Sherri McMullen and Chloe Warner had been collaborating on stylish window displays together long before cultivating the Oakland space which was to become McMullen—now a trend-setting boutique offering a carefully edited collection of emerging designers of garments, accessories and jewelry. We recently visited their boutique to learn more about their particulars.
Melissa: Tell me about how the two of you met and how you came to design this store?
Chloe: I went to Sherri’s second store and was looking for something very special. I saw this jumpsuit in the window, so I went in and was like, okay, this is what I was looking for. This. Sherri was there and she’s so much fun, and before you know it, everything was in my closet.
Sherri: I remember the jumpsuit was actually a size too big and you said, ‘you know what? I’ll take it.’ I told you, ‘we have a seamstress. I’ll have her to take it in for you.’
Melissa: How long from that store to this store and what was the idea for the current design?
Chloe: We were doing window stuff together for years…just for fun—perishable window displays. Then, you called and sent me a shaky video of this raw space and you were like ‘guess what? Gonna do a space.’ We had done a mood board and a few rounds and this was the exciting one inspired by the vibrant feminine Sherri.
Sherri: We kept talking about doing something together for years. I remember you actually presented something and said, ‘okay, before you open a new space, if you want to redo the old space, let’s do something.’ I said, ‘let’s wait for a fresh new space.’
Melissa: So, tell me how you started in fashion?
Sherri: I actually studied business in school. I was an accounting major and I decided I wanted to do something behind-the-scenes. I wanted to go into fashion, but I was always really curious about how product got into the stores. So, I went into this executive development program. It was amazing. I was there when Stanley Marcus was there, so I got to spend some time with him. I got great training there and I ended up leaving for San Francisco and continued doing corporate buying. I wanted to do something on my own a few years in, so I moved to Oakland and was like, here’s my place to shop. My friends were always going to San Francisco to shop and I thought, Why don’t we have something here in our community? People here in Oakland really want to spend money in their neighborhood, but there’s nothing. So, I decided, this is the time and the area I want to open. And in 2007, I opened McMullen.
Melissa: Over the past 10 years, what have you seen change in retail and how have you adapted to that?
Sherri: Well, when I opened, social media didn’t even exist, and that’s been a game changer for us—Instagram especially. Facebook was around, but we didn’t use it for anything business related. Also, people were shopping brick and mortar, so I never even thought of eCommerce as being competition for us. But we’ve been really lucky that our customers still want that experience and they want to go into the store and talk to Marcel and me and have us wardrobe them.
Chloe: But I feel you have a hybrid because you do have an online presence, and Uber same-day delivery. Customers can choose something online and have it delivered locally within 2 hours.
Melissa: When you thought of the design for the space, the layout and flow, were there any specific elements you felt were must-haves?
Sherri: Chloe really understood the color palette that I wanted, and I always really loved mixed patterns, and she did that really well. I was very confident that Chloe was going to knock it out of the park.
Chloe: I feel it was less about patterns and more about textures. I wanted it to be like a fancy department store from another time. It’s a bit of a throwback 1970s feel. There’s so much reclaimed wood in California, and we wanted it to be above that. Right when Sherri signed the lease, I was in New York and I took 2 extra days to go to all the stores. I went to Sherri’s favorite stores and my favorite stores and was like, oh, this corner and this velvet curtain…we can pretty much do everything. It was sort of a best-of design.
Melissa: How did you move from residential to working commercial? Do you have a favorite design project?
Chloe: This is my favorite. We did Ayla Beauty as a proof of concept. We didn’t really have any budget. She GC’d the whole thing herself. We ordered some new tile for her store and she was like, get me the discount and I’ll take care of it. So, they just showed up and there was no loading dock. They just started unloading palettes of cement tile on her sidewalk, and people had to walk around it. She’s like, ‘can you bring it to the front?’ And they were like, no—this is curbside delivery. She got it done, but I was very relieved that we got to work with a contractor later.
Melissa: How do you both like to dress? Do you have a uniform you wear? Do you dress differently during the week versus the weekend?
Sherri: Whatever I’m feeling in the morning. I have to pack last minute, and I overpack because I need tonnes of options.
Chloe: I wish I had a uniform. I read about people who have uniforms and I think, that’s chic and great. But I get happiness from my outfits, so I change often and try to dress appropriately for the day.
Melissa: Who are the top 3 designers you’re excited about in the store right now?
Sherri: I love Kamperett—they’re San Francisco-based, 2 women. They do hand-painted pieces and organza pieces. They’re so pretty. Georgina is another one. She’s London-based. She uses architectural shapes on her shoes and heels and structural jackets. They’re really interesting pieces.
Melissa: Are there any shoes you love and must always have?
Chloe: I never wore sneakers until I became a mom. I became a mom and I was like; I need to put on cool sneakers every day—even when coming into the store after drop-off.
Sherri: I like flats. Sneakers are great. Those square flats—I love those.
Melissa: Do you have any accessories that you never take off or never leave home without?
Sherri: My Frederick necklace. This is the one piece I wear every single day. And gold hoops. I do these every day and then add more.
Melissa: Do you feel there’s a distinct uniform here in this neighborhood versus in San Francisco proper?
Sherri: Yeah, I feel like women here are a little more experimental. They like finding interesting brands, whereas in San Francisco maybe they’re use to big names like Gucci or whatever. I think women here like the cooler brands—smaller, more unknown designers.
Melissa: Any designers you’re excited to bring out for Fall?
Sherri: Khaite! Also, Kenneth Enzy. Kenneth is actually a menswear designer, but I’m bringing him in for women’s outwear—like cool jackets. We’re excited about it. He’s a knitwear designer based in Italy with great patchwork, knit coats and great scarves.
Melissa: Would you ever open another store in another city, or are you content here?
Chloe: It’s happening! Palo Alto. I think this is a great time to announce it. You heard it here first!
Melissa: Are you going to change up the color palette with the new shop?
Sherri: We don’t know yet, but it has to be related. It has to be consistent. I think our mannequins will definitely be consistent. They’re our brand girls.