COVER STORY: Living Life with Panache
pa·nache noun -
dash or flamboyance in style and action
Before you notice the labels at Panache Vintage & Finer Consignment in Brighton, you may notice the hats.
A regal parade of vintage hats adorn the upper part of the walls, looking down upon a sea of gorgeous designer clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories the likes of Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Tory Birch, Coach, and Prada.
Yet, the hats are more than decorations; they represent the incredible entrepreneur behind one of Rochester’s most unique and successful female owned boutiques: Joan Lincoln.
Lincoln, 53, is a woman who wears many hats and wears them each with style, class, and, well…panache of course.
The First Hat
While Lincoln was growing up in the small Finger Lakes town of Waterloo, there was no outlet mall.
One of her first jobs was at the most popular store in town at the time: the village pharmacy.
“It was a nice pharmacy with Hummels and a designer fragrance bar,” Lincoln said. “I sold Elizabeth Arden and Shalimar. Who would have thought that would have been related to who I am today?”
At the time not even Lincoln, who is the daughter of Ceil and Ed Boudreau, realized the beauty industry was in her future. She went to Alfred State for court stenography and moved to Rochester to start a family.
“I was a small town girl from a place where I knew everybody,” Lincoln recalled of her move to Rochester in 1980. “I was almost afraid of Rochester.”
To meet people she decided to get a job at her favorite store at the time – The Limited.
Within three months she was managing the store and later became the special events and marketing coordinator for Wilmorite Inc.’s Eastview and Marketplace Malls- her journey into the world of fashion had begun.
The Apprentice Hat
Lincoln quickly realized how much she loved fashion and got involved in other parts of the industry as well – modeling, make-up artistry, image consulting, and more.
“I had always been at the other end of the makeup brush, but always fascinated by it,” said Lincoln of being a makeup artist. “I never realized I had that talent. It is a part of who I am.”
When she left Wimorite after eleven years, she took a position with a high end fashion boutique in the Village of Pittsford and also worked as a makeup artist for NYC-industry giant Trish McEvoy Cosmetics.
Kathie Fish, of Perinton, frequented the shop and was drawn to Lincoln’s taste and style immediately.
“Joan’s amazing,” said Fish, who has been a customer and friend for twelve years. “She has a tremendous knowledge of fashion and how to put fashion together. She’s very creative in a tasteful way.”
One trait of Lincolns in particular struck Fish – a selfless sales style.
“She is not out for herself,” Fish said. “She wants the best for the people who come to her. She would never try to sell something to somebody just to make a sale – she makes sure it’s right for the customer.”
Fish calls Lincoln “a total package” when it comes to knowing fashion and knowing how to assist her customers.
It was at the Pittsford boutique that Panache was born – literally.
“A couple of the women I dressed there regularly would say, ‘Joan I love working with you because you have such panache,’’” Lincoln recalled. “I had to look it up and when I realized it was French and Italian for flair I was like ‘Hmmm.’”
Lincoln’s sister Debbie DiLorenzo of the Finger Lakes agrees that “panache” describes her little sister well.
“She’s always had panache,” DiLorenzo said. “She’s a natural – always had a great sense of style and understanding of clothes and fashion.”
The Entrepreneurial Hat
When Lincoln turned fifty she knew it was time to take off her apprentice hat, gather the myriad of skills she had learned, and tightly fasten on the hat of entrepreneurship.
“I had been working for other peoples businesses in a supporting actress role,” Lincoln said. “I wanted to do something different. I knew I could do something different.”
Lincoln decided to focus on what she had discovered to be her true love – making women feel good about themselves through fashion and beauty and identified a hole in Rochester’s market that would allow her to do so: high end consignment.
“The concept of a higher end consignment boutique in Rochester was novel,” Lincoln said. “There were thrift stores and consignment stores, but not high end stores selling luxury items and fine labels like Chanel and Hermes.”
To prepare for her idea Lincoln armed herself with knowledge.
“I read like a fiend,” Lincoln said. “I educated myself extensively on consignment and luxury items. Knowledge is power.”
She attended classes through SCORE, a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, and wrote her own business plan.
“The most difficult part of opening my own business was writing the business plan,” Lincoln recalled. “But I asked questions, took classes, and felt really comfortable with what I prepared.”
She called twenty-five customers in the Rochester area she had sold merchandise to in the past and told them about her business concept.
All twenty five women – whom she calls her “Panache Princesses” – opened their closets to Lincoln to begin her inventory.
Some naysayers told her the economy in 2010 was too poor for her idea.
“Yes the economy was at the bottom of the barrel,” Lincoln said. “But I thought it forward. I knew there was a market for upscale luxury items at consignment prices.”
She believed in herself.
“I am not a risk taker and this was the risk of a lifetime,” Lincoln said. “But I said ‘Your path has given you every single element you need to open Panache.”
She also found encouragement remembering the words and legacy of her late brother Mark Boudreau who passed away in July 2000 age of 44 of breast cancer.
“Before he died he told me ‘As long as you wake up in the morning, everything else is icing on the cake,’” said Lincoln, who also has a brother Ed Boudreau. “I think of that every morning.”
DiLorenzo says their brother would be happy with her accomplishments.
“Mark would be so proud of Joanie,” DiLorenzo said.
The Panache Hat
On August 3, 2010 the doors to Panache opened for the first time.
The business, though still a baby notes Lincoln, has two part-time employees and is doing phenomenal.
“We are known for our customer service and attention to dressing women,” Lincoln said. “And our merchandise is unbelievable.”
Lincoln has gone from 25 consignors in Rochester to 1300 from all over the country. She has clients from the west coast and Manhattan, including a well-known actress and other notable women whose privacy she honors, who ship their items to her on a regular basis.
Lincoln is also using Panache as a vessel of good for the community.
It is a year-round drop-off site for Fairy Godmothers of Greater Rochester’s prom dress donation program; was the first New York State Ambassador for the BRA Recycling program and services women’s shelters such as Alternatives for Battered Women, East House and Serenity Home with “like-new” bras.
“We get hundreds of bras brought to the store every month,” Lincoln said. “Local Girl Scout troops do the sorting and we ship them or send them where they need to go. The more bras we can recycle the better.”
Most recently, Panache began a new relationship with Free the Girls® – a non-profit organization that provides job opportunities to women rescued from sex trafficking.
At Panache, Lincoln also practices her makeup design and is a sought after make-up artist for Rochester area weddings and high profile runway events like Fashion Week of Rochester.
She also personally maintains Panache’s social media presence – which has a huge following on Facebook, will be launching a new website this spring, and writes a fashion Blog for the Democrat and Chronicle’s HerRochester site.
“The big city of Rochester has turned into the small country town I was used to,” Lincoln said. “I’m so blessed to be part of a community that’s so welcoming and supportive.”
The Mom Hat
While Lincoln is proud of what she has accomplished at Panache, she is most proud of the three beautiful, successful daughters she has raised as a single mom.
She lovingly calls them her “variety pack” – Taylor, 18, a senior in high school; Jessica, 23, a graduate student at Roberts Wesleyan College; and Elizabeth, 27, a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology who works in management at Nazareth College.
“I’m proud of everything my sister has accomplished since day one,” said DiLorenzo. “But I’m most proud of her for being a single mom and empowering and inspiring her daughters and other women.”
Her daughters have been with her each step of the way towards owning her own business.
“We couldn’t be more proud of our mom,” said Elizabeth Lincoln. “She is a pretty big inspiration. I’ve always looked up to my Mom.”
Elizabeth, who is working towards opening her own restaurant believes her Mom could have opened Panache sooner.
“She could have done this twenty years ago,” Elizabeth said. “She was capable of being an entrepreneur a long time ago. But the timing was right now – this is her time.”