Julie Russo, 60, always wanted to be in fashion. She got her start at age 16, working retail at a mall in Manhattan. She became a production coordinator after graduation, assisting with the buying of fabrics and trimmings. She built her career in the industry and spent the 1980s working with brands like Calvin Klein and French label Marithé+François Girbaud, helping designers get their collections ready for market. It was a crazy time—the economy was booming, she was young, working alongside designers, models, seamstresses and samples—and she loved every minute of it. “It was a very high time of my life,” Russo says.
The birth of her son, Salvatore, and a move to Florida in 2000 put a pause on professional ambitions. When the break turned to boredom for the Port St. Lucie resident, she found an advertisement for a job at Top Drawer Boutique in Stuart. Russo answered, was offered the job in 2003 and has been the manager there for 15 years and counting.
How did you discover your love for fashion?
My mom used to do house parties, and I went buying with her to New York. I was only maybe 6 years old, and back then it was a big thing, you would do house parties with clothing.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The buying and working with the clients. It’s really rewarding because you’re helping them with a need. You help them coordinate things: what should I wear for this event, or that event, or does this travel, is this quality going to hold up? They become like family, and [you get to know] what they like to wear, where they travel and what they need for their lifestyle.
How do you decide what designers to carry?
There are collection reps that we’ve been dealing with for years, many times they’ll get new collections and let us know, or we go to the shows. You get to see all the new and upcoming designers and lines, and you pick and choose what you know is going to be good for your clientele. You can’t follow the trends too much, but we are more forward. What we carry in Top Drawer you’ll see three years prior to seeing it in the mass market.
What can shoppers expect when working with a personal stylist or fashion consultant?
We have an understanding of someone’s lifestyle and what would work better for them, and how things would interchange with what they already own. And as women’s bodies change, we can alter or get rid of that style. It’s really an art, and you have to have a passion for it.
What can we expect in the future at Top Drawer Boutique?
We’re going to do new fashion shows and pop-up shows, which are one-day-only shows. We serve hors d’oeuvres and refreshments, and you can buy the collection on the spot at that moment. We go that extra mile and offer alterations; we’ll pick you up if you can’t get here; we’ll stay after hours for an appointment if necessary; we’ll do whatever we can.