Seattle’s Blackbird closing its doors

by Harry Sheff

SEATTLE—Blackbird, the celebrated Seattle men’s contemporary store, is closing its doors. Founder and owner Nicole Miller sent a message to customers and vendors yesterday announcing that she has decided to close Blackbird and the Blackbird Apothecary.

Nicole Miller“After nearly nine years of selling pants to people who need pants, I have decided to close my Blackbird stores to focus on the wholesale sales of our number one products: Blackbird Incense Pyres, Beard Oil and Black Square Soap (and a few more),” Miller’s announcement said.

“When I started Blackbird, menswear was in a deep rut, but the signs of change were starting to spring up,” she continued. “I had to search far and wide to find clothing that fit, fabrics that would wear well and designs that would move us into the future without breaking the bank or our sensibilities. It wasn’t easy. Sales reps frequently said I wasn’t buying what all the other stores selected, but that didn’t bother me. In no way did I expect that people would take notice of my store, that Blackbird would win menswear awards, and that as I traveled the world, kids I met in other stores would freak out when I said that I owned a store in America called Blackbird. The people were always the best part of this adventure. The mission started out being about the clothes but quickly the people were what mattered most; to see them as who they are, to inspire them to take one step further than the last, and to let them know it was okay to be themselves. I didn’t know I would affect people. I didn’t know how much you people would affect me.”

MR Magazine honored Miller and Blackbird with an Uptown/Downtown award in 2011.

Miller got into the retail business by accident, taking over a store she helped a friend open in 2004. In just a few years, Blackbird was getting national attention from fashion press and blogs. Part of the fame came from Miller’s blog, Hello Blackbird, and her inspired merchandising, but it was also her refreshing no-nonsense attitude, both with customers and the press.

In 2009 Miller opened The Field House, a sort of general store, in Seattle; it’s since closed. She brought the Blackbird concept to Portland, Oregon with a 900 sq. ft. store in 2011—that too has closed. In July last year, Miller moved her apothecary business into its own intimate 400 sq. ft. space where her staff welcomed customers by seating them around a table. At one point, Miller said the apothecary was her fastest growing business.

Reached for comment, Miller said, “Blackbird was always ahead of the curve. When I introduced The Field House and American heritage back in 2008 we struggled to explain how we weren’t trying to dress guys up like farmers. It’s been so fun to be progressive in menswear. It’s been so fun to be the underdog from Seattle influencing people in New York. I’ll miss it but I’m off to the next thing, and then next thing, and the next thing.”

Blackbird will host a “Beers and Tears” party on Sunday, July 7 from 5-10pm. A schedule for clearance sales, which will include store fixtures and a metal staircase, will be released soon.