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Best Women's Store: A Rare Look into Susan of San Francisco

Susan of San Francisco
Susan of San Francisco

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You can walk into any mall in America and buy clothes. With various styles and price points, you'll find something to comply with societal strictures that demand modesty. But those are clothes you buy for function: to stay warm, to stay covered, to stay employed. What about the clothes that embody fashion? The art pieces? The garments that capture your imagination, even when looking at them makes you uncomfortable? For thought-provoking clothes, you go to Susan.

One of the most refreshing aspects of walking into Susan of San Francisco is that it doesn't feel like any other store. The decor is modern and minimalist, but the clothes are daring. A Junya Watanabe mixed-media cape. One-of-a-kind jackets from Greg Lauren and Rogue. Sequined jeans and pullovers from Ashish. Surrealist-print dresses from Caterina Gatta. This Laurel Heights boutique specializes in wearable art. In the social media age that's consumed by pretty, Susan remains focused on being interesting. That's why it wins our Racked Award for best women's store.

Susan Foslien, the shop's namesake, started Susan of Burlingame in 1983 with less than $900 in her pocket. In 30 years, she's become one of the most highly-regarded independent retailers in the world. She's launched young designers' careers —she hosted the first trunk show for Rodarte— and advised some of the top names in fashion on their collections. She's a visionary, building a successful business out of the artsy, runway pieces that commercially-minded retailers shy away from.

Despite her influence in fashion, Susan shuns publicity. When I called to request an interview, she spent approximately 30 minutes explaining why she dislikes blogs and social media, which big-name publications she has turned down —there were some REALLY big names— and the general shortcomings of the #selfie society. Then, she invited me to her home for lunch. Susan doesn't do interviews, but she enjoys meeting people.

The draw of Susan (the store) is the special items that Susan (the person) selects. She has an eye for lasting design; nothing in the shop feels trend driven. Whether you're buying a ultra-sleek Isaac Reina clutch or a Vetements jacket, you know that it's something that you'll continue to love season after season. These are not the clothes you'll find in a luxury flagship on Union Square. This is where you go for a showstopper that no one else will be wearing. Whether you love them or hate them, the things you find at Susan will make you think. And in era defined by the instant consumption and oblivion of #OOTDs and "likes", it's a joy to find anything that leaves a lasting impression.

· Racked Awards 2014 [Racked]