Small Shops Go Online

A veteran journalist—and consummate shopper—puts the country’s small, independent retailers on the e-commerce map.

“When you walk into a great store, you just know it,” declares Taigan.com Creative Director Julia Reed. “But who knew there was a great place in Nashville to buy Alexander McQueen? And it would never occur to me, while driving on the interstate, to stop off in Chattanooga for truly great jewelry.” Sharing these miraculous discoveries (H. Audrey and Amanda Pinson Jewelry, respectively) and making their goods and services available to all is at the heart of Taigan.com, the shopping Web site she joined just last year. Reed, a contributing editor at Newsweek and for 20 years Vogue’s chief political writer, has helped assemble nearly 40 independent, “hands-on” retailers—purveyors of men’s and women’s clothing, kids’ stuff, food and drink, real jewels and faux—many of which had no online presence at all. Taigan (the name comes from a prized breed of hunting dog from Kyrgyzstan; “I’d never heard of it either,” says Reed, “but they hunt and gather, and so do we”) provides each retailer with cameras to shoot individual sale items for the site. Members of Taigan.com ($15 a month) get direct access to the pieces and to the level of customer service only a small-shop owner can provide. They can log on and click to Sid Mashburn in Atlanta and buy Filson luggage or a Mackintosh plaid raincoat. Or they can watch a video of Mashburn himself, explaining the innovative design of Peluso penny loafers ($450 and handmade in Naples, they have a dress-shoe heel but a comfort sole). A segment from Aidan Gill for Men, a grooming boutique and barbershop in New Orleans, features proprietor Gill—in seersucker and a pink bow tie—extolling the virtues of a Josh Bach valet tray ($45). “Every shopping Web site I know is two-dimensional,” says Reed. “These videos bring it all to life. You can watch the one of Mimi in New Orleans, and she’s bossing you around on how to wear a Michael Kors dress the way she would if you went in the store yourself.”

The site expects participating stores to update weekly and plans to add ten new sources monthly. Also in the works is an international expansion: Italy is currently represented with Tuscan olive oils from Marco Zanetti. And for those fans who miss reading Reed regularly, the Web site’s magazine, fetch, lets her hold forth on books, fashion, and the secret to a Champagne cocktail. For Reed, it’s all a matter of dropping a sugar cube and a few dashes of Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters into the bottom of a flute (like the pretty pink ones by Maryse Boxer, $25, from Pied Nu, New Orleans, on Taigan.com).

The Shopafrolic.com Girls

Two sisters in style share a lifetime of shopping experience.

When it comes to shopping, knowledge is power. Spending an afternoon with Liz Lange and Jane Wagman, sisters and cofounders of the new Web site Shopafrolic.com, one is reminded that the best way to accumulate said wisdom is to shut up and listen. How else to know that chic ski jackets can be found on LandsEnd.com? (“Get one in white,” says Wagman, a graphic designer by day, expert Internet shopper by night, “and it’s as cute as Moncler.”) Or that Shahin, an unassuming dressmaker located on the second floor of 766 Madison Avenue, is a girl’s best friend? (“Bring her any dress,” says Lange, who revolutionized maternity wear with her eponymous label, “and Shahin will copy it—in any color.“)

Nuggets of information like these—delivered in the same girlfriends-sharing-secrets tone—are compiled on Shopafrolic.com. Three new items are posted daily, with the sisters’ she said–she said comments written underneath. A Talbots denim trench comes with dialogue. Liz: “This stopped me in my tracks and I have never shopped there.” Jane: “I would buy but swap the buttons for gold.” A Marni necklace is posted when it goes half-price; a $435 Louis Vuitton bracelet appears with a tip to pair it with a $15 Forever 21 cardigan.

The sisters are sensitive to price but fully support a worthy splurge (like the $800 Jane Thylan sable head wrap: “You will have it forever”). One requirement—in the name of democracy in shopping—is that every item be available for purchase online. “We started the site because we e-mail each other what to buy on the Internet constantly, and our friends ask us where we get our things all the time,” says Wagman. “Sometimes the answer is Louboutin, but sometimes it’s Zara.” And because she pulls off her raspberry J. Mendel mink with such grace and aplomb, we believe her.