with the T-shirt,” Buccini said. “I was just sitting around all the time. I had been through my tees. I was bored with them. Too tight. Too long. Too loose.”

She wanted something with a little style.

“We’re are all on Zoom all the time doing meetings, so you want to have a little necklace or something,” she said. “I wanted a scoop neck with a bit of cap sleeves. I didn’t want it to be too tight or too loose, and I really wanted it to be made in America and to be sustainable.”

By the time she was done, the Kirna Zabête Exclusive Collection introduced this month included three dresses, three kinds of tees and a set of comfy face masks made from leftover T-shirt material.

Buccini, mother of four and wife of Rob Buccini of the Buccini/Pollin Group, believes people coping with the coronavirus lockdown have gotten used to “our sweatpant life.”

“So comfortable is not going to go away,” she said, as people continue to work from home. “We’re all going to want to be comfortable.”

Her dresses, tees and masks are made from cotton with a touch of stretch.

“We’ve made such progress with our technology with fabrics,” she said. “There’s no reason to buy fabrics that don’t feel good against your skin, that give a little movement with you and feel great.”

Buccini has loved putting outfits together since she was a child. She can remember what she wore on her first day of first grade, and in high school she kept a daily list of her outfits.

Her first jobs after earning her degrees in art history and French literature at the University of Virginia, were covering fashion, including being the fashion editor of New York Magazine. She’s owned Kirna Zabête — “fashion’s happy place” — since 1999. Familiar with how clothes are made and sold, designing her own line wasn’t a giant leap but was a lot of fun at such a dreary time.

The core of the collection is her three dresses, all designed to be forgiving for those who may be struggling to lose the COVID 15.

“I absolutely love a dress,” Buccini said. “By the time we had gotten into high summer, I was sick of my sweatpants. I wanted something that felt cute, but I wanted it to feel like you’re in a really comfortable nightgown, but you look really good.”

She said she had a closet full of print dresses, and her stores are full of them.

“But at the end of the day, I just wanted to throw something on that felt like a house dress, like old Italian women,” she said, laughing.

The collection’s three dresses are named for her two daughters.

“It was really personal for me to make them,” she said.

The Olympia is a glamorous, almost retro house dress in Kirna Zabête’s signature red ($425), given her oldest daughter’s middle name. The Virginia, named for Buccini’s younger daughter, is white with a looser fit and features a self-fabric tie that can be worn four ways to make the dress tight or loose ($395). The Josephine, a black sundress with simple shoulder straps, can be dressed up or down and is named for her oldest daughter ($425).

The sundress has been on her mind a long time. She started hunting for one last summer when she had a work trip to Europe, with a family vacation tacked on. She wanted a black sundress she could dress up for the Paris fashion shows, but dress down for the beach. 

“I couldn’t find one that I was satisfied with,” she said. 

Now she sells one, along with three different kind of T-shirts.

Her scoop neck tee ($115) features the cap sleeves she wanted, back seam detail and is cut to flatter all figures with a loose fit around the mid-section and ideal hip-length hemline. The sleeveless, crew neck muscle tee ($95) is designed to not be too tight or too loose and look great by itself or layered under something else. The longer sleeve fitted ribbed tee ($115) features a lower hemline so it can be worn on its own or paired with a blazer or slip dress. 

Kirna Zabête’s comfortable masks all have names — Read My Lips, Speak From Your Heart and Written in the Stars — and feature jaunty emblems that tie into the names. They sell for $20 each or $50 for a bundle of all three. Part of the proceeds is being donated to the NYC Health and Hospitals Health Care Heroes Fund.

“We knew the masks were going to be huge because we had gotten them from a few other vendors and they’re selling really, really well,” Buccini said. “I wanted something that I could just toss into the washing machine, that wasn’t going to be a big drama to hand wash.”

The line follows Buccini’s joyous approach to fashion. Her stores are filled with colorful, unique attire from established and new designers, with special occasion dresses as well as lots of denim.

“I have always felt that fashion is supposed to be fun,” she said. “I always say we’re providing solutions to make women feel great.” 

While many people think of Kirna Zabête as a designer store, she said, it includes many items with lots of price points.

“I want to dress a woman seven days a week, and I know that you don’t wear designer all the time,” she said. “That’s not the life anyone is living.”

Buccini was in Paris at the fall shows when COVID-19 began to blow up around the world. With people talking about the illness sweeping through Milan and Paris institutions starting to close, she tried to move her return plane ticket up, but couldn’t. She flew back on March 7, and businesses were shut down March 16.

She and her staff started consulting with all the companies they bought from, because factories and supply chains also shut down. At the same time, so did the weddings, baby and bridal showers and First Communions for which they sold dresses. 

As society slowed down and Buccini and her staff worked on what was available for spring, “We really kind of thought, well, we’re missing some things.”

“I’ve had my business for 21 year now,” she said. “I’m always on the sales floor and always talking to clients, and I knew that there were things that we wanted that were basic items that I just couldn’t find. I wanted to make them.”

She’s also been doing online styling sessions with clients, helping them edit their closets and was more aware than usual of what people wanted.

Kirna Zabete sells three masks made from their high-end T-shirt material. $50 for a bundle of three, or $20 each.
Kirna Zabete sells three masks made from their high-end T-shirt material. $50 for a bundle of three, or $20 each.

“Good lord, how many sweat pants can you wear?” she asks. “You just don’t feel good. This is just a trying time. Fashion is supposed to be the armor that we use to survive every day life. 

“For me, I wanted something easy and I wanted comfortable and I wanted joy and I wanted to feel good, whether I was doing a Zoom meeting, home schooling children, grocery shopping or cooking dinner for the 15th time that week. I just thought, ‘I need a little happiness here.’”

Her children — Josephine, 17, Virginia, 15, Balthazar, 14, and Shepherd, almost 12 — are remote schooling from home. 

All of her stores closed at the start of the pandemic. They’ve all reopened except the Soho store, which was looted and damaged during protests in New York. She plans for it to open by Nov. 1.

For 11 years, she took the train to New York twice a week, leaving early in the morning and trying to be home in time to tell her children good night. Now she drives up once a week.

More people have returned to the city as schools have opened, she said. The streets are not busy, she said, but outdoor dining has given New York a more European feel. 

Buccini didn’t consider not reopening the Soho store, and won’t put any stock in those who say New York is finished.

“I would never bet against New York City,” she said. “I still think it’s such an amazing city.”