Chadds Ford’s Beth Buccini has taken the fashion world by storm.
Beth Buccini does things like clink glasses of champagne with gal pal Jessica Seinfeld, chat style with Gwyneth Paltrow in Montauk and vacation in Capri. And if you believe the lush Christmas spread in last year’s Harper’s Bazaar, she also bakes holiday sugar cookies in her Chadds Ford kitchen for her four children, aged 8-13, while wearing red lipstick and nearly $4,000 in silk Gucci decadence.
Is it a stretch? Maybe not.
“My oldest will always say, ‘Mom, why do you have to be so fancy? We’re just at home,’” Buccini, 45, says with a laugh. “She’s 13 and has a great eye, but she’s more into horses than style.”
But Buccini has also done things like change a screaming 6-week-old’s dirty diaper in the Givenchy showroom. When she recalls the Parisian women teetering by with pinched faces, Buccini shrugs. “I simply said, ‘Je suis un expert; il est le quatrième enfant’—‘I’m an expert; it’s the fourth kid.’ After that, I nursed him there, too.”
She then rolled her baby buggy out of Givenchy, having purchased thousands of dollars’ worth of the designer clothing to nestle among the racks of her world-famous luxury boutique, Kirna Zabête.
“I look back on that buying trip—a crazy-busy eight days,” she recalls. “I was deeply sleep-deprived. I was nursing. I had no help whatsoever. It was insane.”
If you ask her husband, Rob, he’ll tell you it’s not insane. It’s just Beth.
“Her mother told me when we were dating that Beth always liked to be busy as a child,” says Rob, co-founder and co-president of Wilmington development company The Buccini/Pollin Group. “She continues to operate this way. She’s driven, first and foremost, to be a great mother. She has mastered the art of conference calls in the school car pickup line.”
Buccini settles back in the gorgeously appointed fitting area at her newest Kirna Zabête store in Bryn Mawr. The family moved to the area five years ago, and it wasn’t long before a prime space opened for the next Kirna Zabête.
A former SEPTA bus garage, KZ Bryn Mawr boasts high ceilings, chic black chandeliers, and whimsical washes of warm rose-gold. It’s filled with pastel arm candy in the form of mini Chloé shoulder bags, racks of straight-off-the-runway looks from the likes of Gucci and Altuzarra, exquisitely crafted jewelry, and the various pops of eclectic fun Buccini is known for.
A woman shuffles out of a fitting room, then examines herself, seemingly unsure of the Saint Laurent sweater she’s chosen.
“Oh, that looks so great on you,” Buccini says. “I wanted to carry that because it’s just such a fun piece.”
It’s not a put-on.
A verified member of New York’s fashion elite, Bucinni turned SoHo on its head with one of the country’s first specialty retail stores and now helms a fashion empire. She’s also just plain old nice. “My high-school yearbook quote says, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,’” she says. “When I’m hiring, I make it clear that nice is critical. We sell items at very high prices—that’s daunting and intimidating enough.”
Buccini grew up in Virginia, with a “self-made guy” as a dad and a museum-docent mom. When she was 13, she broke her leg. Already plagued by “gargantuan Coke-bottle glasses,” Buccini had a cast from ankle to knee to contend with. So she did what any future fashion industry titan would do. “I covered it with glittery socks,” she says.
While many girls her age might doodle a crush’s initials on the front of a paper-covered textbook, Buccini kept an itemized list of outfits. “I recorded everything I wore,” she says. “I remember always loving fashion.”
While an art history and French lit major at the University of Virginia, Buccini spent two semesters in Paris. “It changed my life,” she says. “I knew I wanted to live in a big city after Paris. And it’s where ‘Zabête’ comes from—Beth in French.”
“Kirna” is the nickname for close friend Sarah Easley, whom she met at UVA. Buccini bought Easley out last year, making her the sole owner of Kirna Zabête.
Buccini moved to New York City and worked as a fashion editor for Mirabella and New York magazines. She was 26 years old in 1999 when she took a hard look at SoHo and noticed something. “Here we are, basically in the center of the universe, and I have to go to a department store to buy nice things,” she says. “Why don’t we have some hip, amazing, fun place to shop?”
She reached out to Easley, who had high-end retail experience. With some help from investors, they did what no one else in Manhattan—or arguably anywhere else in the nation—was doing: specialty-store retailing. “There might’ve been a handful of us in some other big cities,” Buccini says. “I look back at it now, and it was completely bonkers. I was 26, and I signed a 10-year lease. I had the street cred from being a fashion editor. I know the designers; I knew the industry. But it was risky.”
Meanwhile, Rob—also living in New York at the time—was a few days away from a blind date with Buccini and settlement on a home on Greenhill Avenue in Wilmington.
“Our first date went something like this: ‘I just signed a 10-year lease on a store in SoHo.’ ‘Well, I just bought a house in Wilmington because I want to move back home.’ So …” Buccini laughs. “But it all worked out.”
Before the ink was barely dry on their lease, Buccini and Easley went on their first buying trip in Europe. Arms full of couture, Buccini got a phone call: The lease fell through. Then came the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Buccini chokes up. “I was there. I saw the Twin Towers,” she says.
Like everything else in New York, the doors of Kirna Zabête remained closed for some time. “When we opened back up, it just felt wrong,” she says. “But we persevered.”
In the 15 years since, Kirna Zabête has spawned three storefronts, with a fourth on its way. And while Buccini may have been in the right place at the right time way back when in SoHo, luck had little to do with it.
“Were we able to buy designers that no one else was carrying all those years ago? Yes, because we were the only game in town,” Buccini says. “Not the case anymore. So you have to work to stay relevant, to stay abreast of the next hottest discovery.”
Buccini spends a few weeks each year jet-setting back and forth on buying trips to Milan and Paris. Stateside, her weekly grind has her on the 6 a.m. Amtrak Acela to New York at least two days a week. She makes it home just in time to see the kids before lights out. Then there’s the press, e-commerce meetings, ordering, designing her new storefronts, cultivating vendor relationships, getting her newest KZ up and running in Palm Beach, Fla., later this year. The list goes on and on.
“Beth has an insane work ethic,” says friend Alina Cho, former host of CNN’S Fashion: Backstage Pass and current editor at large in fashion acquisitions for Ballantine Bantam Dell. “She is building an empire, and her success is a direct result of having a clear vision about the types of items customers can’t live without.”
Does Bucinni see her life’s work as an empire?
“You know, it’s funny—what is the true empire? I really want my career, but my children are the joys of my life,” she says. “I went to chapel this morning, and all four kids sang. And Rob and I are just looking at each other, because—my goodness—that’s what just absolutely kills you.”