Emphatics exhibit looks at 50 years of fashion

By JoAnne Klimovich Harrop

Published: Monday, June 23, 2014, 7:14 p.m.

The doors have closed for good.

But the timeless fashions from inside have been preserved so they can continue to exude style for years to come.

Five decades of apparel and memorabilia from the former iconic Emphatics clothing, shoes and accessories boutique will be the center of an upcoming fashion exhibit.

After being housed inside One Oxford Centre, Downtown, since 1983, the shop closed in March after 50 years in business because of serious health issues in the family. Prior to that, it was housed in the former Jenkins Arcade, Downtown.

The overwhelming response from former customers and the fashion community inspired owners James and Karin Legato to put together the exhibit, “Celebrating 50 Years of Avant Garde Fashion,” a retrospective that includes a carefully edited collection of fashion, photography and video footage that shows historical moments of fashion and renowned fashion creators of our time. The collection also includes invitations from past fashion shows and events the couple attended.

“This is one of the best fashion archives in this country,” says Eric Shiner, director of the Andy Warhol Museum, North Side. “Jimmy and Karin had wonderful relationships with the best designers in the world. They were one of the first stores to carry Jean Paul Gaultier.”

Organizers are hoping to open a month-long exhibit in September at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District. “The history center is in preliminary discussions with the Warhol Museum and Emphatics about a potential fashion exhibit this fall,” says Andy Masich, president and CEO of the history center.

Shiner says the exhibit would be curated by New York-based fashion consultant, lecturer and curator Stephane Houy-Towner, who organized the Halston and Warhol exhibit that runs at the museum through Aug. 24.

“It is a great honor to be considered for the Heinz History Center,” Karin Legato says. “We would like to thank all the people who have made this possible.”

A sneak peek at the clothing and accessories was held June 19 at the store’s recent location in One Oxford Centre. It was an opportunity for the owners to thank the clients, introduce the exhibit and ask for financial support for the upcoming exhibition.

Striking poses behind glass doors, strolling models wore high-end designers such as Azzedine Alaia, Balenciaga, Thierry Mugler and Jean Paul Gautier as a fashion slide show rolled in the background. Some of the guests were wearing garments they purchased in the past.

“God gave Karin and I a gift when we created Emphatics,” James Legato says. “She is so beautiful and still looks like the day she was built. It was the perfect ‘stage’ for the creators to display their works and for our patrons to experience Emphatics. We will miss its beauty and ability to allow us to inspire, excite and educate. We will miss all of our Emphatics patrons and friends. They are all a special part of our lives.”

Carol Shriber was sad to see the store close. The McCandless resident is a longtime customer. Her mother inspired her fashion sense. Shriber says Emphatics had the best collection of designer clothing anywhere, and she shopped in New York and Paris.

“I know quality when I see it,” Shriber says. “I bought one piece at a time, and when I would wear one of the pieces, people would say, ‘Oh my God. That is fabulous. Where did you get it?’ I still have all the pieces because they are classic.”

After the exhibit at the history center is complete, the organizing committee will look for a buyer and a permanent home, Shiner says.

“I feel Emphatics was a fashion mecca,” says Tori Mistick, a member of the steering committee from Point Breeze. “It was a best-kept secret in Pittsburgh.”

She says there will be various levels of sponsorships available to help support the exhibition, which will feature more than 300 outfits, invitations and photographs.

The overall shopping atmosphere is what client and steering-committee member Yvette Flaxman from Point Breeze will miss most. She says the many supporters of the boutique have joined to help make the exhibit a reality as a way to celebrate the legacy of what the couple brought to fashion in Pittsburgh.

“The experience you had when you shopped at Emphatics was very rare,” Flaxman says. “You felt like you were walking into someone’s home. You felt welcome. And they knew about each designer and explained what inspired each designer and the history behind the clothing. They made it their mission to make women, and men, feel awesome.”

That was the goal.

“We wanted to make this shopping experience an enjoyable on,” James Legato says, motioning toward an outfit by Alexander McQueen. “I want people to remember that Emphatics wasn’t just a clothing store. It was a part of their lives, because it certainly was a huge part of our lives. I am going to miss this place we built.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7889 or jharrop@tribweb.com.

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