Nicole Nicholson: The Retail Queen of Upper Madison Avenue

Nicole Nicholson
Photos by Laurel Marcus

Want to feel instantly transported to Paris without having to pack a bag or get on a plane? I recommend taking a stroll on the Carnegie Hill area of Madison Avenue and visiting the triple delight of Nicole Nicholson’s fashionable boutiques: Boutique Mirabelle, Mademoiselle Mirabelle, and Ice Blue Pop-Up. Good luck leaving empty-handed!

Nicholson, approaching her 78th birthday next month, is the reigning queen of upper Madison for whom one store (or even two) was not enough for her to rule. “I’ve been in business for 36 years, and I’m devoted to my customers,” she said in a recent interview. “I love the contact with people – you become a doctor or a psychiatrist. With everyone coming back all the time, we’ve become friends.”

Indeed, as I’m there in the late afternoon interviewing her, friends and customers are popping in constantly, including Lauren, the young woman who is doing her social media as she changes clothes in different outerwear from the store and swans around creating TikTok videos.

These can also be seen on the store’s Instagram @mirabelleboutiqueny. Oh, did I mention that when I arrive, I spy Madame Nicholson doing jumping jacks through the window?

Mademoiselle Mirabelle

When I first met Nicole in the early ’90s, I admit I was somewhat intimidated by her at her store on 88th Street, but as I have come to know her over the years, she is a riot. While styling me last week at Mademoiselle Mirabelle in a Tara Jarmon silk polka-dotted button-front dress, she advised unbuttoning enough to show a little leg but covering “the p@ssy.” While giving me a tour of the newest jewel in her crown, she proudly showed off the dressing rooms featuring (just for fun) shower heads and shower curtains. As the French like to say, “Tres drôle!”

Boutique Mirabelle

It may seem like Nicholson is competing against herself with three boutiques on the same street, but each has a distinctive flavor and clientele — yet there is bound to be a crossover. Boutique Mirabelle, the oldest of the three (1310 Madison), is primarily casual and sporty.

Mademoiselle Mirabelle interior

Mademoiselle Mirabelle, the newest store that opened earlier this year (1339 Madison Ave), is high-end and trendy, while Ice Blue Pop-Up (1281 Madison) is a mixture of funky, sporty, and sale – an eclectic retail potpourri and the store where I have recently had the most fun.

All have high-quality clothing and accessories, mainly from France and Italy. She has two loyal and knowledgeable salespeople who have been with her forever and have also become friends of mine.

Lauren modeling a coat for a Tik Tok video

Nicholson’s family moved to Paris from Tunisia when she was twelve — the perfect endroit for someone with a fierce passion for fashion. As a young woman, she worked in the couture house Novak, centrally located on Rue Royale right in front of Maxim’s. There she learned pattern-making and how to do fittings which she especially loved.

Eventually, Nicole and her sister opened a store in Boulogne-Billancourt (a wealthy and prestigious area on the outskirts of Paris) on Boulevard Jean Jaures called Elia Kalian. It was the beginning of a brilliant career in retail management.

In 1974 she moved to NYC and opened Nicole’s Rouf, a unisex boutique at 63rd and Madison. The store met with great success (she recalls 61st Street was a major chic hangout then) and even became known around celebrity circles. “In 1976, I got a call from my salesgirl that someone wanted to write a $4,000 check for jeans and other things.

I said to her make sure you ask for ID. The customer said he’d be happy to present his newly acquired Green card, which he was so proud of. It was John Lennon! He was with the guy who played in ‘Young Frankenstein’ (Peter Boyle). “

Editors note: If that seems to be an unlikely pairing, I further investigated online and discovered that Lennon and Boyle were such good friends that Lennon was Best Man at Boyle’s wedding!

Mademoiselle Mirabelle

“The Chinese salesgirl became friendly with Yoko and went to the Dakota to do all their alterations. We had people come into the store from all over the world – South Americans in limos,” she added. Other customers included Jackie Kennedy and Robert Redford (although not together).

In the ’80s, Nicholson moved uptown, and Mirabelle was born. “I took a short-term lease (for the boutique) on 88th Street and then stayed for 36 years. Aretha Franklin, Shirley Maclaine, and Diana Ross were all customers. “We had a plastic raincoat – very shiny – in seven different colors, and Diana Ross bought it for her backup dancers,” she recounts.

Ice Blue Pop-Up

At some point in the ’90s, Nicholson opened Ice Blue Boutique on Washington Avenue in Miami’s trendy South Beach. It was the age of Madonna and Gianni Versace hanging out at nightclubs at the table next to her or Versace’s ritual morning coffee stop at News Café. She fondly recalls the party scene of the seemingly long-ago era.

Speaking of after-hours activities here in New York, the grandmother of one asked me if I had seen Susanne Bartsch’s latest nightclub revue, which she highly recommended. No, I had not. I’m frequently asleep on the couch by 9 p.m.

What keeps Nicole Nicholson going when many her age (or even many years her junior) are winding down? “I was bored with just one store, and I just love people,” she confessed as she set her sights on that evening’s activity – dinner out downtown with a group of “really fun” friends.

Latest Comments

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  2. I couldn’t agree with you more. Ralph will bring back beauty to fashion. Enough with the sideshow attractions.

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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