There was a time when 125th Street epitomized African-American culture and style. Then came the mass-market stores and street vendors, lowering the bustling block’s cool factor. But with Harlem’s fortunes again on the rise, locally owned boutiques—selling everything from hard-to-get sneakers and handmade jewelry to sweetly scented lotions and sought-after designer fashions—are springing up around the happening neighborhood.
fashion designer Montgomery Harris was among the first to open a boutique on this stretch of Seventh Avenue. Her pioneering shop carries chic women’s pieces like short, ruched-sleeve jackets in menswear fabrics, wide-leg corduroy pants embroidered with whales, and illustrated T-shirts—many of them created by Montgomery herself. You’ll also find well-priced chandelier earrings, bangle bracelets, and decoupage card cases. 2312 Seventh Ave.; 212/690-2166.
2. DENIM LIBRARY
Owner So Hunter’s airy space, outfitted with antique white bookshelves, leather club chairs, and a fireplace, stocks 35 brands of jeans for guys and gals. Peruse the shelves for favorite fits by True Religion and Justin Timberlake’s William Rast label, folded neatly beside pairs from Japan’s high-end lines Xoshi, Ciano Farmer, and Red Monkey. 2326 Seventh Ave.; 212/281-2380; www.thedenimlibrary.com.
3. NUBIAN HERITAGE
Started by two former street vendors, this company specializes in botanical skin care products. But the big news here is undoubtedly Harlem’s best-edited selection of home furnishings, from colossal woven vases to sculptures of the Buddha. 2037 Fifth Ave.; 212/427-8999; www.nubianheritage.com.
4. CAROL’S DAUGHTER
This beauty emporium opened its doors 13 years ago in Brooklyn. Since then, it has attracted a devoted celebrity clientele; Jay-Z and Jada Pinkett Smith are among the shop’s big-name investors. Salespeople are eager to let you sample products; try the best-selling Jamaican Punch Body Butter. 24 W. 125th St.; 212/828-6757; www.carolsdaughter.com.
5. EVERYTHING MUST GO
Bahr Brown and Anthony McRae, founders of Vigilantee Tee-Shirt Company, are behind Harlem’s only skateboard shop. Popular with local kids and downtown hipsters, the product mix includes rugby shirts by Canterbury of New Zealand, T-shirts by Billionaire Boys Club, and Gabriel Urist’s playful, oversize charm necklaces. 2281 First Ave.; 212/722-8203.
This year-old, 4,000-square-foot store is Harlem’s largest designer boutique. Think Hugo Boss and Barc skin care for men, and Plenty by Tracy Reese and Iman Cosmetics for women. But the best finds may well be from homegrown lines like Bébénoir, for clothing, and Ex Ovo, for jewelry. 114 W. 116th St.; 212/961-1036; www.nharlemnewyork.com.
This hugely popular Tokyo sneaker store opened its first American outpost here two years ago. The company collaborates with athletic giants like Nike and Reebok to create custom shoes; a wide variety of exclusive styles, including the Nike × Atmos Free 5.0, are available here. 203 W. 125th St.; 212/666-2242; www.atmosnyc.com.