The striped black and white awnings hung over the front windows of a small store on the corner of 9th and Irving welcome passerbys strolling along the street from a leisurely brunch or weekly grocery shopping at the farmer’s market. They belong to the charming corner boutique of Ambiance, blending seamlessly into the array of locally-thriving shops in the Inner Sunset– yet still a standalone. Just one look at the beautifully crafted window displays– curated styles coordinating with a color scheme or travel aesthetic– captures your intrigue, and you’re waltzing through the wide, open doors.
It’s as if you’ve found yourself in a sort of attic where those old clothes kept in trunks are on racks and wonderfully styled to the standards of today’s trends. But if you’ve lived in San Francisco since 1996, you know that this attic isn’t a new pop-up or magical Instagram gimmick sensation. Ambiance is a local chain, a Bay Area gem we’re grateful that Donna O’Leary has shared only with this city. For the wondrous, comforting facade of a boutique that strikes off the bat as an opulent vintage parade, it’s surprising to see that the clothes are in fact the latest, hottest, and most sought after styles, establishing a necessity out of the goods offered, while creating a novelty shopping experience.
Taking over an already-existing store on Haight Street in 1996, Donna O’Leary was just honing in her skills in fashion in her 40’s. She never realized that her passion for styling would become her greatest masterpiece, merely pursuing college in hopes of proper secretarial experience before moving to Australia age 25. It was there where she was invited to a local boutique for a prospective job, and found her calling. Styling customers on an intimate level and guiding their personal taste with her in-store recommendations, this perfect formula of keeping small and building on the relationship between regular shoppers and beloved locals has never been forgotten, a key focus for any Ambiance employee and most of all to O’Leary herself.
So in this new age of Ecommerce and fast fashion, O’Leary has created a sense of time– and enjoying that time, and doing so by truly finding something you love, from a flowy dress or a fierce statement-making blouse as an emerald-encrusted insect necklace cascades from your neck. Dress up like you did as a little girl has gone nowhere, it’s just evolved, with something for every girl and her unique style– all thanks to magical boutiques like Ambiance.
Check them out in San Francisco at their 4 locations!
Photos by Marjorie Magazine