This Sunday, May 24th, approximately five years after Jill Bradshaw and Antonia (Toni) Kojuharova opened one of the most “hearted” stores in New York, i heart, the Nolita boutique will close its doors for the last time. With more than a little nostalgia, we look back at the unconventional basement space that was so much more than a store.
Since its inception, i heart was about far more than seasonal trends. As Jill remembers, “It wasn’t just a clothing store. It was supposed to be a whole environment. Our vision just kept growing and growing.” Defying definition and adding a little edge (and neon) to Mott Street, it hosted epic parties, jam sessions and endless out-of-town guests—in addition to a steady stream of shoppers. While Jill’s far too modest to take credit for the recent surge of Manhattan-based concept shops, her collaborators, friends and fans are more than happy to sing i heart and Jill’s praises—check out the “I Heart” i heart letters below.
After a half-decade of owning the store (which she has been running on her own for the last two years), opening a showroom and attending international fashion weeks, Jill feels that it’s “time for me to do new things and see what else I can do besides the store.” Having founded i heart at the ripe old age of 24, she reflects that this may include making up for lost time. “I feel like I did things backwards in a way. I started the store when I was young and now I want to do more band stuff. Shouldn’t you want to do that when you are younger? I should have started the band when I was 24.”
Along with her musical plans, Jill might take up fashion consulting—maybe. “I don’t necessarily know which path everything is going to take me down. I’m all about how things happen organically, ” she explains. No matter. As the designer Claw Money commented, “Jill will be fabulous at whatever she does.” For the next two months, her “whatever” includes embracing a complete lack of responsibility, improving her bass skills and taking a cross-country road trip with a stop off in Memphis—and, yes, it’ll be fabulous.
Goodbye, i heart.
Letters to I Heart
Before I moved to New York City, I was told by my friends and co-workers that I had to go check out the store. When I settled in, I went out exploring in the city with the store’s location starred on my well-worn map. Little did I know how influential i heart would become to me.
Later, I would meet Toni and Jill many times on the dance floor, and we soon became friends. Our similar taste in music also led to the formation of our band. I would play music with Jill and three other ladies twice a week in the store, where we were attempting to channel the energy left from Sonic Youth when they used the same location as a practice space. We are still playing music together, and we look back fondly at the time spent in i heart as a period of great bonding as well as a time during which we developed our style of writing music together.
To me, i heart has also been a site to pick up a new favorite top, a place I was proud to announce as a stockist of my collection, the store where I would hang out during my jewelry sales, and a gathering place where my foster dog first met his new family.
We will miss you i heart!
Designer, Dirty Librarian Chains
A lot has happened for me at i heart. When I was hired at Teen Vogue—my second job, but my first with real responsibility—one of my first assignments was a story about teen girls’ shopping. I decided that a mysterious new subterranean store I’d heard about would be the perfect location. I was totally intimidated by Jill, of course, but also totally charmed by her hospitality and intrigued by this magical world of music and art and design that she’d created. But, I had to go halfway around the world to really get to know her (at New Zealand fashion week). I’ve also had the privilege of hanging out with her in Rio, a trip which resulted in more stomach-crunching laughs per minute than any other week I can remember.
Later, Jill and I and two friends formed a band, and for a year we practiced twice a week at i heart (just like Sonic Youth did back in the day). The long, late nights we spent there with our synthesizers, drum machines and Habana grilled corn may not have resulted in a record (yet), but those practices—and the friendships that deepened during them—got us all through tough transitions, and in many ways saved my life. And thanks to Jill for bringing in her musically knowledgeable friends to help us. i heart was also the site of my first conversation with the person who is now my boyfriend.
Playing music while surrounded by all the amazing clothes Jill picked out meant that I often ended up shopping. But I still wear those Isabel Marant pieces, and we still have the band, and it still doesn’t have a name, and Jill is still going to be kicking ass at whatever she chooses to do.
I first meet Jill many years ago upon arriving in New York from Los Angeles (also her home town) via my, then, internship at DFA Records. DFA had a huge party planned for the filming of LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Disco Infiltrator’ music video. The plan was to throw the craziest party, and my task was to inflate about a gazillion white balloons to cover the ceiling in ’70s Mancuso loft style. This was no small feat, and somehow Jill got wrangled in to helping out. We spent hours filling balloons and getting to know one another. This was the beginning. I later learned of her store and would constantly hound her for a discount, which never seemed adequate enough for my budget. When things were tough for me moneywise, she let me work at i heart on Sundays. I don’t think there was ever a Sunday I wasn’t completely hungover, or still drunk. After closing the store early one too many times, we both came to the decision that retail fashion was not suited for me. We ended our working relationship but kept the friendship alive. Jill is rad. She’s a rad friend. I wish her the best in her next venture. (Jill, I still want that damn coffee table)
i heart is one of those places that will become a legend. People came from far and wide to find its treasures. I have many memories in i heart. In college, I used to spend every cent I had there, and I’m sure Jill remembers me going in with my mom. The first thing I bought was a pair of United Bamboo denim short shorts that became my uniform for a whole summer. When I designed my first collection, I got up the courage to go in and show my clothing. I was very nervous since it was my favorite store, and I was so honored to be chosen. Ever since, i heart has been a wonderful home for my clothing, and it will forever be missed.
Designer, Samantha Pleet
I have always enjoyed Jill’s sensibility and was a frequent stalker of the Eley Kishimoto selection at i heart long before I ever had the pleasure of meeting Jill. Some notable purchases over the years include a t-shirt with an illustration of a skeleton eating a cheeseburger and most recently, a pair of Nike sportswear color-blocked leggings, which you will most definitely see me wearing this summer and fall. NYC needs more stores like i heart and people like Jill. I look forward to whatever she puts her golden touch onto next.
The death of i heart means the end of a great era for myself and so many of my friends. I went from shopper to shop girl to champagne sipper and Cosmo-sitter whenever Jill went on so many of her fabulous fashion-inspired trips. (Seriously, who gets a free trip to New Zealand?) I remember when the shop girl torch was passed from Lindsey to me to Patrick to Jesse. How many broke-ass artists did Jill help feed and clothe over the years?
How can we replace champagne-soaked Wowch sample sales on Tuesday afternoons, cucumber margaritas from El Portal sipped in the back of the store to mark the beginning of spring, in-store dice games with hip-hop Dave or girl talk with Toni and Jill over some tasty Banh Mi? And, of course, the clothes!
Pour some out for i heart. It will be missed!!
I heart Jill! We have really bonded recently since the formation of Open Ocean, our amazing band made up of fab ladies that will soon be blowing your minds with our magical sounds. The first time I played music with these gals was at i heart, and Jill was actually out of town. Then some time went by, and now I feel so lucky to be a part of what is fast becoming a tight and very inspiring group. We get together, eat Arepas from Caracas, drink Il Bastardo wine, talk, laugh and write song after song. It is so fun. Jill is rock and roll! She just started to sing and play bass and is out of this world. SO talented! She has pipes! The store is legendary and so is she.
We sure had a lot of fun in that store: all the parties that we threw, getting in trouble from the crazy neighbor upstairs that kept calling the cops on us for being too loud! Going to London, Paris and New Zealand fashion weeks, standing in a dirty kitchen with Eve after our party we threw at Paris Paris, battling the Nolita crew of shoplifters––I hope all of those men and women get caught one day; they are evil. Sandwiches the size of out head that we would eat daily for lunch, and then feel sick. The endless crew of friends we had coming in and out throughout the day for fun visits and hang sessions. How every one of our friends somehow contributed to our opening. Everyone did something: helped paint, build lego installations, put in murals or their artwork. Everyone was a constant support from day one. That was such a great thing.
—Antonia (Toni) Kojuharova
Founding Partner, i heart