Talking Shop, Parties and Community with The Break's Hannah Richtman
No matter how fashion-obsessed you may be, in-person shopping can often feel like a task. Trying on a thousand pairs of jeans until you find the right ones? Boring! Unless, of course, you’re shopping at The Break.
When The Break’s founder Hannah Richtman set out to open her first location, she wanted to elevate vintage shopping and turn a visit to her store into an experience for her customer. She did this by carefully curating her selection, hosting shoppers with wine and food and making sure nearly every object in sight is something tangible– something that you could potentially take home with you. The Break was (and is) a fully immersive shopping experience where the employees are more than salespeople; they’re your new friends.
When The Break’s physical location closed down, Hannah continued to offer the experience in the form of parties, and eventually, pop-ups. With her latest Chinatown pop-up open until the end of September, we sat down with Hannah to discuss the enigma that is The Break.
When I first looked at the Instagram and website for The Break, I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. Was it a store? Was it an event space? Tell me how you describe it.
Hannah Richtman: When I set out to start this business, I wanted to create a space that felt welcoming and inclusive. One that encompassed fashion and hospitality, art and culture and music…. I started with vintage clothing because that was what I knew. It was an easy vehicle to work with for me because I was also a stylist. I’ve been curating and collecting vintage pieces my entire life—using those in a lot of my shoots and wearing them personally‚ so I had a huge inventory. I started in my apartment selling my own personal collection and throwing parties.
So it really started very, very small from my own home. And now, it’s almost come full circle because today The Break represents this all-inclusive hospitality where we focus on fashion that brings people together.
So yes, we sell tops but we also serve food and wine and we throw parties. The Break is about an experience. It’s not so much about a product or sticking to one path. We branch out and we’re flexible. It’s really more of an enigma than a vintage store or one specific thing.
When it comes to serving food and wine, do you partner with different restaurants or caterers?
HR: Yeah, absolutely. When I started, we did pop-ups in a bar called Tutu’s that was owned by one of my friends…. Food and beverage have a really beautiful way of cultivating community. It is so natural and organic and to pair that with fashion was really a no-brainer to me.
We’ve also paired with caterers and with friends who are doing food projects. My fiancee is a fine dining chef so I’m now working with him. We’ve worked with chefs like Tara Thomas and, just within our own community, there are so many talented people that work in food. This has always been one giant collaboration so we’ve worked on projects that we find really inspiring with those people.
When someone goes to your website and signs up for a time slot to visit your pop-up space, what can they expect when they walk through the door?
HR: That’s something that we really started honing in on over the past year—focusing less on traditional retail. We had a brick-and-mortar, ground-level, vintage store for many years that we loved and was really successful but it was also never really the point to do anything traditionally.
I got the opportunity to expand on what I felt was always the true nature of The Break: community and hospitality. So, last October we rented a space on the fifth floor of a building on the Lower East Side. It was a huge space and we transformed the whole thing with vintage furniture. It even had a kitchen! We basically built out a fake apartment that felt very, very real and the point was to invite people into our “home”. We could hang out and it was very comfortable and low pressure. It was like the best house party you can imagine but you can take everything home with you.
That experience did super well and it was so much fun. I was excited because it was a risk to transition in business and life in general, so that really stuck. Our customer was super excited to have this almost private experience that felt really personalized because it was.
How would you describe the aesthetic vision for The Break? What kind of pieces can people expect to find?
HR: I want it to feel a little bit ahead of the trends as far as the fashion and the pieces are concerned. We’re now focusing on quality and secondhand pieces that have so much life left to live. This focus really reflects the contemporary vision that I think New Yorkers are all on the same page about.
I personally like things that are a little bit avant-garde and a little bit weird and bold and have personality. But then you can also find chic, elevated basics like the perfect black blazer, the perfect button-down, the perfect pair of jeans… Things that will only get better with age.
It’s really about conscious consumption with The Break…. We want people to look at our product and say, “Wow, I love this and I will always love this”.
On the website, you have an “Essentials Collection”. Are these pieces you’ve designed?
HR: Over the years, these are things that I’ve consistently sourced for The Break that always sell out…. The blazer and button-down are online but we never ended up uploading the jeans to our site because there were a lot of measurements. But all of these pieces are available in-store. They’re classics and they never go out of style. It’s a wardrobe must-have in our opinion so that’s why we call these pieces “essential”.
We source these pieces bulk so they’re all secondhand but they’re not necessarily exactly the same. It’s just about the fit and the vibe of it. And because these are things we find so consistently, it just made sense for us to be like, “For 84 bucks, tell us what size you are and we’ll send you the perfect blazer for you”. So that’s kind of how the Essentials Collection came about.
How do you see The Break operating in the future? Do you envision ever having a permanent space again?
HR: I’ve come to realize that I am a host. That’s what I love to do; I love to welcome people into a space that I’ve produced and throw a good party and have a good time and really the idea is expanding on that with The Break. It’s not about retail or selling the top, it’s about taking what I’ve learned over the past years of selling successful parties within our own retail space and applying that to other brands, other companies, and other friends who maybe want to recreate that experience themselves…. I would love to find a more permanent space that can consistently be there for people. Right now, I’m honestly considering moving out of the city and exploring some other places. We will always be present in New York but I think that the other thing about The Break that has always been exciting is that we are so fluid.
New York is kind of the perfect place for the multifaceted.
If I wanted a more permanent space, I’d think of us having little limited edition homes throughout the city and then “The Break Estate” would be upstate. That could be a venue and on land and we could do whatever we want. We can have privacy and not have to worry about landlords and neighbors or things that tend to get in the way of throwing a good party. That’s the goal.
And even if you did leave the city proper, it sounds like The Beak would always retain a New York influence.
HR: Oh my god! We are New York through and through! We will always be connected to this city. I’m so grateful for the community that this city has brought me. It’s not about the four walls that we are physically in, it’s about bringing this energy wherever we go. That’s The Break.
WORDS Hillary Sproul
PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of The Break