The Fabulous Pepper Berkowitz
Florida fashion doyenne has brought her keen eye and international expertise to Charlevoix
By Rachel Pasche | Sept. 11, 2021
Pepper Berkowitz might be a bit of an anomaly in the fashion world. She’s warm, engaging, and genuinely wants to help others — a far cry from what you might think it takes to succeed in a fast-moving and highly competitive industry.
But as much attention as Berkowitz pays to trends, the owner of two boutiques — Peppers, in both New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and, most recently, Charlevoix, as well as the head of Peppereli, her own label — believes in and acts on age-old philosophy: “do good unto others, and good will be done unto you.”
Since moving into her new space in Charlevoix, she’s focused on shining a spotlight not only on her store but on the entire local fashion scene as well, by putting on fashion shows that include outfits from other local boutiques and clothing stores. Perhaps ironically to anyone who has ever paged through Vogue or watched The Devil Wear Prada, inclusivity and a positive attitude are the attributes she feels have been most important to her success.
Berkowitz has been in the fashion industry for 40 years. She says she began her climb at age 18 in Miami, starting at the bottom and, within just a few years, ascending the retail ladder to run three department stores, including the city’s legendary Richard’s, a seven-story department store. Over the last four decades, she’s worked as a merchandiser, a representative, and has traveled the world to work with supply companies and clients and — most importantly — to stay on top of what’s trending, what’s about to be trending, and which looks work for different people.
Touring her new boutique in downtown Charlevoix feels like taking a fashion tour of the world. We weave between racks of Italian linens and silks and Turkish textiles, stopping to admire colorful Canadian jackets in between. Tops from Brazil, pants from France, and all of it in one space where color seems to bloom like flowers in a garden.
Pepper’s is teeming with pieces in all sizes, shapes, and materials, and browsing the racks feels like a treasure hunt. She tells us she carries over 100 different lines of clothing, sourcing from countries all around the world. We get lost perusing the racks for quite some time, admiring how the styles from one country differ so greatly to that of another, no two pieces quite the same.
Berkowitz tells us that she would describe the style of her clothing as “Missy Contemporary.” When asked what that means, she smiles and takes us around the store to an area where a few middle-aged women are tracing their hands along silky scarves and admiring unique jewelry.
“This,” she says, gesturing to one of the ladies shopping, “is a missy.” Translation: an older woman who prefers clothing that has a looser fit and is comfortable without compromising its wearer’s style. Someone who takes shopping seriously and wants pieces that are unique and on-trend.
As an example, Berkowitz takes us to the new arrivals section of the store, where stunning jackets and wraps hang. The pieces look chic and well-made as we approach, but when she points out the decorative stitching that covers the piece, we see they’re incredibly detailed.
“Embroidery is about to be a new trend,” she tells us, “so I’ve got a bunch of pieces here with gorgeous embroidered details.” And they are stunning, with colorful flowers and other designs covering denim jackets and wool wraps that would otherwise be relatively ordinary.
Berkowitz tells us she tries to look for pieces with a little something extra, a special detail that sets it apart from other clothing. She shows us pouf jackets with large, gleaming gold buttons down the front that transforms the coat from a simple piece of outdoor wear to a fall statement piece. She pulls out dresses with patterns the likes of which we’ve never seen and shows us their hidden pockets, a huge plus for any wearer.
ONLY ONE RULE REIGNS
“I wouldn’t say I have a particular list of do’s and don’ts in fashion,” Berkowitz says, “because everyone looks good in something different. What might look stunning on you would never work for someone else, and vice versa.”
She says this is why she likes to carry such an incredible array of styles, sizes, and options in her boutique: everyone can find something for them.
“That’s my high, when someone finds something that they love and that they look incredible in. It’s why I love this industry and why I do what I do,” she says, moving swiftly from one customer to the next, pulling pieces from the racks as she goes, helping them find the perfect piece that makes them feel — and look — dazzling.
When a customer approaches with a return — she received something from Pepper’s as a gift and wanted to exchange it — Berkowitz doesn’t send her from the register to search but rather escorts the woman around the store, having her try on this and that as they go.
Once the customer found something she loved and walked out happily, Berkowitz turned with a smile and, to her store manager asks, “I’m a firm believer in one thing. What’s my saying?”
“If you don’t love it, take it off,” the manager replies.
Berkowitz repeats the phrase and says it’s so important that any customer in her store buy only things that they positively adore.
“We get a lot of repeat customers for that reason,” she muses. “It’s hard to find the sort of intimate customer service experience we offer here.”
Find Pepper’s Boutique at 227 Bridge St., in Charlevoix. peppersboutique.com or search Peppers Boutique MI on Facebook.