We’ve known Michael for a while now but truly bonded with him after a visit to our studio for a J.Hilburn fitting. A vital presence in Philadelphia’s real estate market, Michael has a foot in many worlds, and needed an outfit to suit them all.
As a real estate professional with CITYSPACE , he works with both buyers and sellers of real estate. As a supporter of both The Reading Viaduct Project and The Friends of the Rail Park, he is a vocal advocate for the conversion of the abandoned rail lines just north of Center City into a linear park— a highly visible project, lauded as Philly’s answer to Manhattan’s High Line.
His enthusiasm for community—and the idea of tailoring an experience to fit one’s needs—extended to his interaction with our dear Tina, who spent several weeks finding him the perfect style and fit.
For Michael, the experience of shopping this way was worlds away from conventional retail:
When you’re buying a shirt off the rack you’re buying someone else’s idea, and you’re assigning that idea to your image of yourself. To sit down with Tina and start going through fabrics, style, cut, and then fit, and then two weeks later walk out with one of her shirts, it’s not someone else’s idea. It’s you.
And that person is the one we got to know over a double Americano and some breakfast at his favorite neighborhood spot, Café La Maude. Off we go!
Michael Garden Visits Café La Maude. Northern Liberties, Philadelphia.
Living in NY in the 1990s, I could come down to Philadelphia on the weekend and get a suite at the Rittenhouse Hotel for $100. All their business was Monday-Friday corporate business stuff. I was there for pleasure.
Philadelphia was less of a tourist destination. That has all changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years. For me, coming here then I always felt like I was in Europe staying in a pleasant hotel on a beautiful square. I remember being here during the flower market and art fairs and having so many good little restaurants to walk to and the way the neighborhoods changed so quickly. It felt so different than New York. And that’s the thing that appeals to me most about Philadelphia. It’s the intimacy.
After 20 years I sort of had my fill of New York. Also New York was changing. It was going in a direction that was less interesting to me. It was losing its sense of neighborhoods. It was becoming more homogenous.
I think gentrification is wonderful to a point. When I lived in Williamsburg I could not get a good cup of coffee. So when the first good cup of coffee showed up that was amazing. It’s when new businesses and new development come in that are based on ideas that are not from within the neighborhood but from other places…that a neighborhood starts to lose its character.
The only way to get to know a city at all is to walk it. Before I moved here I’d come and stay for several days at a time and just walk. Walk walk walk walk. Get to know the neighborhoods. Get to know the schools. Get to know where the good coffee was.
Similar to my first days in New York I would walk from coffee shop to coffee shop. Each café would be a chance to develop a sense of place. And you’re out in discovery mode, so another cup of coffee never hurt. Cafés are a great place to people watch, to get a sense of the neighborhood and its community.
I lived in a loft for most of my time in New York so really what drew me to this neighborhood [Northern Liberties] was finding a loft that I really liked. Also this neighborhood has a little bit of the Williamsburg feel in the sense that 10-12 years ago it was rough and tumble and then [it gentrified] to a point that’s good now.
There are 6 or 7 cafes within a few blocks of here. So of course I had to explore them all. But this was instant love at first sight. Great coffee, great decor, wonderful owners, wonderful regulars, incredible food.
Since they [Natalie and Gaby] opened 2-3 years ago, I’ve been coming here. It’s a very diverse clientele that comes in, from neighborhood people to developers. The food has a reputation well beyond the neighborhood so people will come here for lunch and brunch from all over the city. Kids come here before school, when they get on the bus. And the conversation flows from table to table and counter to table…
My drink of choice is a double Americano.
The Reading Viaduct
I got involved in the viaduct project through Design Philadelphia two years ago. A lot of people reference the New York High Line which is of course in some ways a model for it.
The vision which seems to continually come up here in Philadelphia is something that’s less designed and hardscaped and more green. More of a corridor rather than just a place you go for a walk when people come from out of town… it would actually be a way of commuting.
There’s a vision to reconnect it to Reading Terminal Market where it was cut off when they put in the Vine Expressway years ago. If they rebuild the pedestrian bridge from the viaduct to the Convention Center it would have a huge impact on the way people from out of town experience Philadelphia. It would connect the northern neighborhoods to Center City.
There are two organizations and I support both…The Reading Viaduct Project is focused on the elevated rail east of North Broad. The Friends of the Rail Park is advocating for a 3-mile long park that includes the viaduct as well as a submerged section of rail merged with the viaduct at Broad and Noble and running west to Fairmount Park.
I encourage all Philadelphians to become familiar with the various concepts, proposals and the associated issues and support all efforts to create a rail park that connects neighborhoods and the people that live, work and play in them.
I’ve always been interested in working with existing structures and identifying what’s great about that particular structure, preserving that and then working around it…It’s very subjective. It’s guided by a respect for what’s there. So if it’s an existing structure it’s guided by a respect for the merits of that structure. If it’s a vacant lot it’s not a totally blank slate. You want to speak to what’s around it even thought you aren’t working with that directly. You want to consider that in your own plans.
…The viaduct itself would change the culture of Philadelphia. So to connect it to other cultural components is one of the ways to really elevate the awareness.
Michael recently hosted his third event focused on developing this linear park. Seeking to incorporate a fashion component, he collaborated with two of our city’s most talented designers to bring the vision to life. They were a natural fit.
BELA SHEHU OF NINOBRAND AT CITYSPACE
A longtime collaborator of ours, Bela presented her sumptuous collection of womenswear to an eager audience after her models descended the staircase. Select NINObrand pieces are pictured above.
MELISSA D’AGOSTINO FASHION TEXTILE DESIGN AT CITYSPACE
In the photos that accompany this feature, Michael is wearing a scarf made of lightweight wool jersey knit from Melissa’s custom accessories collection. Below are the pieces showcased at the event. Each is dyed by hand, designed to “suit the spirit” of her local clients.
We can say with certainty that Michael’s good taste extends well beyond the places he frequents for coffee. His embrace of the genuine character of our neighborhoods courses through his life’s work. Philadelphia is a better city for having him in it.
Café La Maude | 816 N. 4th St., Philadelphia, PA 19123
CITYSPACE | 2200 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19103
J.Hilburn at HyLo Boutiques | By appointment | firstname.lastname@example.org
CITYSPACE event photos courtesy of Katie Briggs, Eclectik Domestic.