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The Misfits: Gus Harput, Jessica Tracy and Jan Warnock of Harputs OWN

Photo by Alex Farnum, Photo Assistants: Sonya Yruel and Carmel Cottingham

It’s impossible to explain Harputs in fewer than 140 characters. The new Union Square store doesn’t have much of a website and the plan is to eliminate its mail-order business. Under Harputs name, there’s no blog. No tweets. Founder Gus Harput might happen to be the city’s new leader in cutting-edge fashion but in essence, he’s extremely old fashioned.

The family business has a history that can best be described as organic. In 1978, Harput’s father, Turk Harput, opened the country’s first Adidas store in Oakland. Four years later, it moved to a funky stretch of SF’s Fillmore district. There, the unlikely location eventually expanded to the space next door, and the younger Harput—who had by then taken over the store—added some of world’s more avant-garde lines, such as Japan’s Yohji Yamamoto and Belgium’s Stephan Schneider and Martin Margiela to the mix.

Over time, Harput became interested in producing his own clothing. Enter an unlikely catalyst: One of the West Coast’s best, unsung tailors—Kenny Chow, 83—whose business, Shanghai Chow, has been based in Union Square for 42 years. “A while back, I went in to get a sweater redone,” says Harput, “and I asked Kenny if he wanted to sell us a sewing machine he had just sitting there.” One thing lead to another, and soon, Harput was shown to Chow’s closed factory in Oakland, which still housed whole reams of vintage woolens and tweeds from England. Harput bought it all.

Today, the reams of fabric are being put to good use. “It’s all falling into place,” says Harput. In October, Harput closed his Fillmore Street location and launched his new downtown store, called Harputs Union, with designers Jessica Tracy and Jan Warnock. Together, they are making a line called Harputs OWN, which is all done by hand, one piece at a time. On any given day, the trio—surrounded by piles of silk and patterns—stand at a huge table in the sun-drenched upstairs loft of their Geary Street store, conceiving of new pieces. Downstairs, the shop carries an eclectic mix: Handmade spiked dog collars inspired by Harput’s French bulldog, Lulu—who’s prone to lying in the sun outside the shop door—vintage brass belt buckles and pops of color from statement Adidas tennis shoes. You’ll also find romantic, feminine silk dresses made by Warnock, who has her own eponymous line of clothing. Shelves are lined with local designer Martha Davis’ edgy but minimalist women’s shoes.

It’s the women’s line of Harputs OWN, though, that speaks most strongly of the vision behind this design trio. Clearly inspired by the Belgian and Japanese designs that Harput is so drawn to, the pieces are mostly black, unstructured to the eye but cut with care. Many of them are created to be worn in multiple ways. Low-crotch silk pants pull up to make a strapless, feminine jumpsuit-cum-dress. The signature “swacket” is a sweater/jacket that can be worn more than a dozen ways. “The hardest thing to do,” Harput says, “is not to do a lot…I don’t like the word ‘fashion.’ I don’t like ‘design.’ I like construction.”

How does this burgeoning design house hope to succeed in a city not known for its fashion scene? Its devoted regulars, for one, and tourists from abroad. “Europeans completely understand us,” Harput says. So does Candy Pratts Price, the executive fashion director of style.com (Vogue’s online magazine) who was once photographed wearing a swacket. Harput admits that New York pays far more attention to their designs than SF ever will, but he has no interest in moving. Here, Harputs fits right in by not fitting in at all. As he puts it: “SF has all the misfits of the world. We love it.”