National Harbor has been an interesting idea to watch develop. Settled just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in PG County and just across the water from Old Town Alexandria, this mixed-used, 300-acre site is anchored by the Gaylord National Convention Center & Resort, and several shops have sprouted up in the retail space surrounding it. Two of the Georgetown Park Angels have opened branches of their store there after being unable to sustain business in the long-in-decline Georgetown indoor shopping mall. Independent shops such as Coco Blanca (read more about it in the Accessories category of our May Home Design Guide) have also popped up. Though perhaps more slowly than expected, people are catching on, and National Harbor is poised to be a great living spot for District overflow as people continue to move into the area. Bonus for shoppers: Retail giants are also taking notice, including Rick Sarmiento, the original founder of White House Black Market. After a brief hiatus from the shopping scene (he sold the 110-store chain he founded in Baltimore to specialty company Chico’s in 2004), he’s back in action at with Angst and Blink Blanco, an innovative joint retail venture he believes could be his next big hit.
“It’s sort of a mother-daughter shopping experience,” Sarmiento says of the interconnected stores, which opened in early June. Angst caters to the teenage and twentysomething crowd with bright, trendy basics that take a perhaps more tasteful page out of Urban Outfitters’s book. Sarmiento came up with the name because his own teenage daughters are consistently anxious about what they wear—he wanted to give them a reason to “stop worrying so much." Brands include boutique-favored Angie, Blank denim, Esley, and Collective Concepts.
Blink Blanco, on the other hand, is geared toward slightly more established women, and is an intentional departure from the minimalist color palette White House Black Market. The Blink park of Blink Blanco was created by combining blue and pink, and blanco is the Spanish word for white.
“It’s a fresh, modern store that focuses on bright colors and patterns,” says Sarmiento. Think classic silhouettes similar to what you’d find in J.Crew mixed with trendier items such as high-low skirts and maxi dresses. Brands include BB Dakota, Gracia, Elan, and Daniel Rain, and Sarmiento’s team is already at work on adding private-label inventory.
In both shops, price points are delightfully reasonable (on average $49 to $69), and articles of clothing are bought in very limited runs, so inventory is constantly refreshed. There’s no e-commerce arm just yet, but both brands plan to be very active on social media, often announcing spur of the moment discounts and giveaways on Twitter (@angst_girl and @BlinkBlanco). Also nice: large front windows that open directly to the street, giving the shop the feel of an open-air cafe.
Sarmiento thinks the Angst/Blink Blanco concept has what it takes to spread across the country. “I really opened this with the idea of rolling it out,” he says.
For now though, he’s satisfied with savoring his new home in the Harbor. “National Harbor is aggressively marketing a great center,” he says. “They’re doing a great job with interesting restaurants and hotels. It will continue to be better and better and better.”