Beach Blanket Boutique

At last! A hotel boutique that's worth the trip.

Last summer I got a call from a friend urging me to visit Sunday, a small boutique adjoining the Sunset Beach hotel on New York's Shelter Island, just a ferry ride away from all the Hamptons hoopla. I was reluctant, fearing it would be another hotel store jammed with the predictable assortment of last month's magazines, corny postcards, and logo-splattered T-shirts. Don't get me wrong—there has been a certain amount of progress when it comes to the hotel boutique: Paris's Hôtel Costes, for example, sells its own excellent candles, shampoos, and perfumes; Le Sirenuse's Emporio in Positano, Italy, stocks some of our favorite Murano glass tumblers; and the boutique at Bali's Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay features local antiques and semiprecious jewelry. But let's face it, most are only worth visiting during those the-airline-lost-all-my-luggage moments. My friend insisted Sunday was different, citing an irresistible mix of Muriel Brandolini caftans, Eres bikinis, and Pucci sun hats.

She was right. In a white wooden shack near hotelier André Balazs's 20-room property, Sunday is filled with the summer wardrobe you wish you had packed. This year, that might include Chloé's coral bikini, Etro paisley swimming trunks, and a Jack Gomme beach bag. Store owner Ria Browne, 32, opened the boutique in 2003 after approaching Balazs with the idea of a unique hotel shop. "People expect just the basics from a hotel store since normally it's only there for convenience," Browne says. "I wanted to create a place where you could buy glamorous and chic pieces, but in a casual atmosphere."

Mission accomplished. Muriel Brandolini, whose designs were a hit at Sunday last summer, is also a devoted customer. "I don't know of any hotel store like this," Brandolini says. "You want to wander in barefoot, drink in hand, and shop."

Sunday's success prompted Balazs to put Browne in charge of selecting merchandise for stores at his other properties, such as the boutiques at the Raleigh and the Standard hotels in Miami and The Standard in Los Angeles. Browne chooses clothes and accessories the way a costume designer plots a movie's look. "I think of the customer as a character," Browne explains. "What fantasy do they have of this hotel?" Miami, she says, requires sexy, overt fashions—cashmere sweaters by Catherine Malandrino and long Missoni caftans to throw over a bathing suit. The Shelter Island style is pared down: a simple caftan and an Eres bikini with an ethnic-inspired beach tote by Matta.

Now Browne's business, which also offers the beach-lifestyle brand Mella (known mainly for its terry-cloth flip-flops), has expanded to include Tiny Park, a merchandise consulting firm. Her knack for uncovering design talent and assembling cohesive yet eclectic in-store collections recently earned the company a commission from Kate Spade, who wanted to start carrying items by other designers at her boutiques. "The monobrand store is beginning to feel a little flat," Browne points out. "Shoppers today are more sophisticated—you need to give them something new." And among these shoppers she counts the weary travelers who wander into the hotel store just looking for a toothbrush.

Sunday at Sunset Beach, 35 Shore Rd., Shelter Island, NY; 631-749-3550.