The prettiest storefront in downtown Derby’s prettiest building belongs to fashion designer Agathe Ngo Likoba, whose chic boutique is a shrine to the women’s jumpsuit.
Likoba isn’t the only designer who creates jumpsuits, but she’s the rare couturier who zones in on them exclusively.
Even rarer, she’s the only international fashion designer on Elizabeth Street in blue-collar Derby.
She installed a creamy white-and-black awning on the street, painted the interior the same colors, and hung a crystal chandelier inside. A trio of panels in the ceiling suggest skylights that reveal puffy clouds and blue skies.
The eponymously named shop stands out, attracting the attention of a gawker who momentarily interrupted our recent conversation.
“I always have men stopping by and looking. Intrigued!” Likoba remarks.
Soon after a protective patrolman got curious about a car parked outside. Likoba, obviously chums with the officer, assured him it was just a reporter. The patrolman gave a friendly wave and moved on.
“I grew up in a family where women were really dressed fashionably, really elegant,” says Likoba, who was born in Cameroon and moved to France when she was 6.
High standards for attire and deportment left an impression on young Agathe. Summers were spent in Bruges; winters on the ski slopes in the Swiss Alps. Appearances were everything.
“My mom was one of my biggest inspirations because I grew up in a home where she was always dressed up. Even like, a nightgown,” recalls Likoba. “She always had makeup, her hair done, her nails done, always in heels. I remember that growing up, girls had to learn very early to take care of themselves, to speak well, to present well. You always had to be proper and a lady.”
On the racks are pret-a-porter jumpsuits starting at $199, but for custom clients, prices can reach $10,000 for haute couture. Not really a strictly “local” designer, Likoba recently returned from the Oscars where she dressed an actress and laid the ground for future clientele. One day, the Likoba name will hang on an awning in Beverly Hills, she predicts.
With a few tweaks, a jumpsuit is appropriate for any occasion. She designs streamlined one-pieces for the boardroom, she makes more flamboyant pieces for an evening out and she makes the most elegant jumpsuits for brides headed down the aisle.
She’s also designed for models headed down the runway. And she plans to branch out into children’s one-pieces, which might be considered rompers. Likoba expects her daughter Angelique she expects to be a growing presence in the business when she spins off a high-end children’s line in a few years.
Her 2016 debut at Atlantic City Fashion Week, and then in New York City, was the culmination of over 10 years of stealthy research and development.
“Nobody knew,” says Likoba. She moved here 12 years ago. She married, had a daughter and “I had to work,” so she entered the world of commercial Manhattan real estate.
In 2014, her first sales were made online. Her suits were custom for special clients who were sent her look book. Then her SoHo-like storefront, lined with garment racks opened with a big ribbon-cutting last September. Not that she’s crazy about being compared to SoHo.
“Well, why not Derby?” she says she would tell friends who made the comparison. “I loooove this building. When I saw it, I was like ohhh.”
Likoba Boutique, 25 Elizabeth St., Derby, is open Tuesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-6.30 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-6.30 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday. 203-275-7770. Follow Agathe on Instagram @agathelikoba and her daughter, @angeliquemartina.
Lee Steele is editor of Sunday Arts & Style. Email: email@example.com.