It’s Emma Rogue’s Downtown Now

One morning in March, Emma Rogue hopped in the black Nissan Rogue she shares with her brother and pulled out from a parking spot across the street from her Lower East Side vintage shop, Rogue, and set her Waze for the Goodwill in South Hackensack, N.J.

She had recently updated the voice on the app to Christina Aguilera. As she drove down Allen Street, it piped up: “Red light camera reported ahead — they’re trying to do us dirrrrrrty.”

A half-hour later, she arrived. Wearing orange Nike/Supreme collaboration SB Air Force 2s and baggy jeans, she nodded to some shopping buddies on the way in, put her hair up in a ponytail and got to work rummaging through chaotic bins of garments. It was the beginning of a full day of thrift scavenging through northern New Jersey to source inventory for her store, which will celebrate its first anniversary next month.

In short order, Rogue has become one of the most consequential and unpredictable new retail adventures in New York. It’s the place where the TikTok famous liquidate their closets, where gumption-y young clothing designers stage runway and pop-up events, and where the studiously mismatched find their signature garments. Every weekend Rogue hosts at least one event, building a community one baby tee or pair of rave pants at a time, resulting in a curious, vibrant, eclectic and chaotic energy not seen in downtown retail since the peak mid-2010s era of VFiles.

“Rogue is bigger than just vintage,” she said later that afternoon, over chicken and cornbread at her one of her favorite restaurants, Boston Market. “Yes, vintage is where we started. But my vision for it now is we are empowering the next generation of creatives. We are the springboard for who’s next up. Whoever we are stocking in our store, they have the valid check, you know?”

Refreshingly, there is no one prevailing style in Rogue’s group of fashion fanatics. Her extended community is less tethered to specific aesthetics, eras, silhouettes or ideologies. Many of the most adventurous dressers boldly mix styles, fabrics, periods and shapes, less bound by subcultural identification and more comfortable with fluidity.

From left, Kevin Tran, Mini Hammond and Daniel Waj.Credit…Luisa Opalesky for The New York Times

“People are starting to dress in ways that make them happy or are expressing different parts of themselves all in one outfit,” said Clara Perlmutter, a.k.a. @tinyjewishgirl, one of the most vividly idiosyncratic dressers on TikTok. She was speaking between greeting fans at a closet sale she held at Rogue one shivery Sunday in late February, likening the current style moment to the hybrid nature of post-internet art: “It’s almost like collage, and you’re the canvas.”

Ms. Rogue’s own style is accessibly excessive, a fun-house take on Y2K. Often she’s wearing at least one oversize garment, and frequently is in gargantuan boots. (She has a specific dealer for those.) She dyes strips of her hair and leans toward theatrical eye makeup.

After an hour or so at the Goodwill bins, Ms. Rogue, 26, headed out to a warehouse-size thrift store not far away. In just a half-hour, she pulled a number of vivid items: a pair of half-black, half-leopard print jeans; a patchwork denim maxi-skirt, a black top with a gold logo from Ed Hardy’s intimates line, a T-shirt from Avril Lavigne’s defunct Abbey Dawn line; a probably flammable white mesh turtleneck festooned with motivational phrases (“Choose Happy,” “Make Yourself Proud”); an ornately faded pair of baggy jeans three or four steps past the recent True Religion revival.

Bella McFadden, a.k.a. Internet Girl, who came to renown as a Depop seller in the late 2010s and now has her own brand, iGirl, met Ms. Rogue a few years ago when she was working at Depop and has watched her break out on her own.

“She’s definitely tapping into the 2000s revival, very nostalgiacore,” Ms. McFadden said. “A lot of her pieces are stuff we would wear when we were kids. Right now we’re leaning more into the 2010s, and Emma’s definitely tapping into that, too.”

Ms. Rogue, born Emma Rodelius, grew up in New Jersey, first in Jersey City and later in the sleepy township of Bedminster. Both her parents worked in real estate. In high school, she focused on science, in hopes of one day becoming a plastic surgeon.

From left, Riley Rodriguez, Nicole Gamboa with Sydney Judd and Sam Norris. Credit…Luisa Opalesky for The New York Times

But by the time she arrived at New York University in 2014, she was ready to shake free of her sheltered small-town experience. “I don’t think I realized how much of an extrovert I was until I got to N.Y.U.,” she said. Eventually, she fell in with a group of skateboarders who introduced her to Supreme and other streetwear — her gateway fashion education.

When she graduated in 2017, she still hadn’t fully landed on her personal style. But in early 2018, she began selling items she thrifted on Depop. Later that year, she worked as shop manager of Depop’s retail location in NoLIta, where she watched how her items sold in real time and began to expand her offerings beyond the Y2K items she personally enjoyed.

“Even if I wouldn’t wear it, if I could imagine someone else wearing it and looking bomb walking down the street in New York City wearing it, I would get it,” she said.

In summer 2019, Danielle Greco, who was then Depop’s head of content, put Ms. Rogue in front of the camera to host content for a Depop/VFiles collaborative runway event. “She had this formula where she could teach other kids,” Ms. Greco said. “She had the know-how, and she spoke on their level. She’s accessible, passionate, friendly, and she’s got good style.”

That year, Rogue was also becoming a New York City street fair regular, with a keenly curated blend of styles. It was at one such fair in Bushwick that Brian Procell, the macher of downtown vintage sellers, first encountered her.

Ms. Rogue has big plans for her downtown shop. “My vision for it now is we are empowering the next generation of creatives,” she said. Credit…Luisa Opalesky for The New York Times

“She was providing a mix of brands for people that were her age but would also please critical New Yorkers like myself,” said Mr. Procell, who is one of Ms. Rogue’s primary inspirations. (She routinely wears the muslin Air Force 1s he released with Nike in 2019.)

“She’ll have the Westwood, Rick Owens and also the Mandee meets Wet Seal, and then she’ll have the No Limit, Ecko Unltd. — all of these things merged together,” Mr. Procell continued. “But it’s her specific presentation that sets her apart, and the ability to offer it to the TikTok generation.”

Social media has been crucial to Ms. Rogue’s rise from selling a couple of dozen items a week on Depop to downtown agenda setter. Early in the pandemic, she began filming TikTok videos in which she would meticulously pack people’s orders. There was something soothing about seeing the sometimes chaotic garments methodically and lovingly sent off to new homes.

Though Ms. Rogue has hired a sales staff, and has help with social media, most of her operation remains a one-woman show. While rummaging through the racks in New Jersey, she was pulled away to approve social media content that needed to be posted, and fielded a call about a stylist making an unannounced visit to pull items for a television show. Also, she was posting photos of the items she was buying to her Instagram story, polling her followers on their likes and dislikes.

“It’s like an agency that has an in-house department for all of these things,” Mr. Procell said, “but it’s just her.”

From left, Hayley, Jess Xu and Cydney Sherman.Credit…Luisa Opalesky for The New York Times

Her turnaround time from deciding to find a physical location to the store’s opening day was around two months. “It’s amazing how bold she is, the fact that she thought to open a brick and mortar,” Ms. McFadden said. “I was like, ‘Why would you do that when everything’s happening online?’ But after seeing her move, I’m like, “Wow, brick and mortar still is alive and well.’” The store has been visited by the influencers Avani Gregg and Gage Gomez, the model Devon Lee Carlson, the social media chameleon Frankie Jonas, the musicians Steve Lacy and Holly Humberstone and others.

But Ms. Rogue is more focused on her inner circle, cultivating a creative group from the ground up. “Emma’s honestly one of the best networkers I know,” Ms. Perlmutter said, “but she’s also generous in sharing the spotlight and helping to bring everyone’s audiences together.”

Part of her magic has been to ruthlessly stay atop fast moving microtrends — “What did Addison Rae wear in a TikTok yesterday that went viral and that everyone is commenting about?” — and to anticipate what the most forward-thinking dressers may want to wear months in advance. She described one recent find, a relatively simple bedazzled “blessed” shirt, as “2012, 2014 middle-schooler, but on a model, I can already imagine it. I see it with the low-rise jeans. I’ll put that on the floor, and we’ll see if someone gets it.”

She added: “It’s so corny, but, like, it’s good.”

Ms. Rogue has also made a habit of unearthing styles and brands from the not-so-distant past that have fallen out of the spotlight but that are prime for this moment.

From left, Ari Serrano, Angel Cuji and Joshua Burnett.Credit…Luisa Opalesky for The New York Times

After she stumbled on a cache of deadstock items from the mall brand It’s Happy Bunny, which pairs cutesy illustrations with tart phrases, she reached out to Jim Benton, its creator. He sent her some items from his personal archive for her to sell at a one-day pop-up.

“Frankly, she’s kind of a force of nature,” Mr. Benton said. “You meet people that have a bright inner light and think, ‘You’re going to be big-time.’ She’s one of those people.”

Mr. Benton was in New York from Michigan for the event, which drew about 300 people. The store, he said, was “an adorableness magnet.” Encouraged by the Gen Z interest, he’s in the process of bringing back the brand later this year.

Crowds like that have become de rigueur for Ms. Rogue. On weekends, her block — Stanton Street between Eldridge and Forsyth — can seem like an impromptu runway show. Lately she has been woven into New York Nico’s tapestry of colorful city characters. He took Post Malone to the store, where he bought oodles of vintage T-shirts, tried on a denim shirt overlaid with patchwork Louis Vuitton logo leather and embellished with a leash — made by Ari Serrano, one of Rogue’s designer friends — and exclaimed, “This place is awesome!”

In the future, Ms. Rogue wants to carry more of her independent designer friends, and maybe clothes of her own design. And her plan extends beyond the retail location. She has almost 575,000 followers on TikTok between her personal and shop accounts, and she has become an on-the-street interviewer, chatting up the people who come to her shop about their outfits and style preferences.

She sees that as the beginning of a media platform. She also has her eye on a location to build a cafe where her crew can spend the day loitering and can accommodate parties at night — an all-in-one Rogue experience — and plans to do a Roguefest bringing together clothing sellers, musical performances, panels and carnival games.

“I don’t want to operate on anyone else’s terms,” she said. “Sometimes my mind just goes too fast, and I get these crazy ideas that I know I can’t execute now. But, like, I want to so bad.”

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