Rizik's

For generations, Rizik’s has led the evolution of women’s couture in Washington, D.C. Specially-selected fashions of European and American designers and personal service have long defined Rizik’s unique customer experience.

The Gift of Sight

My love reveals objects
silken butterflies
concealed in his fingers

his words
splash me with stars

night shines like lightning
under the fingers of my love

My love invents worlds where
jeweled glittering serpents live

worlds where music is the world

worlds where houses with open eyes
contemplate the dawn

My love is a mad sunflower that forgets
fragments of sun in the silence

 

Isabel Freire de Matos, “My Love Reveals Objects”

 

The world is full of magic when you are in love.  You see everything anew, brimming with possibility.  Sunlight casts details in high relief and beauty—in nature, people and objects—is manifest. 

We invite you to open your eyes to enchanting Valentine's Day gifts available at Rizik’s.  Envision them on your beloved.  Take them along for your adventures together, as symbols of an intimacy that cannot be defined.  

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Alice Cisternino / Rizik’s

 

Maria Elena moon and stars triple-drop earrings with pearls set in Swarovski  crystals, $205.  Fantasia by DeSerio Cubic zirconia solitaire ring, $365.
Ermanno Scervino silk scarf, $300.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Alice Cisternino / Rizik’s

 

Modital Bijoux lariat necklace with Baroque pearl, $145.
Phillippe Ferrandis multi-stone and cabochon cluster earrings, $170.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Alice Cisternino / Rizik’s

 

Lancaster Paris hazel leather tote with top zipper closure
and gold curb chain straps, $375.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Alice Cisternino / Rizik’s

 

Patricia Underwood Lipstick Red wool beret, $490.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Alice Cisternino / Rizik’s

 

Rodo bronze suede clutch with gold studded details and crystal inlaid closure, $600.
Jean-Louis Blin emerald collar, $935.
 
 

 

Photo Courtesy of Alice Cisternino / Rizik’s

 

Flora Nikrooz black satin shorts detailed with ivory lace, part of a camisole set, $95.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Alice Cisternino / Rizik’s

 

Stefano Bravo quilted Nappa top handle satchel with gold
hardware and detachable tassel, $565.

 

Genetic Imprints: The Color of My DNA

Introduction by Alice Cisternino

Patricia Aiken-O’Neill’s essay, “Genetic Imprints: The Color of My DNA,” is a tender reflection on remembrance and the bonds between people.  What endures when a loved one dies?  Which memories are sparked by the objects they used—those mute companions to a life?  How does it serve the living to hold onto these mementos?  Should we let them go or find ways to make them our own?  

She addresses these big questions by way of fashion, concentrating on one item in particular:  her mother’s coat.  Aiken-O’Neill relays the intimacy of clothes, pointing out, for example, that they absorb their wearer’s scent and are often selected in the company of confidants.  But she also explains the impact of style as a profound public relations tool.  As she describes, both of her parents took great pleasure in dressing and were attuned to its power. Elegance, therefore, was a family value and is a lasting tribute.  

 
Patricia Aiken-O’Neill, January 2016.  

Patricia Aiken-O’Neill, January 2016.  

 

Genetic Imprints: The Color of My DNA

By Patricia Aiken-O’Neill

My father taught me the value of dressing for your audience. Not in so many words, but in modeling the language of communication and success. He was a natty dresser who intuitively knew that a certain mode of dress in a certain situation was akin to a calling card. His clothes modeled the language of success; people noticed him and remembered him.

When he returned to Washington after having first served in the Truman Administration and then having carried the banner for the Democratic ticket for the U.S. Senate from Kansas, he donned the material of Washington politics: dress to impress, sometimes for power, or as punctuation to accompany a point that he intended to get across. His dress contributed to the elan that he projected. People took him seriously and as a result, he had the luxury of not having to take himself too seriously. That comfort with himself made others around him comfortable. Today we call that “charisma,” and his style was a part of the package. 

He made sure that Mother’s level of dress complemented his.  But his clothes outlasted him and when he died, Mother carried on what was to become a family tradition. She mixed the “true grit” of her Kansas beginnings with a mantle of Washington, D.C. sophistication that signaled a sense of belonging in her space, and in this place, her adopted home. She lived here for sixty years. Unlike my father, her dress exuded a different dialect of power, the power of graciousness and trust.

Her “calling card” was a fabulous purple coat that now hangs in my closet.  It sheltered her and she infused it. With her scent still lingering, it speaks to me. I like to say that she “resides” in my closet and I intuitively know that her coat is her genetic imprint. 

It’s a coat that my father could have picked out for her.  Mother and I shopped together downtown, covering F Street from Garfinckel’s to “Woodies,” both before and in the decades following the riots that rocked Washington in the aftermath of the tragedies of the late 1960’s.  It was a family tradition and brought us close to each other and to him—our missing link.  This was a way for him to communicate through us.   

Perhaps he was guiding us the day we found Mother’s coat.  It was a Washington “power” coat, ironically, during a “Dynasty” era—shockingly purple, with a big bold stripe of black that ran geometrically down each side and extended on the sleeves across huge shoulder pads to its upright collar. We were not looking for anything special, but it was waiting for us.

Standing out on the sales rack, it called to us.   We sensed immediately why it was on sale: it challenged the potential buyer to match its verve. Daddy’s silent voice still retained power: he urged Mother to try it on. It both defined her and reinforced her elegance, her class and timeliness, all the qualities and color that she fashioned out of life. Each time she wore it, it became the screen that projected her as its star.

A decade later, following Mother’s death, I reluctantly tasked myself with cleaning out her closet.  Consigning so much that was familiar to me to either a charity or to longtime D.C. friends who wanted certain items as a reminder of her, I realized my own need for something to treasure, a memento of her. I fantasized that it would create a singular personal séance that would momentarily marry the present with the past. When I spotted her distinctive purple coat hanging in the closet, I felt that it was a talisman awaiting me.   It could pass on my family’s power to me.

Bereft, clearly missing its owner, it beckoned me like an orphan needing to be adopted. I approached it tentatively and hugged it, feeling her. I tried it on, knowing that I was no equal to its true mistress.  But it nevertheless bestowed a kind of magic, enveloping me in her warmth as if she were with me once more.  In one of the pockets was a handkerchief that had preserved an imprint of her distinctive pink lipstick. I drew it to my lips for a last lingering kiss, never wanting to let go.  

Her scent permeated the coat, and for a fleeting moment in time, she was there with me. I remembered lightly applying perfume to each of her wrists as she was in the last stage of her illness. It awakened her senses. She instinctively knew what to do next: ever so slowly, she had raised one arm to her face in a purposeful arc, suspending the march of her disease for a moment in time. It was gentle and slow and graceful.  When her wrist barely caressed her nose, she had murmured softly, “Wonderful.” 

Now, facing me was this wonderful purple coat, inviting its potential new owner. It was my Mother’s residual, and I had to have it. I stole away, gingerly, with something that I knew was only meant to be hers, musing whether, like ancient Egyptians, perhaps this treasure belonged only to her….

But I soon banished those thoughts and wore it, trying to recapture my family heritage. It connected me to her and filled me with pleasure, but its title had not passed on to me, and I finally placed it in my closet, honoring its past—her past—and uncertain of its future. When I visit it now—my monument to my Mother—it is sheltered and secure. It reminds me of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, a play we first saw at the Olney Theater: the story was that whoever wore the coat assumed its power. In the case of Mother’s magnificent purple coat, the power passed to Mother only. Perhaps my charge was to find my own.

When I bought a purple coat from Rizik's, a favorite woman’s shop downtown on Connecticut Avenue close to where I worked, there was no obvious connection with Mother’s coat.  A decade had passed, and since I wasn’t looking for it, I failed to consider how this new acquisition could connect me to the past and transport me to my future.  It was swingy and bright and current. I picked the color from a palette that accompanied the sample. Vacillating between red and purple, I chose the latter because I was drawn to the color and thought the red was a little too obvious and bright.  At that point, I didn’t sense my purchase as a bridge from my Mother to me.

But then, history began to repeat itself. Wearing my purple coat, a number of people commented on the color, the style—my style.  Their compliments always pleased me but I never considered anything beyond the pleasure it gave them to like it and me to wear it. Then one day, someone graciously executed a sweeping semi “bow” to me as we were exiting the Metro downtown, complimenting my purple coat and allowing me to proceed (and to precede him.)  

As I stepped forward, the wires connected: the power had transferred to me in my purple coat. My coat as the next generation of Mother’s graciousness and style, of Daddy’s connection with others, and it had welcomed me to their world. It now belongs to me.


Patricia Aiken-O’Neill moved to Washington, D.C. as a young child, graduated from local schools, worked in Washington as an attorney and association executive and retired in Chevy Chase in 2012. She has written professional and personal essays and poetry, with publications in The Washington Post, and most recently, “A Little Rock and Roll and A Good Cigar,” featured in District Lines: An Anthology of Local Work - Volume 1, Summer 2013.   

“Genetic Imprints: The Color of My DNA,” was published earlier this month in District Lines: An Anthology of Local Work - Volume III, Winter 2015—the third installment of Politics & Prose’s anthology of original work by writers and artists inspired by Washington, D.C.   It can be purchased at Politics & Prose bookstore or online.

Politics & Prose will be opening the next call for submissions sometime this spring, so interested readers should check their website for updates.

Class Act: Sisters and Business Partners Maxine and Renee Rizik Discuss Life in Fashion

 

From left: Maxine Rizik, designer Zandra Roberts and colleague Irene DeVito, c. 1985.
 


Renee Rizik at Rizik's 1992 Mondi Trunk Show.
 

As 2015 draws to a close and a new year begins, with reflections and resolutions in the air, we thought it opportune to talk fashion with two of Washington’s grande dames of the industry—Maxine and Renee Rizik—who are Rizik’s current leaders and the daughters of its co-founder.  Raised on style and merchandising, as well as a commitment to family, they have built careers of a lifetime, both in terms of longevity and vision. 

Working with a team of family members and other colleagues, Maxine and Renee deftly maintained the level of elegance their father and uncle established at Rizik Brothers, Inc., as the women’s boutique was originally known, while staying in the vanguard of evolving trends and designers.  Throughout our conversation, Rizik’s customer-centric business practice was evident.  From the collections they offer to the styles they recommend for each individual, Maxine and Renee prioritize their roles as liaisons between customers and the larger fashion world, keeping an eye toward making selections that clients will like, rather than curating Rizik’s to showcase their own personal tastes. 

Maxine said, “You have to think about what Rizik’s exemplifies.  Hopefully we represent quality, fashion-forward style, service and history of two generations.” By both honoring tradition and looking to the future, being ambitious in practice while humble in manner, and all the while maintaining a sense of humor, Maxine and Renee embody inspiration for the new year. 
 

How do you describe your personal style? 

MR:  Conservative, tailored, well-accessorized.

RR:  I like things that are coordinated.  For business, I wear black. 


Why is fashion important?

MR:  For me, it is a way of life.  It’s an evolution of taste and a sign of beauty.

RR:  Fashion is a trendsetter and being in the business, we need to keep up with the times and the styles. 
 

Rizik’s is a family-run business in its second generation.  What motivated your father and uncle to open a clothing boutique in 1908?  What are your strongest memories of Rizik Brothers, Inc. when they were at the helm? 

MR: When I look back, they were great merchants.  They established their business at a time when Washington needed fashion-forward clothes. It was the most important capitol in the world and women needed direction on how to dress for occasions and these two Rizik brothers set the themes.  They immigrated to this country from Lebanon as young boys with no profession, they saw a need and filled it.  They were great creators.  In those days, Paris was the center of style.  They went to Europe to study the fashions each season and selected which pieces to import for Washington.  They developed their eyes over time.
 

You have been business partners for over sixty years.  When did each of you begin working at Rizik’s and when did you become its leaders?

MR:  Since I could walk.  All of the children worked at Rizik’s in some capacity, from the youngest to the oldest.  There were five girls and two boys.  Our brother Michael managed the store after our father, until 1987.  I never was in charge; I’m here to work with everyone. No one is in charge. 

RR:  After college, I went to business school at George Washington University, and my father encouraged me to join the family business.  He said that if I wanted to learn, I should do it while he was still here to teach me. 
 

Along with its inherent advantages, does working with family present unique challenges?

MR:  The biggest advantage is that you can learn from the experiences of those before you.  There are no disadvantages. 

RR:  It’s a great asset.  It provides a sense of teamwork, wherein you can share ideas and responsibilities.  Everyone contributes something special. 
 

How has the Washington, D.C. fashion scene evolved over the years?

MR:  Washington has been the capitol of the U.S. since the late 1700s.  The White House sets the tone—it has become more casual and so have women’s lifestyles. 
 

Who are some of the designers you most enjoyed working with?  Will you share a story about your first meeting with a particular designer?

MR:  There were so many; they were great artists.  Geoffrey Beene, Adele Simpson, Carolina Herrera, Peter Langner, Lourdes Chavez, Carmen Marc Valvo, Koos Van Den Akker, Bill Blass, Carolyne Roehm, Pauline Trigère. 

We were the first to represent many designers.  Peter Langner came to Rizik’s unknown and asked to show me some dresses.  Now, he is famous for couture, based in Milan. 

Koos Van Den Akker was just starting out when we met him in New York.  We invited him to do several trunk shows and he was a hit.  He would sit in the store and we’d bring him a sewing machine because he didn’t want to sit and do nothing.  Customers would watch him design.  He didn’t follow a pattern; he’d sit with the fabric and the needle and create suits, jackets, coats, dresses.  He became famous for his collage of fabric.  No one can touch a finger to him.

RR:  Bill Blass, Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Roberto Quaglia.   I’m drawn to high fashion, quality clothes with beautiful styling and fabrics that make you feel elegant when you put them on.
 

Are there certain qualities you look for when deciding to bring a collection to Rizik’s? 

MR:  We go to New York Fashion Week in September and February and also to The New York Market, at least four times a year, for each season, concentrating on visiting European and American designers.  When you review all the latest collections, you study the new styles, fabrics, shapes and see what is available.  You approach it with an open mind while also considering your customers.  The Market shows you the future of fashion for the next season and a fashion-forward store must have new styles, even if you don’t love them.  My taste has nothing to do with it. 

RR:  Style, color, price, something that will appeal to the clientele. 
 

In addition to your work at Rizik’s, both of you reared children and had long and happy marriages.  How did you balance professional and personal responsibilities? 

MR:  Ask that to any working girl.  You have to have a job and a private life.  Being a mother is a profession. You have to do both today. 

RR:  It’s organization—if you are organized, you can do both. Family comes first and work intertwines with it. 
 

What counsel do you have for young entrepreneurs?

RR:  Find your passion, something you truly enjoy and will pursue. Don't take a job to please others or to fill your time. 
 

When recommending clothes to a client, what are some of the questions you ask them and other factors you consider? 

MR:  Over time, you get to know their needs and way of life, as well as what flatters their figure.  When you learn a customer’s personality, you learn how she wants to dress and how to dress her.  We’ve been successful at keeping customers.  With wedding gowns, for example, some women bring their daughters, saying that they found their wedding dress at Rizik’s and they want their daughter to as well.  We’ve dressed several generations of brides, I think we’re on the third or fourth generation. 

RR:  Find out what they are interested in—whether it’s for a special occasion or work or travel—and accommodate their requests. 
 

Rizik’s has a history of serving the leading women of official Washington.  Can you name prominent political women who shop at Rizik’s? 

MR:  When Rizik’s opened in 1908, we were the first ready-to-wear store in D.C.  We clothed cabinet members’ wives, congressmen’s wives and families and First Ladies, including Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and Mrs. Eisenhower, as well as many women with their own important careers such as Marjorie Merriweather Post.  In addition, numerous officials trusted our staff to help select gifts for their loved ones.  Our current clientele includes women in political office but, out of respect for their privacy, I won’t name them. 
 

What is your best fashion advice? 

RR: There’s no single advice for everyone.  It depends on what each woman wants and needs.  No two people are the same. 
 

You are still working, traveling, entertaining—what’s your secret? 

MR:  I don’t have a secret.  I take what comes my way and live by it.  I have my own principles and guidelines and try to stay within them.

RR:  Good health, good genes! 

 

 

 

This interview has been condensed and edited.  

 

1100 Connecticut Avenue NW  |  Washington, DC 20036  |  202-223-4050  |  Mon-Sat 9am-6pm 
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Image Courtesy of Etienne Aigner