PIKNIK makes waves in Edgartown

Michael Hunter, with sculptures by Patrick Pierce. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Amidst the staid inns and elegant restaurants of Edgartown, Michael Hunter’s playful and eclectic vision of art and fashion has found a surprising niche. PIKNIK Art & Apparel, for 14 years a fixture in the funky Oak Bluffs Art District scene, is thriving in its second summer on Winter Street, adjacent to Nevin Square.

“I loved my time in the Arts District,” Mr. Hunter said. “But I needed to expand, to widen the stage for my brand.”

A longtime fashion stylist and retailer, he experimented with transplanting PIKNIK’s unexpected mixture of edgy fashion, wearable art, and contemporary paintings by opening pop-up shops in Boston for the last two winters. Characterizing them as “wildly successful,” Mr. Hunter set his sights on Edgartown, envisioning a village setting that could cultivate a new clientele as well as continuing to attract his former one.

“I tried maintaining two locations last summer,” he explained. “It was just too hard to operate the personal type of owner-curated, owner-operated business that I want to run.” While it was a difficult decision to give up the space in Oak Bluffs, Mr. Hunter is committed to his new location. “I’m thrilled to find the perfect match,” he said.

After dipping a toe in the Edgartown water with a one-year lease, he says he is now a permanent “part of the family” of shops and galleries in his enclave. Open from May through October on Island, he plans to search for a new pop-up location in Boston’s Beacon Hill for the holiday season that would open in late October. “Pop-ups are not for the faint-of-heart,” he said, “but how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?” Friends, he reports, are on the lookout for space and he says he won’t start worrying about it just yet.

At the moment, he’s more concerned about crowd control, ready at any given moment to hang the “At Maximum Capacity – Please Check Back Later” sign to keep the gallery experience pleasant for his clientele. Striving for the interaction between art and fashion, Mr. Hunter keeps a balance of buzz and serenity in PIKNIK, mingling with patrons and clearly savoring his role as the doyen of chic in Edgartown.

His 900 square feet of space is brimming with men’s and women’s statement clothing and artisanal accessories, as well as contemporary art that leans quite visibly toward the abstract. His successes with both the Boston and Edgartown locations have enabled him to, “Turn the game up a notch and pursue brands and artists that were previously unavailable” to him. Growth has also enabled him to go from a one-man band to a staff of three, with the hiring of capable assistants Sarah Nelson and Timothy DeWitt.

Although Edgartown has been historically perceived as a hub of preppy fashion, Lilly Pulitzer pink, and paintings of lighthouses, Mr. Hunter is doing his best to bring the town around to his urbane sense of style. He has found a new satisfaction in responsibly-sourced fashion, eschewing labels that produce goods in settings that abuse people or animals.

The items he carries are “made by free people in the U.S., Italy, Sweden, and Brazil.” The response, he says, has been terrific.

While he misses the abundant outdoor space that surrounded his Oak Bluffs digs, Mr. Hunter points to the generous side porch and three entrances of his newer space. “This encapsulates a slight bit of the bohemia of PIKNIK past,” he said. He is also enthusiastic about the plethora of international shoppers that discovers his wares everyday in Edgartown. “It’s a more pedestrian-friendly location and the international clientele is staggering.”

As for what’s hot in PIKNIK this summer, he says he’s having a hard time keeping the one-of-a-kind vintage Hermes scarves in stock. They’re felted onto cashmere and over-dyed, resulting in a look that’s virtually flying out the door. “I’m selling high-end, luxurious, one-of-a-kind items, extravagant colored fur accessories – vests, hats, muffs and scarves – outrageously bold costume jewelry, and works by such local powerhouse artists as Dan VanLandingham and Anne McGhee,” he explained.

Distinctive leather goods, ceramics, paintings, sculpture, fashion, and jewelry might sound like strange bedfellows, but with Mr. Hunter’s magical touch, PIKNIK turns the mercurial mélange into manageable majesty. And, with his website undergoing revamping to become a selling site, patrons will soon be able to bring PIKNIK into their lives with purchases year-round at the push of a button. What could be cooler than that?

PIKNIK Art & Apparel is located at 11 Winter Street, adjacent to Nevin Square, Edgartown. Open 11 am to 9 pm daily in summer. For more information, call 508-627-1066 or visit piknikmv.com.