Deja Vu All Over Again

At Cairo on Capitol Hill, the last 40 years of fashion are as good as new.

By Laura Cassidy August 18, 2010 Published in the September 2010 issue of Seattle Met

“YOU HAVE TO REALLY be in love with everything,” says Aimee Butterworth, co-owner of Cairo (507 E Mercer St, Capitol Hill, 206-453-4077; She’s not actually talking about you; she’s referring to the process, which she shares with Joel Leshefka, of prudently selecting vintage and otherwise used clothing, shoes, accessories, and housewares to sell at their pocket-size boutique on Capitol Hill.

It’s a make-your-weakness-your-strength kind of thing that elevates the current fervor for mixing luxury brands with rarefied yet familiar low-end leftovers from the ’70s, ’80s, and, yeah, even the ’90s and ’00s: Two facing walls with uncluttered lengths of hanging rod—one for him, one for her—mean every pair of drapey, psychedelic ikat-patterned pants and each wool-lined toggle coat was carefully chosen.

And each item gets its due, just like high-priced items inside lofty department stores where designers from Miuccia Prada to Marc Jacobs revive the colors and cuts of Cairo’s favorite eras. Unlike air-conditioned downtown emporiums, however, the shop’s side-street, slightly dusty milieu means you—and now we are talking about you—have to want it. Evidently, Seattle does. The Summit Avenue-Mercer Street mini-nabe is getting a second vintage dealer: by mid-month Indian Summer will be trading in dramatic silk kaftans, ethnic-inspired jewelry from the ’80s, and mid-century coffee tables.

Butterworth and Leshefka also offer silk-screening workshops, tap local artists to create custom designs for their T-shirt line, and bring experimental bands around back after hours. Cairo isn’t just a storefront, it’s a lifestyle. But the most surprising thing about the space isn’t really surprising at all: It’s not just hipsters who happen by. Neighborhood boomers reminisce over the smattering of avocado-green housewares and the asymmetrical, mystical-feeling local jewelry by Meghann Sommer—and, occasionally, the sweatshirts silk-screened with beach scenes. And why not, they’re the ones who wore them the first time around.

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