Not coincidentally, Claire Distenfeld’s career began in New York’s art world. She graduated NYU with an Art History degree, and while getting a Master’s Degree in Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute, Distenfeld directed Rental, now called Untitled, a gallery on the Lower East Side. In one show, she filled the gallery’s cavernous white space, usually known for showing the works of emerging artists, with Warhols, Condos, Princes, and Murakamis. She was 23.
“When curating a gallery show, space and layout is always of utmost importance. You have beautiful things to show, but if you just hang them without consciousness they can look tired and stale,” Distenfeld said via email. Though she later felt the art world wasn’t the right fit, she knew she had something to share aesthetically. She just didn’t know how to translate it into a living.
Fivestory came from a personal place, of wanting something more from New York in terms of retail. “I’ve lived a life of constantly being curious to know what is out there and what is current,” Distenfeld says. “I always searched for new and interesting things for my own personal enjoyment, because to me truly feeling special and individual was becoming harder and harder to do in New York.” Perhaps in the true spirit of entrepreneurship, and with the help of her father, co-owner Fred Distenfeld, she made her own shop so she would have to look no further.
Distenfeld, who was born and raised on the Upper East Side (she cites grilled cheese and French fries at Viand Coffee Shop among her childhood staples), has created a new home for herself in the neighborhood. “I come to Fivestory and usually take a walk-through of the store, seeing how the display looks, what was sold, just doing an overall run-through. Then I usually chat with the sales staff a bit, get updated on things I’ve missed, and head down to my office on the lower level of the store.” Distenfeld’s favorite part of the day, though, is popping up to the store and chatting with customers, helping them try things on and “just living and breathing the store.”
When I left Fivestory after a recent visit, I briefly meet Claire Distenfeld. Her thick, light, honey-colored hair was twisted up into a fluffy bun at the top of her head. She was wearing a lively red skirt, carrying a light leather handbag, and wearing the same straw flatform oxfords that are on display inside. “Please enjoy the store,” she said with a smile. Not hard to do.