Clothing As Empowerment, With A High-Fashion Aesthetic
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Shedding Layers, Donning Clothes

Clothing As Empowerment, With A High-Fashion Aesthetic

Miriam is a writer, editor and the head of everything web at The Jewish Media Group.

Some of the images in Raul Tovar's series for The Frock NYC depicting the "heroine's" journey of self-discovery. The clothing in the series mirrors the journey evolving from simple basics to fuller, embodied pieces. Courtesy of Raul Tovar
Some of the images in Raul Tovar's series for The Frock NYC depicting the "heroine's" journey of self-discovery. The clothing in the series mirrors the journey evolving from simple basics to fuller, embodied pieces. Courtesy of Raul Tovar

At an event to celebrate the opening of a clothing store, one might expect to see the brand’s clothing on display.

Not at this one.

The opening of The Frock NYC’s first shop in Brooklyn late last month was less about the clothes it sells and more about the people who wear them. Less fashion exhibit, more an experience in storytelling.

Founded in 2013 by sisters Chaya Chanin, 34, and Simi Polonsky, 32, — two affable Australians who now live in New York — The Frock sells “foundational clothing … that has the ability to be timeless, versatile and multi-functional,” as Polonsky put it.

The refurbished, 800-square-foot store sits on the corner of Rogers Avenue and President Street on one of Crown Heights’ rapidly gentrifying streets dotted with new cafes and bars alongside older bodegas and apartment buildings. It will serve as the base for their pop-up shops — the brand’s first brick-and-mortar presence after selling its wares primarily online.

Though the clothing they sell is modest by Orthodox standards (the sisters are Chabad), their sartorial style is decidedly non-traditional. (Think jeans under dresses—yes, it’s a thing!)

Sisters Simi Polonsky (L) and Chaya Chanin (R) founded The Frock in 2013. Since then it has become much more than just a clothing brand. Instagram/The Frock NYC

“While our designs are created to suit a modest inclined wardrobe, they have the ability to appeal to a wider audience interested in a high-fashion aesthetic,” said Polonsky who studied at the Whitehouse Institute of Design in Sydney. (The Frock line is considered reasonably priced; an average dress retails at $150).

Keeping with their style the Oct. 24 event, too, was untraditional.

For the evening the sisters teamed up with Raul Tovar, a fashion photographer who regularly shoots for Vogue, to showcase a series of photographs themed around the “heroine’s” journey, a narrative about a woman’s mythical quest to find herself — with an added touch of feminine flair.

The Frock NYC sisters with fashion photographer Raul Tovar at the opening of their shop. Chaya Chanin on the left, Simi Polonsky on the right. Instagram/Raul Tovar

“The heroine’s story applauds and recognizes the hero and heroine within,” Polonsky told the invitation-only crowd squeezed tightly into the small space.

Beginning from the woman’s origins, Tovar’s black-and-white portraits followed her journey from her primal base, her metaphoric home, through a phase of exploration and discovery until she ultimately finds herself. The sisters styled the clothing to mirror this journey of self-discovery, beginning with simple basics and graduating to fuller, more embodied pieces.

“It’s about looking within even when we feel completely bare, and establishing a strong base from that vulnerability,” Polonsky said.

For the sisters this theme resonates strongly.

Over the last five years The Frock has evolved into more than just a clothing brand, but rather a community of sorts that extends beyond fashion. The sisters regularly use their online presence (they have an active blog and over 40,000 followers on Instagram alone) to provoke discussions about modesty, parenting, empowerment, inclusivity — and more recently, following the loss of Polonsky’s husband to a sudden illness, about loss, growth and resilience.

It was this community that rallied to the sisters support when Polonsky’s husband was in the hospital — holding prayer and solidarity groups and, when he passed away, raising over $1million in a GoFundMe style campaign to support her family.

Since his passing Polonsky has journaled her grieving process on Instagram. Chanin, too, recently opened up about her husband’s journey from addiction to recovery and used the platform to raise awareness about substance abuse.

The Frock NYC’s founders, Chaya Chanin and Simi Polonsky outside their new pop-up shop in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Instagram/The Frock NYC

The shop’s opening came at an auspicious time, coinciding with the first anniversary of Polonsky’s husband’s passing and six years since Chanin’s husband became sober.

Despite their tough year, the sisters’ business grew in 2018. Asked about their sales, Polonsky said, “Let’s just say we have smashed our goal for this year and plan to double [it] next year.”

In the lead-up to the event they asked their Instagram followers to share what made them feel powerful. Hundreds chimed in. “I feel powerful when I look back on the pain of the past and realize how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown,” one read. “I feel powerful when I’m carefree of other people’s judgement,” said another.

“The Frock journey is about digging deep, it’s about finding the strength we never knew existed.” Polonsky said emotionally. “Only then can you unleash your possibilities and release your own inner heroine.”

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